Ron had a huge influence on my life, from the first time I met him as a Board Director at South Melbourne Hellas in the early 1990s. I had known him the way so many others did, through the stories in the newspapers, through his achievements but, I had no idea about the wonderful man behind his ‘larger than life’ image.
Our first dealings had been at opposite ends of a difficult negotiation over a new stadium for South Melbourne Football Club and soon after, when I would take up the Operation Manager’s role at the newly-arrived Melbourne Formula One Grand Prix in 1995. The inclusive nature of the welcome that I received from Ron was a quality that he would continue to exhibit throughout our working relationship and friendship, and during the course of my career. It was a quality that I have always admired and sought to emulate in my life. His commitment and passion for making the Grand Prix the event it is today was relentless and drove all of us all to excel to levels we may have thought unreachable. In the first three years, led by Ron Walker and Judy Griggs, we were awarded the best organized Grand Prix on the global F1 Calendar and soon after, as a result, I was asked to consult to the 2000 Sydney Olympics for three years leading up to the staging of the most successful Games in history.
Ron had the ability to gather amazing people around him, and I had the fortune of working with both Judith Griggs (a leading figure in both F1 and the event industry globally) and John Harnden (now Chairman of the Grand Prix), both of whom would become significant friends and mentors. I was blessed to be part of and lead a number of Ron’s teams, and to share such outstanding results along the way – the experiences remain some of my fondest memories. Ron helped me stage one of the first football matches between F1 Drivers and South Melbourne. I remember walking into the Ferrari garage together trying to persuade Michael Schumacher to play in the match –we did it and I vividly remember having to shadow him the whole 90 minutes to ensure he didn’t get injured.
Ron Walker created the Major Events Company and Melbourne built an industry around it – his legacy is undeniable. He was an integral part of the Company, its methodology and raising its profile throughout Melbourne, Australia and the world. He had an ability to make you rise and to meet the highest of challenges. At both the Grand Prix and Victorian Major Events, we rose not only to be the best in Australia, but to be global leaders in our industry and to secure and stage some of the most successful events in the world, right here in Melbourne. So much of my drive for perfection and breaking the rules occasionally, was driven by Ron Walker’s example.
Ron remained a wonderful mentor for me up until his passing, and it was always uplifting visiting him in his office during the last few years. Only a short time back, while he was in hospital having treatment, Ron sent me a touching message through a friend, that my family and I will cherish forever.
He will be sincerely missed. We shared some amazing memories. What a privilege it was. May he rest in peace…