The Road Ahead : June 2013
QUEENSLAND'S LARGEST CLUB 15 QLD INTERVIEW | LIFESTYLE JUN/JUL 2013 THE ROAD AHEAD AS THE WELL-DRESSED, slightly-built elderly man walks towards me, there is no mistaking the smile -- one that had been beamed into Queensland living rooms on television sets most nights during the 1970s-80s. He extends his right hand, offers a warm handshake and says, "Llew Edwards -- delighted to meet you." The feeling, I have to say, is mutual. After all, if 'you're only dancing on this earth for a short while' (apologies to Cat Stevens aka Yusuf Islam), Sir Llewellyn Edwards has waltzed with more gusto and style than most. Over a cold glass of water, in a boardroom looking across the Brisbane CBD skyline, he tells me his story... Born in 1935 in Ipswich, he attended school at Raceview, Silkstone and Ipswich Grammar before entering the family business, R. T. Edwards, as an apprentice electrician. It wasn't really what he wanted to do -- studying medicine was -- but his father was insistent on him first developing broader life experience in the 'real world'. "Then, in my third year, I fell off a ladder and cracked three vertebrae," Sir Llew recalls. "That reinforced the notion that I had better get on and do medicine." After graduating in 1963, he served two years at hospitals (the PA and Ipswich) before heading overseas, returning and going into general practice for 12 years. An entrance into state politics came about when he was headhunted by one of his patients, the retiring Member for Ipswich. "Around that time, I was out of bed four times (on call) in one night and I thought, I can't do this for the rest of my life," Sir Llew said. "So I joined the Libs and got endorsed. I ran on my reputation and won the seat in 1971. I was a backbencher for two years, and then made Minister for Health (1974-78)." This was at the height of the Bjelke- Petersen era. Which begs the question: just how did he get on with Sir Joh? "I got on well, in general, although we had some differences on health issues," Sir Llew says with a wan smile. One of those 'differences' was Bjelke-Petersen's championing of 'Dr' Milan Brych, a former Czech refugee to New Zealand who claimed to have professional medical qualifications and -- a cure for cancer. Sir Llew remembers their meeting -- vividly. "(Joh) rang and said come over. He had this fellow sitting in his office and said, 'Llew, this is Dr Milan Brych, who can cure cancer, but he can't get registration in Queensland at the moment. Register him straight away'. I said, 'Joh, the Medical Board registers people and (they) answer to me, but I can't register anyone'. "He said, 'Change the Act'. I said, 'I won't do that', and he said, 'You're fired!' So I rang (Liberal leader) Gordon Chalk. 'Take no notice, son,' he said, 'he fires me every week'." In a chequered 12-year parliamentary career, Sir Llew also served as Treasurer, Deputy Premier and Liberal Party leader (1978-83) before resigning in 1983 after being challenged for the latter position by high-profile chemist Terry White. His knighthood came a year later. Sir Llew was called to appear before the Fitzgerald Inquiry, like many politicians of the time, but cleared of any wrong doing. Life after politics brought further career moves when Sir Llew, always up for a challenge, accepted appointments to the University of Queensland (UQ) senate and head up World Expo 88. The former represented a return to his roots, the place from where he graduated with a medical degree in 1965. "It was an honorary job... but that was part of my contribution back to my university," Sir Llew says. And what a contribution it was. His service to UQ continued from 1984 until 2008, and took in five boards and 15 years as chancellor. But it's Sir Llew's appointment as World Expo 88 executive chairman that, he says, is "probably the best job I ever had", and he looks back on that hectic (15 hours a day, seven days a week), but fulfilling, time with absolute affection. It's been said that 'Expo' was a coming of age for Brisbane -- a transformation from 'big country town' into a confident city. Sir Llew couldn't agree more. "'Expo' was an opportunity to do things for the first time," he says. "Drinking and outdoor dining laws were able to be changed (to meet the times) and we promoted it as, 'the safest place to be, the happiest place to be, the best place to be.' And it was. We were expecting six million visitors -- we got 18.3 million." But, it could easily have been so different... "The worst thing that could have happened was strikes," he says, in recalling the long lead time in selecting, sourcing and building the site on what has become South Bank. "Joh and the unions were at each other. So we got together with the trade union movement and were able to negotiate a no strike policy. We never lost one hour." Leone, his first wife and mother to their three children, died of asthma and, in 1989, Sir Llew married Jane Brumfield, who had been engaged to do PR for 'Expo'. Today, she runs one of the state's foremost communications firms, BBS Public Relations, and is Queensland's Honorary Consul for France. The best thing about retirement, Sir Llew says, is the opportunity for him and Jane to spend more time together -- and with their much loved Schnauzers, Sophie and Sergio. There's also time for reflection. With such a rewarding and successful, busy life to draw on, I asked Sir Llew how best he would like to be remembered. He thinks about if for a moment, fingers interlocked, and says quietly, "A decent and proud Queenslander that hopefully contributed in some way to the state. And a good father and husband." A humble and succinct encapsulation but, having met the man, one totally in keeping. ... He said, 'Change the Act'. I said, 'I won't do that', and he said, 'You're fired!'.