RAY LEESON: 1925 - 2015
EVER the newspaperman, Ray Leeson wrote his obituary before he passed away. The neatly typed documents were updated several times over the years and duly dropped into the Goulburn Post with a smile and chat.
They detailed a long list of community service but with typical modesty, omitted the qualities of the man himself.
Mr Leeson, who served 36 years as the Goulburn Evening Post’s editor, died in hospital on Friday afternoon following a short bout of pneumonia. His passing came just seven weeks after celebrating his 90th birthday.
His widow Pat paid tribute to him as a wonderful husband, father and community leader.
“He always helped people whether that was through Legacy, the Chamber of Commerce, the hospital board or the other committees he was on. I never heard a bad word said about him,” she said.
“He was such a loyal and loving person to his family and was very proud of his son (Ian) and daughter (Janelle) and their children.
“He often said I was his best cadet. I don’t know if he meant it.”
The couple, who first dated at an Apex dance, would have been married 65 years in September. Indeed, the newspaper was very much a part of the household. After a full working day, Mr Leeson would often attend evening meetings of the numerous committees of which he was a member.
His community involvement was a hallmark of a total 45 years with the newspaper.
He joined as a cadet reporter aged 16 in 1941 but enlisted in the RAAF two years later, training as a wireless operator. In 1944 he was posted to England and served as Flight Sergeant with the RAF’s Bomber Command.
Mr Leeson was part of a six-man Australian crew in a Wellington Bomber which crashed near its base in Leicester, England on January 5, 1945 and burst into flames. He was the only man pulled from the burning wreckage and suffered a broken back and pelvic injuries. After a long recuperation, he was repatriated to Australia the following December.
Mr Leeson returned to the Post, became subeditor in 1948 and in 1952 was appointed editor of the Daniels family owned newspaper, succeeding Marmion Dart. At age 27, he was one of the youngest editors of a provincial newspaper.
Colleague of 15 years and Goulburn Post columnist Ray Williams was 2GN’s news editor when he met Mr Leeson in the 1950s. Though “competing” at one stage, they formed an enduring friendship, especially when Mr Williams later joined the newspaper.
“He was very professional, very fair and balanced and a very nice bloke,” he said.
“Ray was one of the old time editors where accuracy was so important.
“It was an era where editors were like bank managers; they were considered very prestigious jobs. So much depended on him because the newspaper was one of the few sources of information.
“Ray was a very honest bloke and in the world of journalism, that’s one of the greatest accolades you can receive.”
He adeptly handled the controversial State Aid debate of the early 1960s, one of several big stories the editor listed in his time. Though the metro media painted a town divided, the Post won plaudits for its fair coverage.
Catholic Bishop of Goulburn John Cullinane praised the Post and Mr Leeson as “the only paper to uphold the tradition of fair, honest comprehensive reporting” during the “often messy and very controversial” State Aid for Catholic Schools issue.
Likewise, he mounted a strong campaign when local wool stores were threatened with closure in the late 1950s. Mr Leeson gave photojournalist Leon Oberg his start at ‘The Post’ in 1964. He worked for 44 years at the newspaper, 24 of that under Mr Leeson.
“I was his longest serving employee,” Mr Oberg said on Friday.
“…I also kept a connection with him afterwards when I edited Town and Country Magazine.
“He liked to employ Goulburn people who knew about the town and the area. I valued that and I tried my best to learn and develop under him.
“He was a marvellous boss. I never saw him cranky. He was the sort who would listen to all sides of the story before he would make a judgement.”
MR Oberg headed up a small committee who successfully nominated Mr Leeson for an Order of Australia medal in 2008 for services to media and the community. It added to a 2003 Centenary Medal for services to journalism.
“My reward for more than 60 years’ community service is the knowledge that it has been of benefit to many fellow citizens,” Mr Leeson said upon receiving his OAM.
His wife, Pat said on Friday the award was among his proudest achievements.
The qualities he brought to journalism were ever present at home. Daughter Janelle Butcher said her father loved his work, was devoted to the community and loved Goulburn.
“He was a very honest and fair person and I grew up with all of that,” she said.
Mr Leeson is also survived by his grandchildren Scott and Mark Leeson and Emma Butcher, great granddaughter Charlie and his brother Max and sister-in-law Mary (Nambucca Heads). His sisters Dorothy and Amy and brother Keith predeceased him.
His funeral service will be held at St Saviour’s Cathedral at 11am Wednesday.