Thursday, 06 June 2024

Sir Eric Neal’s 100th birthday

Welcome all to Government House this evening.

Congratulations, Sir Eric, on becoming a centenarian. Rod and I wish you many happy returns for your birthday this past Monday, 3rd of June.

Reaching 100 years of age is an achievement that few attain.

For you, Sir Eric, a man of many achievements, it is a milestone which lends weight to a life already rich with success and service.

You came to Australia as so many do: a young migrant, your parents dreaming of the opportunities this country could give their children.

While you had to leave school at 16 to pursue paid work, you overcame this challenge, later training as an engineer at the South Australian School of Mines and commenced an impressive business career.

This included 14 years as CEO of Boral, as well as Directorships of several prominent companies.

It also included significant community service as Chair of several not for profit organisations.

In 1996, you became the first South Australian appointed Governor from a business background. You brought expertise, skills, connections and experience to the role that no one had before.

Your appointment was of great benefit to the state’s business community, and you led several successful trade missions to Europe, Asia and the United States.

You leveraged your engineering expertise to benefit the state, championing initiatives aimed at improving infrastructure and promoting sustainable development.

I believe one of your greatest legacies as Governor was the creation of the Governor’s Leadership Foundation, which this year celebrates 25 years of nurturing our state’s emerging leaders.

At all times the late Lady Neal was a wonderful consort to the role of Governor, tireless in her support to you personally and in your public role.

We were reminded of this last year during the wonderful service commemorating her life in St Peter’s Anglican Church at Glenelg, where you also celebrated your marriage and christening of your children.

In preparation for this dinner, I read your speeches for your swearing in ceremony, and also farewell dinner.

At this State Dinner, hosted by Premier the Hon Rob Kerin in 2001, your speech expressed your and Lady Neal’s belief that “the Governor is there for all citizens in the State”, as well as your desire to “bring the role even closer to the people”[1].

Sir Eric, since commencing my term as Governor, many a South Australian has come up to me to recount their impressions of previous Governors.

No doubt it is a phenomenon with which you too are well acquainted!

They describe how you brought your convictions to life: of your dedication to, and enthusiasm for, your role; the doors you opened for our business community, the sage advice you offered to young people, the thanks you offered to volunteers and not for profit organisations, and much more.

I conclude this evening with the final lines of your swearing in speech as Governor in 1996, in which you quoted recent editorial comment from The Advertiser:

“A Governor with the prestige of office at his disposal might, without in any way demeaning the position or radically breaking with precedent, do good things in a quiet way.”[2]

Thank you Sir Eric for all the good you did as Governor, and in countless other roles.

South Australia has, and continues to, benefit greatly from your efforts.

Happy birthday.

[1] Sir Eric Neal’s Farewell dinner speech, p.2

[2] Sir Eric Neal’s Swearing in speech, p.6.

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