WHEN the Yowies won the NSW Aboriginal knockout in 2012 uncle Jimmy Wright declared, ‘‘I can die a happy man now’’.
The Aboriginal rights pioneer and Yowies founder passed away peacefully, aged 66, at John Hunter Hospital hospital on Wednesday.
But his legacy will live on through the countless Aboriginal organisations he was instrumental in founding, a generation of leaders he mentored and the Aboriginal flag that flies proudly above Newcastle’s council chambers.
‘‘I’m so proud to think where he came from to what he became,’’ Abie Wright said of a father who grew up at a time when Aboriginal people were not recognised as citizens, and who devoted his life to their advancement.
‘‘His family was his heart and his soul, but he was also a leader who led with his actions. He touched so many people, not even us, his family knew,’’ his son said.
Jimmy Wright’s childhood was tough and nomadic. He attended 13 schools as the family moved between the fringes of suburbia and the bush, before leaving school altogether in year eight.
His dedication to the principles of respect made up for what he lacked in formal education as he pursued justice for his people.
He became an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Many Rivers Region commissioner; he was the first chief executive of the Awabakal Aboriginal Cooperative; founder of Yarnteen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Corporation and Yowies Sporting Association.
He was instrumental in 1977 in making City of Newcastle the first Australian council to fly an Aboriginal flag and was the driving force behind the establishment of local Aboriginal land councils.
One of his most loved proteges, Sean Gordon, said uncle Jimmy was the epitome of good leadership.
‘‘He was able to sit at the highest level of political affairs but still be very grounded in the community, and in caring for individuals,’’ the chief executive of the Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council said.
‘‘There would be thousands of people who could tell stories of how he supported them in their most desperate time of need.’’
Uncle Jimmy’s extensive contribution to public affairs is reflected in the words of state and federal politicians who have come forward to offer condolences to Jimmy’s wife and six sons.
Federal member for Newcastle Sharon Claydon said his five decade long contribution could not be underestimated.
‘‘His vision and determination for equality for all Indigenous Australians enriched the opportunity and the lives of thousands,’’ Ms Claydon said.
Federal minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion said, ‘‘I had the privilege to meet uncle Jimmy and I know his guidance and inspiration will be missed in many communities across NSW, particularly in the Hunter and Many Rivers regions.’’
Jimmy Wright’s funeral will be held at Newcastle City Hall on Tuesday at 12pm.