Obituary: Greg Heys

Friday, June 8, 2007

Former Newcastle lord mayor Greg Heys died on June 5 after a massive heart attack.

I first met Greg in the late 1980s when he helped organise a broad and inclusive conference on social justice in Newcastle, and last chatted with him a few weeks ago at a community forum against Work Choices that was organised by the Search Foundation.

Greg was elected to Newcastle City Council (NCC) and later won preselection for lord mayor against a right-wing incumbent. He was elected mayor in 1995 and for a few years Newcastle was not totally under the sway of big developers, as was certainly the case before and after his tenure in office.

Greg democratised council structures and, working with the three Greens councillors, helped NCC adopt a more environmental focus.

Being a prominent ALP member has its political limitations, but Greg wasn't always boxed in. He was one of the few "official leaders" who addressed the militant but peaceful anti-Pauline Hanson rally of 7000 people outside Newcastle's Civic Theatre in 1997. Hanson had come to Newcastle to try to use the closure of the steelworks to whip up racial hatred.

One of Greg's last official duties as mayor, on the eve of the September 1999 election in which he lost office, was to chair a large public meeting in City Hall in solidarity with East Timor. Greg invited long-standing East Timor activists to speak on the official platform.

Condolences to Greg's wife, Wendy, and their family.

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