John Fahey remembered for his integrity, faith

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Former NSW premier and chancellor of Australian Catholic University, John Fahey AC

Former NSW premier will be “deeply missed”

Catholic leaders have paid tribute to former NSW Premier John Fahey AC upon news of his death this morning at the age of 75.

Mr Fahey died following a battle with leukemia at 7.30am.

“He was a man of strong faith, devoted to his family,” said Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP.

“My prayers are with his wife Colleen, his children Matthew and Melanie and grandchildren Campbell and Amber whom John and Colleen raised after the tragic death of their daughter Tiffany in a car accident. He will be sadly missed.

“Just last November, I presented Mr Fahey with the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Gregory the Great in recognition of his great service to the Catholic Church, as Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University and to state and federal politics where he promoted a pro-life message on abortion and euthanasia.”

ACU Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Greg Craven said that Mr Fahey was not only the university’s “greatly loved” chancellor but also an “Australian hero”.

John Fahey with Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, Mr Fahey’s grandchildren Campbell and Amber and wife Colleen last year when Mr Fahey received an award from Pope Francis. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“As well as holding some of the highest offices in the land he will always be renowned for bringing the Olympics to Sydney,” Mr Craven said.

“John was greatly loved as Chancellor. He was profoundly committed to the idea of a Catholic university, and brought to office courage, wisdom and dignity.”

Mr Fahey was the fourth Chancellor of ACU, appointed in 2014 to replace Sir Peter Cosgrove. He was reappointed for a further term in 2019. He is being remembered as a man of great integrity and deep faith.

A life of service to family, church and country

Mr Fahey was born in New Zealand in 1945 to Irish migrants Stephen and Annie Fahey, educated at Chevalier College in the NSW Southern Highlands and at the University of Sydney. Upon graduation he practiced law before entering public life as a politician, industry leader, and administrator.

Mr Fahey was NSW Premier from 1992-95 before entering federal politics, where he served as Minister for Finance and Administration in the Howard government until 2001. As chairman of the bid team, he was instrumental in securing the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

He earned the affectionate epithet “Jumping John” Fahey for his enthusiastic response to the announcement Sydney had won the bid. He had already earned the admiration of the public when leaping to disarm a protester who had threatened Prince Charles with a gun at an awards ceremony in Sydney in 1994.

In 2002 Mr Fahey was made a Companion of the Order of Australia for his work in the political arena, and for facilitation of industry growth and industrial relations reform.
Five years later he became President of the World Anti-Doping Agency, a position he held until November 2013. In this role Mr Fahey was a driving force behind moves to increase and enhance drug testing in sport around the world.

Last November Pope Francis awarded Mr Fahey the Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of St Gregory the Great, one of the Church’s highest awards, in recognition of his significant and distinguished service to the Catholic Church in Australia including as Chancellor of ACU, and in state and federal politics where he promoted a pro-life message.

Archbishop Comensoli and ACU Chancellor The Hon John Fahey.
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli and John Fahey at the launch of the archbishop’s book last year. PHOTO: ACU

During his time as Chancellor the University’s reputation as a Catholic university has been enhanced. Much of this was due to the personal convictions that Mr Fahey had on the critical role that the university plays in the life of the Church in Australia. This was reflected in 2015 when ACU was awarded the Ex Corde Ecclesiae medal, the highest award of the International Federation of Catholic Universities.

As ACU Chancellor, Mr Fahey guided a long-term, sustainable expansion strategy that encompassed a rise in the numbers of both students and staff, the establishment of two new campuses, enhanced research capabilities, deepening partnerships in Australia and internationally.

Family, faith and football have always been central to Mr Fahey. Such was his lifelong love of rugby league team Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs, he was once a reserve grade player, always a fan and later became patron of the club.

His personal life has been marked by great joy and deep tragedy. An aggressive bout of cancer threatened to fell him in 2001 but he overcame the disease with only one lung, shorter of breath and a renewed determination to contribute as a leader, mentor and campaigner. He was profoundly affected by the sudden death of his daughter Tiffany who was killed in a car accident in 2006. The Faheys raised Tiffany’s two children.

He is survived by Colleen, children Matthew and Melanie, and grandchildren Amber and Campbell.

“He was a proud Catholic, a loving husband, father and grandfather, and an all-round fine human being,” Archbishop Fisher said.

“His death was a holy death, surrounded by family, sacrament and prayer. I engaged most with him in the governance of the Australian Catholic University where he will certainly be missed.

“He worked hard for the university right up to and even during his last days in hospital.”

The NSW Government will hold a state funeral for Mr Fahey at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney on a date to be determined. Details of the funeral are yet to be advised and will be limited by COVID restrictions.

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