Vale to Morwell great John Guy OAM

Vale: John Guy is being remembered as a leading figure in the life and times of the Latrobe Valley. Photograph supplied



A LEADING Morwell and Latrobe Valley figure, John Guy OAM, has died at the age of 85, leaving a legacy of vast achievement in his various roles within the community and a 40-year-plus career with the State Electricity Commission.

Mr Guy died at home on Easter Sunday, April 9 after a period of ill-health.

His funeral was held yesterday (Tuesday, April 18) in a packed St Mary’s Anglican Church in Latrobe Road, Morwell.

Mr Guy was always leading, instigating things and full of ideas.

“He never knew how to get angry or be undignified. He presented well, never raised his voice, and had great dignity and humility,” friends said.

A friend and former colleague, Mike Answerth, gave the main eulogy at yesterdays’ funeral.

“John was more than just a friend, he was also a mentor and an inspiration in his commitment to community and civic service,” he said.

Mr Answerth noted that “John and his wife Pam” were born in Queenstown, Tasmania and came to Victoria in the early 1960s. His Latrobe Valley career began when he became an electrician with the SEC, where he subsequently became a foreman and a senior manager in charge of occupational health and safety.

Mr Guy joined Jaycees in 1962, then a very popular service club for men aged 18-40 years old that had a strong emphasis on personal development. While a service club like Apex, Jaycees had a focus on the art of public speaking, the rules of debate, chairmanship, how to thank and introduce a guest speaker and project planning.

“Those were the skills John used in civic and community work. Not many had those skills of good chairmanship,” Mr Answerth said.

While working at the SEC, Mr Guy did further studies at night school, while fatherhood enticed him to become involved in the school councils, such as Maryvale High School, where his children attended.

Community involvement also led him to local government.

Mr Guy was elected to the then Morwell Shire Council, where he led the shire for six consecutive years – three as Morwell Shire President and three as the Mayor of the Rural City of Morwell, that was proclaimed in 1992. He was Morwell’s last shire president and first mayor.

He then took on bigger leadership roles in the broader Latrobe and Gippsland community, becoming chair of the Latrobe Regional Commission from 1992-95 – an organisation set up by the state government to foster development in the Latrobe Valley and surrounding region – and chair of the South East Transport Study that was completed in the 1990s.

A further regional role beckoned; Mr Guy became chair of the commissioners of the newly formed Wellington Shire – an amalgamation of the shires of Rosedale, Stratford, Sale, Maffra and Yarram.

“These were diverse communities – two had just built new council offices,” said Mr Answerth, who joined Mr Guy at Wellington.

“What impressed me most was his commitment to the job. He and Pam would be off to Maffra, Dargo or Yarram, visiting the places, attending functions, listening to disgruntled ratepayers; he had a way of dealing with people.”

He put his hard work into that for three years, turning Wellington into a successful municipality.

“Yarram was the real problem child, he almost had a mutiny! John was able to calm things, went to the various festivals, the openings of shows,” Mr Answerth said.

This all took place while he and his wife lived in Morwell.

“He travelled a tremendous amount in his own time, he listened to aggrieved ratepayers” Mr Answerth said, before he handed over Wellington to elected councillors.

That done, there was no thought of retiring; Mr Guy was just getting started.

Next task was to play a key role in the formation of Advanced Morwell, a local group formed of citizens and businessmen – it’s still going – worried about the future of their home city that was being hit by economic forces, including the privatisation of the SEC. It was formed after a big meeting in Kernot Hall in 1997.

An early focus was the transformation of Commercial Road, which took years to come to fruition, and which morphed into work on the revamp of the Morwell railway station.

David McInnes, a long-serving committee member of Advanced Morwell, said Advanced Morwell needed someone of Mr Guy’s calibre.

“If it had not been for John, we would have folded unless he was there to keep it all together – despite his health issues. He just kept going,” he said.

“John was very polite. At a meeting, if things started drifting, he had a way of bringing people back on track without being nasty.”

Mr Guy subsequently became a Life Member of Advanced Morwell.

He involved himself in a variety of community groups. Mr Guy set up the the Latrobe Valley Community Health Service and was chairman for a long time; and with the late Max Williamson, a fellow Jaycee, they formed the Latrobe Valley Workshop, which morphed into Latrobe Valley Enterprises.

A Justice of the Peace, Mr Guy took part in Probus, becoming president of the Maryvale branch, and also Gippsland Lifeline, now 53-years-old and believed to be the first Lifeline branch in Victoria outside Melbourne. Other community roles Mr Guy filled included chair of the Strzelecki District Scout Association, chair of the Mitchell House Hostel Committee and chair of the Salvation Army Appeal Committee.

A religious man, Mr Guy was deeply involved in his parish church and Anglican diocese of Gippsland.

A highpoint of his life was the receiving of the Order of Australia medal in 2009, which was presented two years later.

Latrobe City posted a tribute to Mr Guy, noting his community involvement with Mitchell House and the Gippsland Leadership Program.

“John was instrumental in the Latrobe City international relations committee. This included work to establish a sister city relationship between Morwell and Takasago, such as acknowledgment gifts and visits,” the council said.