By Paul Dobbyn
EARLY in 2011, critically ill asbestosis sufferer Ray Colbert was in a coma in Brisbane’s Wesley Hospital and not expected to live.
“But when I got to Heaven’s door they said: ‘It’s not your turn yet. You’ve still got work to do’,” Mr Colbert told The Catholic Leader in an interview about a year later.
He and wife Helen attributed his remarkable recovery at that time to his reception of the last rites from their parish priest, Loganholme’s Fr Marce Singson.
Now, it would seem Mr Colbert’s work has been done.
He finally succumbed to his illness on May 21 leaving behind a grateful community of fellow workers and sufferers of asbestos-related diseases.
Mr and Mrs Colbert carried out much of this work from the office of the Queensland Asbestos Related Disease Support Society (QARDSS) at Bowen Hills.
Mrs Colbert is society president.
Ray’s Asbestos Awareness Ride over four hot November days in 2011, a scant 10 months after his journey to death’s door, was one of his most remarkable feats.
In a motorised wheelchair, the determined fundraiser covered an often painfully jarring 142km ride between Toowoomba and Brisbane to eventually raise more than $70,000 for the cause.
Mr Colbert finished the ride at St Stephen’s Cathedral on November 25 to be met by a crowd of well-wishers including grandchildren Lucinda, Matthew and Emily Colbert.
As planned, he arrived in time for the cathedral’s annual ecumenical service for all who had died from asbestos-related disease and those suffering from the disease, their families and carers.
Ray had suffered from asbestosis for many years having contracted the disease in the navy, where for nine years he constantly handled asbestos lagging in boiler rooms.
Fellow QARDSS worker and workplace health and safety co-ordinator for the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union Andrew Ramsay first met Mr Colbert in 2005.
“At that point I was also QARDSS vice-president and Ray had become a volunteer,” he said.
“We quickly formed a friendship as we both had the same goals – to support sufferers of asbestos-related diseases and to try to stop people’s exposure to asbestos.
“The really inspirational thing about Ray was he never gave up.
“I remember he’d once fallen out of his wheelchair and cracked some ribs.
“He looked to be in pain but when I asked how he was going, he just said: ‘Always well’.
“That was Ray … he never looked for sympathy, he just got on with things.
“He was a big man with a big heart.”
Mr Colbert had planned another asbestos awareness ride late last year, this time from the North Coast, Mr Ramsay said.
“Ray already had the route planned but his doctor said he’d kill himself and talked him out of it.
“He was really disappointed not to be able to do another ride.
“Even in hospital, Ray was still planning for the annual fundraising raceday at Doomben which now raises as much as $100,000 for the cause each year.
“My wife Trish and Ray’s wife Helen were with him about eight hours before he died.
“He was still conscious and said: ‘Permission to leave?’
“Ray died early the next morning.
“He can never be replaced but has left a much stronger society than when he started as a volunteer in 2005.”
Mr Colbert’s funeral was held on May 29 at St Edward the Confessor Catholic Church, Daisy Hill, and his burial took place at Mt Gravatt Cemetery.