FAREWELL GOOD FRIEND: The coffin of Robert Draper, “Blanket Bob”, is carried from the Christ Church Cathedral after his funeral.
FAREWELL GOOD FRIEND: The coffin of Robert Draper, “Blanket Bob”, is carried from the Christ Church Cathedral after his funeral. Adam Hourigan

Blanket Bob: A man for all seasons

WHETHER he knew it or not, Robert Frederick Draper's presence contributed greatly to the City of Grafton.

This was the sentiment expressed by Father Donald Kirk as members from all facets of this community gathered on Friday afternoon at Christ Church Cathedral to acknowledge this presence and pay their respect to the man we all knew as Blanket Bob.

"We have come here today to mark and honour a moment in Grafton's history and honour a valued member of our community," Father Kirk said opening the service.

"We all saw him floating around, on the corner, on the steps of various businesses, asking for something for a cup of coffee. We all knew what that cup of coffee was," he grinned along with the rest of the congregation.

"Having Bob on our streets, conversing with people and sharing life with him. There was a mutual respect that existed no matter who you were. Bob's presence taught us to have that, which in turn helped us to find our own place in our community."

And while Bob was a well known figure about the city, we didn't really know much about him, his friend and carer Helga Kunde touched on in the eulogy.

She shared her memories into the very private world of Robert Draper, born in Melbourne in 1945, "a young man who used to snow ski with his mates, worked in the building trade and served in the Malayan War".

A man, as many would recall, liked his glass of port on ice with a cigarette, while he sat quietly watching people go by.

"He only ever had a bit too much to drink at the July race week," she smiled as soft laughter filled the cathedral, "when his pockets were full of money given to him from the racegoers."

Bob was a father to three children, two daughters and a son, four grandchildren and had a brother a sister. Despite attempts over the years to find him, it wasn't until they saw the funeral notice in a Melbourne newspaper that they were able to say their final goodbyes.

Older brother Reg, and Bob's children Gary and Lisa made the journey north "to thank the Grafton community for showing such compassion and kindness to Bob and keeping him safe."

Reg spoke of Bob's marriage to Pat, bricklaying skills which saw him work on buildings like St Paul's in Melbourne, and his schooling at Elwood Central alongside a future prime minister in John Howard and music industry legend Molly Meldrum. But it was his conscription into the army where he served in Vietnam that shaped the man we came to know as Blanket Bob, the place, Reg says, that changed his brother forever.

As Helga recalled her friend she believed if he was here today his biggest thanks would go to the Grafton community for being kind, caring and accepting of him.

"The many people who talked to him, gave him coins, food and friendship. He was a man who liked his freedom and the open spaces - rain, hail or shine. I feel we can be pleased that we all did our bit, to make his life here in Grafton worth living. And in return "we received increased compassion, kindness and caring."

As the strains of Frank Sinatra famous song echoed throughout the cathedral's chambers there was no question, Robert Frederick Draper certainly did do it his way.

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