HUNTER MP Joel Fitzgibbon has remembered his father, Eric Fitzgibbon, as ‘‘a true champion of the region’’.
The elder Mr Fitzgibbon, who was the Hunter federal member from 1984 to 1996 and served for 15 years as a Cessnock councillor, including a stint as mayor, has died at age 78.
Joel Fitzgibbon said his father was a popular MP because he was ‘‘hard working and a true champion of the region’’.
‘‘He was a great father and political mentor and I will always be grateful for his support and guidance.’’Joel Fitzgibbon
‘‘He loved the Australian Labor Party and all it stands for,’’ Joel Fitzgibbon said.
‘‘He had a happy but financially modest upbringing, so he had great empathy for people on low incomes.’’
He taught English and history at Cessnock High School for almost two decades.
‘‘My parents fell in love with Cessnock when Dad was appointed to a teaching position here more than 50 years ago,’’ Joel Fitzgibbon said.
‘‘To me, he was a great father and political mentor and I will always be grateful for his support and guidance.’’
His dad spent the last few months in a dementia ward at St Joseph’s Calvary in Sandgate.
‘‘We are very thankful for the care he received there,’’ he said.
He died on Saturday ‘‘peacefully and painlessly surrounded by family’’.
His other son, Mark Fitzgibbon, is the chief executive of NIB health insurance.
Eric Fitzgibbon is also survived by his wife Anne, daughters Alison and Therese, along with grandchildren.
Joel Fitzgibbon said his mother Anne was ‘‘fit and well and enjoys strong family support’’.
‘‘We thank everyone for the overwhelming messages of sympathy and support.’’
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Mr Fitzgibbon made a generous and lasting contribution to the nation.
‘‘Eric was a life member of our party and will be missed by many,’’ Mr Shorten said.
‘‘Our thoughts are with Joel and the Fitzgibbon family.’’
Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent said Eric Fitzgibbon’s death was a ‘‘sad loss’’. ‘‘He worked tirelessly for the community,’’ Cr Pynsent said.
Former minister for the Hunter Richard Face said he was a ‘‘good knockabout bloke’’. Mr Face said he surprisingly won the respect of conservatives in his electorate.
‘‘This was in country towns where you’d expect a hostile reception – we called it tiger country.’’
Mr Face said it would be ‘‘true to say that Eric was different’’.
‘‘There was no mucking about with Eric – whatever it was, he saw it through the eyes of reality,’’ he said.