Melbourne businessman Ron Walker died last week, aged 78.
The man dubbed ‘Mr Melbourne’, who spent three years as Lord Mayor and subsequently brought the F1 Australian Grand Prix to Albert Park and 2006 Commonwealth Games to the city, was farewelled today at a State funeral St Paul’s Cathedral, where former Premier Jeff Kennett called him “Victoria’s ringmaster”.
Federal backbencher Tony Abbott was there, but Labor leader and Walker’s fellow Melburnian Bill Shorten delivered a moving tribute to the businessmen, a lifelong Liberal and former party treasurer, in Parliament today.
Here’s what he said:
Towards the end of last year, I was walking through Sydney Airport, heading back to Melbourne for the day when I got tooted by one of those little-motorised carts.
It was Ron Walker, riding on the back. He had a half smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, probably going about 150km/h slower than he would have liked.
By the time that I boarded the plane he was already settled in his trademark spot, One Alpha, right next to his beloved Barbara.
I assumed he was tired, I knew he had been in the fight of his life and I thought like most of us on the flight he just wanted to rest on the trip home.
So I just said hello and I took my seat, didn’t give it much more thought.
Soon after the flight attendant came to say that Mr Walker was wondering if I could spare minute to chat.
We only had a brief conversation – it was politically encouraging, I acknowledge – but I was very touched by the gesture.
I thought it was the measure of the man: warm and courteous, the mind still firing, still a keen observer and analyst of the national political contest.
Mr Speaker, like you, I’m a Melburnian, born and raised.
Like everyone proud to call Melbourne home, Ron Walker had been omnipresent in our lives for decades.
From my earliest memories of life in Melbourne as a primary school student, there was Moomba, World of Sport on TV, and there was big Ron, the Lord Mayor of Melbourne in all his regalia, of course.
I think regardless of one’s politics, you have to acknowledge the difference that Ron made to Melbourne.
The Prime Minister has dealt with his accomplishments for his beloved Liberal Party, I’d like to talk a little bit about the transformation his vision helped to drive in Melbourne.
Ron undoubtedly loved Melbourne and he wanted to give the world a chance to fall in love with this marvellous city.
I’m sure in days to come, there’ll be a discussion about how the city can honour his contribution to its success, perhaps a plaque, a statue, a car race, a hospital, something that carries the Walker name.
But I think the simple truth is that there are already monuments to Ron Walker everywhere – the Australian Grand Prix, the revitalised Southbank, the world-class facilities for the 2006 Commonwealth Games. The tourists who come to watch the Bledisloe Cup or the President’s Cup.
There are the thousands of lives that he’s changed through his generosity, from saving the Walwa bush hospital, championing KEYTRUDA for cancer sufferers, to following-up a call he heard on the Neil Mitchell show and chipping-in some money for someone doing it tough.
But perhaps the most powerful enduring change Ron helped achieve was a change in mindset. From the hard times of recession, he helped restore Melbourne’s faith in itself as a global destination, a city that could boldly bid for world events, confident that we could put on a world-class show.
Ron’s love of his hometown was bigger even perhaps than his lifelong loyalty to the Liberal Party.
In John Ferguson’s generous tribute to Ron in The Australian, he told the story of how within hours of Steve Bracks being sworn in as premier in 1999, Ron Walker called.
Now, Victorian Labor, I recognise, spent some years targeting Ron’s support for the Victorian Liberals, so Bracksy had no idea what to expect.
Ron began with a simple statement:
“I am happy to serve your government and support you,”
Mr Melbourne, indeed.
When Ron first fought and beat cancer in 2012, he said:
“I didn’t want to die, I had things to do.”
I suspect even last week, as his valiant fight against illness drew to a close, I’m sure he still had things to do.
For a man with Ron’s drive and energy, his zest for life, his love of family, there’s always more to do.
But today we can say with certainty that he loved his family, he lived life to the full and he had done more than enough for his city, for others, for our nation.
May he rest in peace.
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