Obituary: Dr John Victor Fall, 7 May 1928 to 30 June 2016
University Hall staff and students were saddened to hear of the recent passing of Dr John Fall, Principal of Currie Hall 1978-1986. We would like to pass on our condolences to John’s wife, Kay, and to their extended family. With thanks to R. Nazim Khan for the beautiful dedication below.
I first met Dr John Fall in February 1976 having arrived fresh from Fiji as an undergraduate student. Like any typical international student, I was home sick, having never left Fiji before. I met Dr Fall on Sunday 22 February at dinner, my second day in Australia. He became a lifelong friend, mentor, teacher and inspiration.
Dr Fall was the first Principal of Currie Hall. He moved into the Hall in February 1967 at the invitation of the first Master of the Hall, Dr Robyn Gray. Dr Fall lived in B Flat as Senior Fellow (essentially Deputy Principal), with his wife Kay, and children Peter and Judith, until 1977. He was a senior lecturer in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. He taught some three generation of engineers. Many of the older staff in the Schools of Engineering at UWA have been his students.
Dr Fall assumed the role of Principal from 1978 to 1986. During this time he made several lasting changes to the Hall operations and culture. He discontinued the Senior Common Room, abandoned the weekly formal dinners, and removed the weekly “cold collations” (which was simply salads!) from the lunch menu. His approach to management was very much hands on. Several of the current UniHall policies date back to John Fall, including noise policy, alcohol policy and disciplinary policy. He began the practice of holding outside functions in the Hall in early 1980s to raise funds and keep fees down. When he retired as Principal, he left his successor a comprehensive set of notes, detailing every aspect of the Principal’s role, including daily, weekly, once a term and once a year activities.
But by far the most important, and I believe for John and Kay the most enjoyable, contribution was to the life of the Hall and its residents. In particular, of all the residential staff he was the most involved in pastoral care. His holistic approach to integrating students into the life of the Hall and making the Hall a second home transformed the whole Hall atmosphere. He created a culture that left a lasting impression on residents who were lucky enough to have experienced Hall life during the Fall years. Dr Fall aimed to attend to the individual needs of each resident. To him they were not only residents, but his family.
I remember attending one of the regular pre-dinner drinks at B Flat with Dr Fall and a group of residents. These residents became firm friends, often for life. Every student was invited to such a session in the first two weeks of the year. These sessions served the multiple purposes of creating friendships, settling students into Hall life, and pastoral care.
I watched Dr Fall carefully in his role as Principal, while I was a junior tutor in the Hall in 1985-86. He sat at a different table for lunch each day of the week. Given that that the Dining Hall seating is formed along cliques, this meant that in a month he would have seen every one of the 250 residents of the Hall. His pastoral care was outstanding, and his energy levels incomparable. Dr Fall was not only the Principal, he actually lived in the Hall. It is difficult to imagine how he managed this, given that his position as Principal was only two thirds, and he maintained a one third appointment as senior lecturer in the School of Electrical and Electrical Engineering.
Dr Fall and Kay family invited students into their home and made them a part of their lives. Kay cooked many a meal for students, and many students cooked meals for them. Almost every weekend a different group of the Hall would be invited to dinner with the Fall family. Dr Fall and Kay have friends from all over the world from their years in the Hall. Even this year he received Facebook messages on his birthday from students from years gone by. And even in his last days, he could clearly recount events and residents from the 1960s.
In an attempt to assimilate international students (who comprised 25%) into the life of the Hall, he introduced Asian Night. This became a focus for all students, not just international. In those early days students cooked the meal in the Hall kitchen, decorated the Dining Hall and presented cultural entertainment. Every year the Hall atmosphere changed after Asian Night, as the residents realized the talents and cultural diversity in the Hall. Asian Night was one event that I took to heart, and oversaw its organization from 1987 onwards, till I finally left the Hall in 2007. In 2000 I changed the name to International Night to reflect the more diverse international population of the Hall.
Dr Fall went well out of his way to help students. For me personally he gave a loan to fund a trip home one year. Many students benefitted from such generosity. On several occasions he and Kay took students with personal issues into their flat and looked after them during the exam period. We had many dinners after Asian Night in their flat.
In his autobiography, aptly titled A Pot of Gold, Dr Fall mentions his reflections before moving into the Hall in 1967. He writes:
“My single, most important realization has been that: People matter more than things. Individuals matter more than organisations. Everything else follows from this.” He further writes, “Maturity comes only through lived experiences, through personal rocking of the boat.”
The most lasting impression I have of ‘Doc Fall’, as he was popularly addressed, is his personal energy and love for life. He was to me the epitome of the Currie Hall motto, Dum vivimus vivamus, which he explained to me meant “Live life to the hilt!” He certainly did that himself, and he taught me how to do the same. He gave his best years and his best to the Hall. I and many others are forever the richer for having met and lived with Doc Fall. He is an outstanding hero of Currie Hall. I celebrate his life. For he taught us how to live!
Written by: Nazim Khan, University Hall Alumnus