Ray Leeson 1925 - 2015
THE late Ray Leeson was small in stature but a major figure in the lives of his newspaper staff.
As news filtered through of the long-time editor’s passing on Friday, former editors and journalists paid tribute to a mentor and community leader.
Mr Leeson worked for 45 years at ‘The Goulburn Evening Post,’ as it was then known, 36 of those as editor until 1988.
Former journalist Ian Frazer, who has written for the Townsville Bulletin for the past 19 years, said his old boss never let his war injuries hinder him.
He suffered a broken back and pelvic injuries after the Wellington Bomber in which he was flying in January, 1945 crashed and caught fire near its English training base.
Mr Frazer said after his recuperation and the war finished, Mr Leeson had hoped to resume his journalism beyond Goulburn. But his old editor, Marmion Dart, spotted his potential and convinced him to stay.
“He (Mr Leeson) was a bold as brass little bloke who never took a backward step and led from the front,” he said.
“He was an old fashioned editor.
There were no bylines back then so no matter what error a journalist made, he took responsibility but had a quiet chat to the reporter later.”
Mr Frazer worked at the Post from the early 1970s until 1975 and again from 1980 to 1985.
He recalled a leader who was big on discipline but quietly supported his staff through tough personal times and treated them as extended family.
Like every good editor, he was impartial. Mr Frazer was sure nobody would have guessed Mr Leeson’s politics.
“I can remember the railway workers union coming in and complaining about the amount of coverage they’d received,” he said.
“Ray pulled out the em rule and measured how much press they’d had and the amount Ron Brewer from the Country Party received. It quickly settled the matter.”
There were the big stories like the floods of 1974, a riot at Goulburn Jail, the Allens store fire in 1980 and the day in 1984 that a Cessna crashed into an Addison St home, killing three people on board and a person in the house.
The paper chronicled the rise and fall of the Goulburn Teachers College and the subsequent campaign to keep tertiary education in the city through the Police Academy’s establishment.
Mr Leeson and journalist Ray Williams actively pushed the idea.
There were dire water shortages, Pejar Dam’s construction and the subsequent failure of the dam wall.
“I’ll be ever grateful to him for giving me a start and giving such great training,” Mr Frazer said.
“It was ethical, no nonsense reporting.”
Maryann Weston worked for almost 18 months as a graduate cadet reporter under Ray Leeson’s leadership.
She was his only cadet to become editor of the Post (1999- 2003), and the first female to hold the role.
“Ray Leeson was the journalist’s journalist, demonstrating to all who worked with him the values of team work, mentorship and leadership,” she said.
“He has had the most positive influence on my journalistic career to date and taught me that loyalty and passion for your community are the hallmarks of a good community journalist and leader.”
Barrie Williams started as a first year apprentice in the paper’s printing division in 1956 and worked with Mr Leeson for 32 years.
“He was stern in the respect that everything had to be just right but he was also a very fair man,” he said this week.
“You could have a yarn with him and whenever you gave him news stories, he’d follow them up.”
There was the odd slip up. During heavy floods in Goulburn the headline ‘40,000 acres under water’ was accidentally transposed in the printery to read; ‘40,000 arces under water.’ Fortunately it was caught before publication.
Mr Williams said Mr Leeson always tried to unify staff, whether it was through the work environment or social occasions like big Christmas parties and woolshed dances, which the editor attended with wife, Pat.
“We had a lot of fun,” he said.
Mr Leeson’s good friend and former local solicitor Don Elder will deliver a eulogy at his funeral today at 11am at St Saviour’s Cathedral.
True to form, the former editor left Mr Elder a few prompting notes.