By HARRY CLARKE
HIS record and accolades as a rugby league five-eighth speak for themselves.
But John “Jack” Gleeson, the man beneath the Kangaroos jersey, has been remembered by loved ones as a generous community member and family man with a proud singing voice and “beautiful” handwriting, who grew up on the back of a horse in his hometown of Chinchilla.
Gleeson passed away peacefully on Christmas Day, three days shy of his 83rd birthday.
His beloved wife Dawn previously passed. Gleeson is survived by his six children and 11 grandchildren.
His life was celebrated at the Chinchilla Catholic Church by family, friends and generations of rugby league identities from Chinchilla and across the Darling Downs.
Gleeson’s gifts as a footballer were recognised in his very early days.
The local state primary school would routinely poach him from the convent school whenever they played in a carnival around the district.
“He stood out, and that is where the seed sprouted to set him off to become one of Australia’s finest rugby league players,” said close friend David Fuller, who delivered the eulogy alongside Gleeson’s brother, Trevor.
“John was always a humble man with strong humanitarian values. He never traded his success in rugby league to further his position in life.”
But Gleeson’s talents on the sporting field took him a long way.
Throughout the 1960s, he captained the Queensland maroons and made 32 appearances in the green and gold Australian Kangaroos jersey, playing on three international tours to the UK and Europe.
He was inducted into the Queensland Sporting Hall of Fame and the Australian Sporting Hall of Fame, and was made an honorary member of the Men of League.
Gleeson’s career as a professional footballer began with his move as a teenager from Chinchilla to Toowoomba, where he’d become a legend of the Toowoomba All Whites football club.
Scouts from the big smoke came calling soon after, and Gleeson would go on to excel as a playmaker for the Wynumm-Manly Seagulls and Brisbane Brothers.
Headlines in the press throughout those years included “League bushie who came good” and “Toowoomba has found a new star”.
As David Fuller remembered, Gleeson’s brothers were also fine footballers.
Beneath one article in a scrap book kept by family, he’d written in his “beautiful handwriting” the passage “to my brothers, the best footballers I know”.
Trevor Gleeson spoke of how his brother would don full footballing attire, even for training, and abided by his personal belief that, “if you’re going to be a footballer – look like a footballer”.
“He was playing five-eighth for Brisbane one year, and I was picked to play five-eighth for Toowoomba,” Trevor Gleeson remembered.
“We ran out onto the football field in front of the grand stand. We shook hands and I said to him ‘good luck’. He said to me ‘look at your dirty bloody boots!’.”
He excelled on the world stage, but perhaps where Gleeson left his most profound impact was in his home town of Chinchilla.
After his playing career, he made an enormous contribution to the local Chinchilla Bulldogs rugby league club as a president and coach. The main oval at Bulldog Park is named in his honour. He was a life member and patron of the club.
“John had great empathy for his fellowman and wore his heart on his sleeve,” Fuller said.
“He spent many hours of his own time over many years helping people who might be doing it tough and endeavouring to lighten their burden a little.
“He also found time while president of the Chinchilla Bulldogs to host Christmas parties for people who had lost a partner or who might be spending Christmas alone.”
Following his funeral, Gleeson’s daughter Jacqueline said: “It was his time to go. He lived a good life.”