The man who captained the first commercial airplane to arrive on the opening day of the Port Macquarie Airport in 1955 has passed away but not before he achieved his goal of “sticking around for a 100 years".
Ron Walesby is being remembered for his aviation exploits as a skilled pilot and aviation manager through the formative years of Australian aviation, as a serviceman, a Rotarian for over 60 years, an author and, not the least, for his substantial community work.
Most importantly though, Ron was a wonderful husband of 74 years to Lois - they married on January 15, 1944, – and father to Lorryl, Warwick and Janice. The family grew to include seven grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren most of whom now reside in Port Macquarie.
Ron and Lois met during the war years in Coffs Harbour when Ron was serving with 75 Squadron on Coastal Surveillance protecting convoys.
Lois' parents operated a dry cleaning shop and their romance developed through their initial friendship when Ron ventured into the shop for uniform repairs.
"We were happy with each other's company and liked the same things," Ron said in an earlier interview.
The couple enjoyed Church activities, hospitality and played tennis and "liked being together".
Ron celebrated his 100th birthday on February 18, 2018.
To enjoy Ron's company, even for the briefest of moments, was to find a man with an inquisitive mind and who maintained a sharp and perceptive interest in world affairs particularly aviation. He was a man of great integrity and deep faith in his God. He was peerless.
He published his memoir ‘Like Snow on the Desert’ in 2012 - at the age of 94.
Ron Walesby was born in Gladesville, Sydney and went on to serve in the Royal Australian Air Force for five years during the war.
He flew protective convoy escort duties and carried out maritime surveillance during World War II before joining East-West Airlines as one of their first pilots.
He went on to enjoy almost 40 years either flying or in airline management, which included 16 years as general manager South East Asia for Fokker Aircraft Manufactures.
“I’d always wanted to fly,” he said. “My only regret was that with the bombing of Pearl Harbour, we were ordered not to leave Australia whereas at that time I was heading to Europe.”
I’d always wanted to fly.Ron Walesby
Ron commenced his long association with Rotary in 1956 as a foundation member of the Rotary Club of West Tamworth and was the club’s third president. In fact, over the years he has held every club position along with ‘a few at district level’.
He described Rotary as "a wonderful organisation" praising its ability to work effectively at local and international level.
"It is the ethics of the organisation that stand out for me,” he would say.
"And I also think Rotary has developed into a more powerful club in leading its community.
“Rotary has done a lot of good in the world and certainly fills a void providing people with opportunities that may not necessarily have been available to them.”
Ron and Lois retired to Port Macquarie in 1983 and immediately transferred into the Rotary Club of Port Macquarie.
He initiated and was instrumental in the formation of Rotary Lodge and was the committee chair for the first seven years.
The committee had oversight of raising funds and finally the construction of an accommodation facility at the Port Macquarie Base Hospital – Rotary Lodge. It opened in 1996.
His wish at the end was simple: “I don’t want flowers, just support for Rotary Lodge where it would be more useful”.
As a mark of his contribution to this cause, a wing at the just-opened extensions was named in his honour - with another strong contributor, Richard Marocco, also similarly acknowledged.
Ron said he was extremely proud to have a section of the facility named in his honour.
He also chaired the committee for the renovation of Flagstaff Hill acquiring an ex-navy flagstaff, having the area paved and erecting a stone cairn and bronze plaque that records some of the history of our early settlement.
In 2013, he received a Seniors Week Achievement Award for his commitment to aviation and community service.
His good friend, Kerry Medway, described Ron as a mentor.
"Ron will be remembered for the amazing achievements he accomplished in aviation, Rotary and the forming of the local 333 Squadron Air Cadets, but for me his example will be what marks him as a great man of God," Pastor Medway said.
"Each morning for several years he would spend between 9am until 10am reading his Bible and praying. I was only ever allowed to visit for a cuppa after 10am.
"Then at lunch time he would go down to the nursing home at Garden Village and spend time with his wife Lois and hold her hand."
He did that almost every day until near the last.
To the nurses and management of Garden Village he was simply “Dad” and during his last days there was a constant stream of nursing staff in his room to check on him. The common statement from all was that “it was a privilege to know and look after him”.
A funeral service will be held at St Thomas' Anglican Church, Port Macquarie on Friday September 14 commencing at 1.30 pm.