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A new angle and element to grief

Vale Denis Setches

27 Feb 2017

Vale Denis Setches Image

By Shane Scanlan

It was a who’s who of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) on February 10 when more than 300 mourners gathered at Ringwood to celebrate the life of popular Docklander Denis Setches, who died on February 4.

Current and former MPs, ministers, premiers and opposition leaders gathered to pay their respects and honour a life well lived. The service was preceded by a private family cremation.

Mr Setches was one of Dock 5’s original residents although he and his wife Kay moved permanently to their Phillip Island beach house in recent years.

As Dock 5 owners’ corporation (OC) chair he was absorbed and interested in all aspects of community life – a hallmark of his 75 years.

But it was as a trade unionist and ALP life member that he will be most remembered.

His son Earl, the secretary of the Plumbers Union, humourously regaled tales of his dad “bullshitting his way into” a job as Croydon Council animal ranger in the mid-1960s where his first formal union role soon followed.

Elections – federal, state, local and trade union – were the constants in the Setches household, resulting in Kay being elected to state parliament and serving three terms as the member for Ringwood from 1982.

Former Premier John Cain said he has originally declined Kay’s request to speak at the service as he had not known Denis well enough. However, Kay pointed out to him that his 1982 election success was due, in now small part, to Denis.

“She told me that Denis was her ‘enabler’ and the seat of Ringwood would not have been won without him,” Mr Cain said.

Denis’s role as a solid and reliable supporter was a constant theme throughout the more than two-hour service.

This was most evident in the brave, heart-wrenching personal eulogies delivered by his four grandchildren who all attested to his quiet ability to support and encourage them, even when they had done the wrong thing.

Daughter Vicki attested that Denis could not say “no” to anything the family asked for, with the family home becoming a refuge for people escaping family violence or just in dire need.

Denis Setches was a quiet, considered man who did not get things done by being the loudest person in a room. Former union colleague and friend Peter Parkinson said Denis would pull people aside and gently suggest a better way.

His abiding love for Kay and family was another repeated theme. Kay said she first met Denis when he was 17 and she was just 14 and he rode circles around her on his bicycle.

The romance started when she was 16 and Denis had a VW Beetle. She said he took her to the drive-in … to watch Psycho!

“It was so scary, Denis ended up under the dashboard and so did I,” she recalled.

She described herself and Denis as a “nerdy” couple with unconventional interests in politics, human rights and social justice. Where other people had a footy team, the Setches had the ALP.

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten evoked the words of US President Teddy Roosevelt to pay tribute to Denis as a “man in the arena”.

“He was a man in the arena for the party, unions and the community,” Mr Shorten said.

Docklands News had many interactions with Denis during his time as Dock 5 OC chair.

What started as an “editorial” relationship soon developed into firm friendship. His sound judgement, generous spirit and cheeky irreverence were an irresistible combination.

In his address, Earl revealed that Denis had undergone five heart bypass operations since suffering his first heart attack in 1993.

His death closely followed four days of family celebrations at the Phillip Island beach house for his 75th birthday after which the focus had moved to a family reunion in Daylesford.

“Dad died suddenly and peacefully,” he said. “That’s the way that he did things – no fuss,” Earl said.

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