THE Hunter’s motorcycling community has been left devastated after the death of successful businessman Jeff McLeary, who was killed on Australia Day in a car crash near his Buchanan property in what senior police have described as a “terrible waste of life”.
The father-of-two ran the booming KTM motorcycles dealership at Lambton and previously owned leading air-conditioning company M&H Air.
Mr McLeary, 52, died in the Werekata National Park after the Ford Falcon “bush-basher” he was travelling in struck a tree shortly before 8.30pm.
He was a passenger.
The driver, a 20-year-old man, suffered serious injuries and remains in John Hunter Hospital.
Mr McLeary’s devastated son, former junior supercross champion Brock McLeary, described his father as his “best friend”.
“He taught me everything I know,” he said.
“There is not a bad word you can say about Dad.
“He was a great man.”
Brock, who worked alongside Mr McLeary at KTM, said his father worked tirelessly to ensure the business succeeded.
“Every day he would be up at 5.30, he’d get himself a coffee and he’d go and work on the property,” he said. “Then he’d be in at work a few hours later. Every single day he knew what had to be done and he did it.”
Mr McLeary’s business partner, Shane Place, said the tragedy had left a “massive hole” in Newcastle’s motorcycling community. He paid tribute to Mr McLeary as a “very driven” and “highly intelligent” businessman.
“He was a very successful man but he never showed it,” Mr Place said. “He probably didn’t need to work anymore … he did this because he wanted to have fun, enjoy it and be part of the team. He had direction and strove for perfection – that’s what he was well-known for.
“Jeff was the anchor.”
Brock McLeary said his friend, who was driving the car at the time, was expected to make a full recovery from head and abdominal injuries.
Crash investigators launched an investigation and seized the Ford Falcon as part of their inquiries into how the car lost control.
Two other 18-year-old men were in the car at the time but only suffered minor injuries.
Rescue efforts were hampered by the remoteness of the crash scene, with emergency services gaining access through Mr McLeary’s adjoining property.
The Westpac rescue helicopter was dispatched to the scene and flew the driver to hospital in a serious condition.
One senior police officer described the tragedy as a “terrible waste of life”.
In a promotional video for KTM, Mr McLeary described how he welcomed his staff to the purpose-built dirt bike track at his Buchanan property.
“I have the utmost faith in every time they come they are going to do the right thing by me at home or in the shop,” he said. “That’s what I call family.”
He also described how building KTM Newcastle took “a lot of blood, sweat and tears” after initially believing the business would be easygoing.
The business had won awards, he said, but recognition “doesn’t pay the bills”.
“The perception that’s out there is not the reality,” he said.
“It takes a hell of a lot of work; a lot of blood, sweat and tears.
“You’ve got to be prepared to dig in and dig deep.”
Mr Place described his business partner as “wise” and a man who “did everything” for his family.
“It was always about doing things for his family and setting life up for them,” he said.
“They had only just come back from the tennis in Melbourne and were celebrating Australia Day together [before the accident].”
Steve Hamilton, who went on a rally with Mr McLeary in New Zealand last year, recalled how on the last day of the trip he spoke fondly of his wife Maree, daughter Shae and son Brock.
“He talked warmly that day when having a break of his love for his family, so proud he had his wife Maree with him at the event,” he said.
“He was so looking forward to riding one day soon on an adventure bike rally with his 20-year-old son Brock once his motocross days were behind him.
“I’m sad they’ll never get to do this together.”
Mrs McLeary was too heartbroken to speak publicly on Monday but wrote on Facebook: “I would give anything to have your arms around me and to see your face again. Don’t know how to do life without you and wish I didn’t have to.”