Former Benalla mayor Geoff Oliver OAM is being remembered as a man who always put the community first.
Geoff, 80, died on Monday after battling esophagus cancer for several months.
He had been one of the stalwarts of Benalla’s councils in their various forms, from the City of Benalla from 1987 to 1994 including as mayor, then playing a lead role in the council merger.
That led him to become chief commissioner of the Shire of Strathbogie, then a councillor with what became Delatite Shire and finally Benalla Rural City Council’s first mayor.
In all, Geoff served as mayor three times and was also awarded the Order of the Medal of Australia, which he said at the time was symbolic of the efforts of many more people.
‘‘It’s really a tribute to all the volunteers in Benalla because nobody can achieve anything without the full support and friendship of others,’’ Geoff told The Ensign in 2016.
Benalla Mayor Danny Claridge said he made signficant contributions while serving on council.
‘‘It was a shock when I heard the news,’’ Cr Claridge said.
Cr Claridge said Geoff had been involved in several organisations in Benalla.
‘‘It was Geoff that got BPACC (Benalla Performing Arts and Convention Centre) and GOTAFE built here, and he did an awful lot of community work, and council work, often at the cost of his own business.
‘‘There were times in the late 90s early 2000s where a lot of ratepayer dissatisfaction and soforth meant some had been avoiding his shop.
‘‘But as far Geoff was concerned, the community came first.
‘‘He was a friend of BPACC from when it started, so for more than 15 years, and was on the board of Benalla Art Gallery for many years.’’
Cr Claridge said Geoff and Thomas Green had also been pushing for a tech school to be opened in Benalla.
‘‘For a long time he had been pushing for a cultural walk around the lake, which will come to fruition with the lake precinct that we are building,’’ Cr Claridge said.
Former Benalla Rural City chief executive officer Tony McIlroy, who worked with Geoff for many years, said he had a fighting spirit.
‘‘It’s very sad, I only spoke to him two weeks ago,’’ Mr McIlroy said.
‘‘I sensed at that time he was struggling, but he was one of those people that had a fighting spirit and he said he was looking forward to catching up for a convivial drink.’’
Mr McIlroy said it was always a pleasure to work with Geoff.
‘‘He had a very relaxed manner about him in dealing with people,’’ he said.
‘‘Geoff was very well connected in the business community and was chairman of the Retail Trade Association board for many years.
‘‘He had a good sense of humour and I can’t think of anyone he didn’t get on with.
‘‘I also know a lot of councillors deferred to him, even after he stepped down from council, for his advice.’’
Geoff’s achievements for Benalla include:
- Being on the first fundraising committee for Cooinda;
- Establishing BPACC and subsequently joining the Friends of BPACC Committee;
- Being instrumental in the development of the Benalla Art Gallery and being part of its committee;
- The development of Goulburn Ovens Institute of TAFE;
- Being the mayor who brought ADI, now Thales, to Benalla;
- Being a member of the original Benalla Street Art Committee; and
- Becoming chair of the Retail Trade Association.