Vale Mick ‘Fossil’ Cleary: the kind-hearted community legend of Strathmerton

Michael Francis Cleary is fondly remembered as “Mick”, “Grumpy” or “Fossil” – a great family man, teacher, coach, teammate, mentor, bartender, bus driver and friend, who became a father figure for many privileged to know him.

“He was a giant man,” Adam Cleary said of his father, who died on October 13.

Since shocking Mick’s unexpected death on an evening stroll in Strathmerton last week, heartfelt tributes to the one-of-a-kind community leader have flooded social media.

Mick was a kind, charismatic man who could get along with anyone, and whose quick wit often made crowds laugh.

Born at Deniliquin Hospital on September 21, 1953, Mick’s parents, Patricia ‘Gabby’ Cleary, née Coman, and Thomas ‘Toppy’ Cleary at the time managed a wheat and sheep farm.

Mick was the third of eight children and the brother of Geneviève, Edward (Ted), Angela, Thomas (Tom), Bernard, Eleanor and James (Jim), and spent his youth growing up in Gippsland.

Real sportsman: Mick Cleary after a cricket match with his eldest son, Adam.

As a young boy the trip to school often involved walking or trekking long distances, however, on their first day at St Joseph’s School, Iona, in 1964, Mick and his siblings were successful. to get to school.

“The family’s Dodge sedan does not start the first morning, so the farm vehicle had to be used to get the kids to school,” said Mick’s sister Angela.

“The older children had to stand at the back of the farm, holding onto the fence that Toppy had set up to contain the calves on the way to the market.

“Toppy and Gabby rode inside the ute with the toddlers and matching babies up front with them.

“For some reason, Toppy drove straight into the school yard, to a comment from a nearby student, ‘Here are the hillbillies!'”

After high school, Mick studied a Bachelor of Arts at La Trobe University before attending Frankston Teachers College.

“In his heart he was an educator,” Adam said of Mick’s wonderful career as a teacher and principal.

His first job after his teacher training was at Armata Elementary School, followed by opportunities at Buln Buln Elementary School, Forrest Elementary School and Strathmerton Elementary School, where he ended his career. before retiring in 2009.

Alumni fondly remember “Mr. C” as a cheerful, cheeky, and motivating influence.

Mick made friends everywhere he went, and during his life he lived in Tynong North, Iona, Bunyip, Drouin West, Frankston, Buln Buln, Forrest, Cobram and Strathmerton.

Among a long list of athletic accomplishments, Mick was a life member of the Strathmerton Football Netball Club, Strathmerton Cricket Club and the Murray Valley Cricket Association.

His passion for the sport has led him not only to play, become a captain and coach throughout his life, but to select, score, drive buses, prepare drinks (no cordial) and take on the responsibilities of club president, secretary and treasurer at various points.

MVCA President Anthony Holmes said Mick has a knack for finding common ground with anyone who crosses his path.

“Before long he would be joking with them like he had known them for years and years,” he said.

Mick was famous for creating new mixer tapes for cricket bus travel, featuring an eclectic array of Monty Python songs and skits.

At the motel at the end of the night, crowds naturally formed around Mick as he regaled the small audience with jokes and stories.

Perfect duo: Mick darling for 44 years married to Yvonne.

Mick was fortunate enough to spend 44 years married to the love of his life, Yvonne Margaret Akers, or ‘Yvie’, whom he married on September 10, 1977.

Yvie met Mick at the age of 17 and also worked as a teacher and principal.

“They were the perfect couple,” said Adam.

In 2017, Mick fully recovered from a mysterious illness that left him bedridden for six months, and began to walk in recovery, “much like Forrest Gump.”

He regularly took 20,000 steps a day and had been in the best physical shape for at least a decade, according to his family.

Mick had planned to join Yvie on trekking trips, which she had enjoyed for some time.

He was a long-time Western Bulldogs fan, a gardener who enjoyed tending to the vegetable patch and tinkering around the house, and an occasional punter who could often be seen studying the form.

Above all, he loved his family.

Together, Yvie and Mick had four children: Adam, Daniel, Marcus and Tessa, whom he helped give birth by the side of the road.

He adored his six grandchildren – Thomas, Esther, Edward, Flynn, Patrick and Mabel.

● Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a private service to celebrate the life of Michael Francis Cleary will be held on Tuesday, October 26 from 11 a.m. Family and friends who are unable to attend are encouraged to check out Mick’s service via this link

Sam D. Gomez