When Garry Sutton was in primary school, he read a book that changed his life - Kim by Rudyard Kipling. The book, set in India, sparked an obsession with the South Asian country that has had a profound impact on Garry’s life, leading him to meet Mother Teresa and form a close and ongoing bond with an Indian family.
Garry, now 93, grew up in the Victorian country town of Nagambie as one of four children. He studied a Diploma of Public Administration in Melbourne and began working in the Victorian Health department in 1945 at the age of 17.
It was a busy time for the department as Australia was dealing with a widespread polio outbreak.
‘Then migrants were coming out from Europe, many with tuberculosis, which caused an epidemic of TB,’ Garry says.
Garry was the only male aged under 40 in the department until younger men began returning from their war service.
‘In 1947, a new bloke came to work whose name was Jock McCorkell, and he played for North Melbourne. Of course, I changed from Collingwood to North Melbourne because of that, so I was rapt when my nephew (Kangaroos Captain Jack Ziebell) was picked by North Melbourne.’
A love of India
Garry was 50 when he had his first opportunity to visit India, but he went on to clock up a total of eight visits.
‘I got a love for India through reading a book called Kim. It was a story of an English boy who got lost in India and it was so fascinating,’ Garry says.
On his last visit, he went to mass in Calcutta with friends and met Mother Teresa.
‘She thanked me profusely for coming to help in the missions, but I was only there sticky beaking - I didn't tell her otherwise, I just accepted her gratitude and moved on!’
Garry never married but his interest in India led him to form a close and ongoing connection with a family that had been living in poverty in Bombay (now Mumbai).
He began sponsoring the family and would exchange letters with the oldest son, Mahendra. He visited them on his frequent trips to India and paid for Mahendra and his brother to fly to Calcutta to join him on a sightseeing trip that included the Taj Mahal.
Mahendra is now married and his two teenage sons write to Garry regularly.
‘They are doing quite well now. In a recent letter, (Mahendra) said, “Please don't send any more money, we are fine”.’
Now 93, Garry is still fit and thinks India may be, in some way, responsible. ‘I don't smoke, and I don't drink. When I went to India one time, I decided to give both away to save money and I didn't take them up again.’
Reviewed 01 September 2022