In the early hours of Saturday morning the Hunter region lost one of the most significant political leaders in its history. Neil McNamara was 97 years old.
Neil served on both the Patrick Plains and Singleton Councils for 43 years. Most of that time as Shire President and Mayor.
His civic duties did not end there.
Neil was Chairman of Energy Australia, Chairman of the Hunter Region Association of Councils, a member of the Hunter Region Tourism Association, and a member of both the Newcastle and Upper Hunter Beyond 2000 committees.
In 1984 Neil's commitment to his local region was recognised with an Order of Australia award. He was granted Freedom of the Shire status by Singleton Council and is a Member of the Singleton Hall of Fame.
Throughout all of this, Neil was magnificently supported by his wife, Joan, who left us only a short time ago. He is now re-united with the love of his life.
A generous, wise and humble dairy farmer with the most exquisite speaking note and tone, Neil enjoyed enormous support within his community. He had that rare talent of being able to speak like a politician without sounding like one.
Neil McNamara transformed Singleton. From the early 1970s it began its progression from relatively sleepy agriculture economy to a coal mining region bursting with energy.
Under Neil’s leadership, Singleton took a very deliberate decision to embrace the enormous investment on offer from those hoping to mine our rich coal seams.
It was not an easy decision and one not without political, environmental and economic risk. But it was the right one. It was a decision which has delivered wealth and jobs for the Shire and indeed, the whole region.
Both my father and I had the great pleasure of working with Neil as federal members. We were also great mates.
Neil McNamara was a significant person in my life, and I am fortunate to have had him in it. I will miss his phone calls - which would typically come after a television interview - and his generous approval of whatever I had said.
These days ‘Legend’ is a too liberally-used descriptor but not when used to describe Neil McNamara. He was an absolute Legend. Our thoughts are with his wonderful family.