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Remembering - and learning about - John Stranger

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#1 Ray Bell

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Posted 05 December 2011 - 11:15

I'm but a newcomer, so I only knew John from the Warwick Farm days... others here, I hope, will have known him longer...

Posted Image
John and Elizabeth Stranger, rightfully present at a Tasman Revival meeting.

As far as we were concerned, and here I speak principally of Bob Levett and myself, he was Geoffrey's offsider. He was the man in the other room in the office in Sussex Street who was always busy at his desk, or the man who strolled from place to place in the pits and offices at Warwick Farm during the race meetings looking like he always had something to do.

He was, inevitably, immaculately dressed in a brown suit. Other than that we basically knew nothing about him.

We never really said much more than 'hello' to him, or maybe had a brief comment with him about entries for a race meeting or some event which had just taken place. It was only later that John mentioned to me that he'd competed at Marsden Park in Alex Strahan's Lotus 6.

When Warwick Farm closed and the AARC - the company - wound up, Geoff offered the comment that John would be all right, that he had financial resources without the job he was losing. Nevertheless, he fell into a job with the people who run the Sydney Motor Show and for at least the next couple of decades that's what he did.

I also had some minor dealings with him during his time and still I learned little about his past.

But now I have cause to wonder. After his death last week I received a message from Max Stahl about his passing, and today a longer one Max has passed on from Scott, his son. It opens up more reason to question why I didn't know more about the man... here's what he wrote:

Some of you may have already heard but it is with great regret that I am writing to you to tell you that my Dad, John Stranger, passed away last Tuesday, the 29th November.

While most of you will know that he suffered for many years with arthritis, it was of complications from prostate cancer that had spread to his bones, along with Bronchopneumonia, which finally made him too weak to go on. He died peacefully with both my mother and me by his side and Michelle in his thoughts in hospital here in England. He was in his 79th year.

I knew that John spent a lot of time in England. I'm tempted to wonder if he came from there in the first place, but somewhere there'll be a death notice that will clarify that point. A little more from Scott on that subject:

We are so pleased that he made it back to Sandywell, the home that he loved so much and shared with mum in the Cotswolds for his final months, which we believe were his final wishes.

So he had a firm attachment for this place and went there regularly. But Scott writes of another endearment he had:

Dad spent his life passionate about cars, motorsport and travelling, especially to Europe. In one of the last chats I had with him he asked if I could get my car close enough to the hospital window to give it a few blips on the throttle so he could hear it. It is with this that we leave him to motor on.

What a wonderful revelation! We don't know at this stage what kind of car Scott is talking about, whether it's some everyday hack which barely makes a ripple on the decible meters or a sporting model with a more attention-getting utterances. Whichever, it's a clear indicator of how John Stranger loved cars.

We will be holding a small service near Cheltenham this Wednesday 7th December and will be laying his ashes to rest in a field burial ground from which one can see Sandywell, where we hope he will be at peace.


Scott uses the word 'small' there, but not 'private'... I wonder if there's anyone here who could go along and represent us at this service?

And, for the purposes of this topic, what memories do others hold of this well-spoken, neatly dressed, patient and quiet motor sportsman?


#2 seldo

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Posted 05 December 2011 - 12:47

When I first met John Stranger, as a very wet-behind-the-ears would-be race-driver, I was somewhat over-awed by this seemingly slightly abrupt, immaculately attired, fastidiously precise man who held my whole life in his hands. Would he, or wouldn't he, accept my entry to the up-coming Warwick Farm race meeting. I think I was a week late entering because I didn't have the readies for the entry fee, and all my planning and skrimping and saving, would have gone up in smoke.
I'd posted the entry, phoned, and then called in to the office to ascertain my fate.
After being scrutinised by the steely gaze of Mary Packard, John bustled out to meet me, totally different to the man I'd expected. He was tall, slim, I guess handsome in a very pucka British sort of way, and met me with a totally disarmingly pleasant efficient manner which almost left me puzzled and confused so that I didn't know how to react since it was so different to what I'd expected after a phone conversation.
He handed me the manilla envelope with the final supp regs, passes etc and a chirpy "Hope you have a good weekend", bustled out again.
Over the years we met on many occassions and each time it was like a re-run of the first. He seemed to have an endless supply of energy and pleasant reserved enthusiasm, that was so consistent it always amazed me. In latter years my main contact was a quick call to see if I could squeeze a few extra passes from him, which he seemed to almost always manage with little effort.
His organisational efforts were excellent and every event ran like clockwork, helped no doubt by the ever-present Mary Packard who seemed to understand his every thought and was almost an extension of his right arm.
I hadn't seen John for many many years but did run into him at a Motor Show in the early '90s and again, he was totally unchanged - bright, chirpy , pleasant and very efficient.
I'm quite sure that Australian motor racing owes him a great gratitude for his enormous input, and many a struggling race-driver would have enjoyed his largess.

Edited by seldo, 05 December 2011 - 12:49.

#3 Ray Bell

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Posted 06 December 2011 - 09:32

Unfortunately there are not many takers on this...

Talking to Max Stahl today he told me that Fred Vogel remembers that he was a very frugal person. He didn't have a lot of money, but he made good use of what he had, and in 1959 he booked a trip to England by sea.

Fortune works in strange ways. As he was preparing to leave he was carefully trying not to spend too much money and he was living a solitary life, but as he got off the ship in England he was relatively wealthy and had the hand of the woman who would accompany him through his remaining years.

What had happened was that he'd won the Opera House Lottery on the eve of his departure. I don't know whether this was before or after they reduced the main prize from £200,000 to £100,000, but in any event it was a lot of money at the time. Then on board he encountered Elizabeth and they got to know each other.

When he returned to Australia a friend suggested he follow up an advertisement for a job helping to run the Warwick Farm races and he did so... the rest is, as Seldo has recorded, simply history.

Remarkable as it may seem, the three core members of the office were there from the beginning to the end. Mary Packard used to tell me that she had taken the job for a few weeks as a fill-in because they couldn't find anyone, but she stayed to become part of the establishment, the team that made it such a wonderful organisation.

John was an Alvis man, I'm told, and apparently drove them in a very spirited manner. He also had a Jaguar coupe, I hope someone knows for sure what model it was.