Anthony and Chrissie Foster 

ABC News Australia

‘Goodbye, brave man’: Anthony Foster was a fierce advocate, and a friend

ANALYSIS

29 May 2017

Two weeks ago Chrissie Foster said to her husband Anthony: “You know, you are perfect.”

“No, no,” said the modest man with silver hair and kind eyes.

“Yes, you are,” she said. “You’re perfect.”

Chrissie and Anthony were married 36 years but never tired of telling each other how much they were adored.

Their love was stronger than anything; it helped them survive the terrible crimes against their family.

It is why Anthony’s sudden death was so unthinkable.

I met Chrissie and Anthony 21 years ago while covering a story of clergy sex abuse as a cadet newspaperman.

Two of the Fosters’ daughters, Emma and Katie, were among the many victims of jailed Father Kevin O’Donnell, who had been grooming and raping children since the 1950s.

Though Chrissie and Anthony were in obvious pain, they were trying to help others by seeking a meeting with the new Archbishop of Melbourne, George Pell.

They were beginning their endless struggle for justice.

My initial impression was the Fosters had extraordinary grace.

On old family photo of Anthony and Chrissie Foste with their three children.

I did not see them for another 12 years and only returned to Oakleigh when Emma died.

I covered her funeral for Channel Nine and recorded Anthony giving a eulogy of tenderness and quiet fury, the finest speech I have witnessed.

It was the first of many times I heard him use a mastery of language to inspire. When it was over his face contorted at the pain inside.

As Chrissie’s co-author on Hell on the Way to Heaven, I helped the Fosters investigate the cover-ups of the Catholic Church.

We visited the school’s storage room where the old predator priest took his victims. We chased answers from the cold and mean church hierarchy. We wrote it all down.

In the afternoons, Chrissie and I sat in the Fosters’ study and compared notes, while Anthony made us cups of tea. In return, Chrissie laughed at his jokes.

In a pit of grief that might tear people apart, they were so caring of each other.

After the book’s launch and presentation to the Victorian Parliament in 2010, Anthony began piece-by-piece changing Australia.

A breakthrough came from a meeting with the state’s attorney general, Robert Clarke, at which he insisted the state should announce an independent inquiry into the Catholic Church.

Anthony spoke to Mr Clarke with a polite insistence the politician could not ignore.

That meeting led to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations.

Anthony Foster stands with his wife Christine in Melbourne.

After then prime minister Julia Gillard announced the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2012, Chrissie and Anthony Foster made a pact to attend as many sessions as possible.

They sat most days in the front row on behalf of all survivors and their families, exchanging looks of mutual admiration with the commissioners and their staff.

One day, a commissioner came to Anthony in a break of proceedings, extending his hand.

“Hello, brave man,” he said.

Anthony was humbled; he never thought of himself that way.

When Cardinal Pell was compelled to give evidence in Rome, the Fosters not only booked plane tickets but also lobbied authorities for others to have access.

They showed the world the power of their love and dignity.

Over many years, Chrissie and Anthony personally gave counsel and support to hundreds of people and indirectly improved the lives of thousands.

They also became my dearest friends.