ONE of the first hymns at Maria Korp’s service last week had been Ave Maria. For the funeral of her husband, Joe, the man accused of having plotted to murder her, the choice was equally apt: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me . . .”
A gentle veil was drawn over the ugly months that led to the end of Joe Korp’s life – out of compassion for him, for his family, and especially for the youngest child he left behind.
Damian Korp, 11, sat drawn and spent, shadows under his eyes, in the front row of the church where he had only last week farewelled his mother. The orphan boy had been brought in through a side door of the church to protect him from the waiting media.
Joe Korp’s brother, Gust, wearing a Collingwood scarf with his dark suit, played chief mourner. He lit the candle to begin the service, and stood briefly at the lectern to speak.
His eulogy took only a minute. He talked of his brother’s love of sport, especially cricket and basketball, and how he would go anywhere any time to organise a basketball game.
“He brought joy to a lot of Victoria,” he said. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”
It would have been a difficult service for a civil celebrant. What could safely be said about a man who had been outed, in a blaze of national publicity, as an adulterer, an internet-sex swinger, and an accused conspirator in a plot to murder his wife? About a media manipulator who had committed suicide on the day of his wife’s funeral, reportedly leaving behind a videotape and autobiography to be sold to the highest bidder?
But Father Justin Woodford, the associate priest at the Catholic Church of Our Lady Help of Christians, in East Brunswick, was not at a loss. He was able to turn to God. He reminded the 120 or so mourners – fewer than came to farewell Maria – that Joe had been photographed for a newspaper holding a crucifix. “Joe also knew crucifixion,” he said. “He knew pain and sorrow . . . We pray that he be embraced by a compassionate God, but also by a compassionate people.”
He said the judgements made by people were often harsher than those made by the courts, and suggested there was only one being in a position to know the truth: “He knew all sorts of people but, in the end, there was only one person who knew Joe inside and out and back to front, and that was his God.”
The service was at noon. Father Woodford would not have heard that, in this case, the Supreme Court had sheeted home a harsh judgement that Joe Korp bore a considerable moral responsibility for what had happened to his wife.
But here, Joe Korp was mourned. His younger sister, Val, whom he had wanted to speak at his funeral, stood to read a poem she had written, much of it strangled by her sobs.
“You’ve been the best big brother,” she told him, and: “We knew you were suffering, but we didn’t know your mind . . . Rest in peace.”
As his parents, his siblings and his three children by two marriages stood beside his coffin at the end of the service, Father Woodford read a letter from Damian. “I will remember . . . how you taught me to play basketball, how you taught me to use the computer . . . I’ll remember you because you are my Dad.”
Throughout the service, women sat with eyes closed and tears stealing down their cheeks. To an outsider, who knew him only through “Mum-in-the-boot” headlines, perhaps the strangest twist in the Korp case is the realisation that Joe Korp was deeply loved.
Maria Korp’s coffin had been wheeled out of the church. Joe Korp was raised on the shoulders of his brothers and friends, and carried high and proud down the aisle. In his wake, more than a dozen black-clad women, led by his mother, Florence, clung to each other.
A woman’s voice drifted over the mourners: He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.
First published in The Age.