OBITUARY GRAHAM LANT | The boss who never left

GRAHAM Lant flew from England in 1973 to become the new boss of Uncle Ben’s, and ended up staying on the Border for the rest of his life.

The former general manager of the Wodonga plant died last week, just weeks short of celebrating his 90th birthday.

“He was really looking forward to having a party,” his only child, Gale Austin, said yesterday.

Uncle Ben’s — now Mars Petcare — was a culture shock for Mr Lant when he relocated with his wife, Joan, and daughter, Gale.

Mrs Austin said a major challenge at the start was working with unions that had a stronghold on the shop floor.

But as time came to pass he established close working relationships with the unions and the company’s workers.

“There was quite a large growth in the company during the 10 years he was involved,” Mrs Austin said.

“He really loved Mars because it was a family organisation.”

Mr Lant held the top job at Uncle Ben’s — which he joined in 1955 as a salesman — for about a decade, then took on a part-time role as a director of Effem Foods.

That allowed him to keep liaising with grocery manufacturers and federal government ministers in Canberra.

Mrs Austin said her dad loved keeping those links going.

“He spent all his time telling stories about Uncle Ben’s,” she said.

“They were only second to his RAF stories.”

Mr Lant became a pilot in 1943 and stayed with the Royal Air Force for about 10 years, which meant he also flew in the Malaysian uprising that started in 1948.

“He was dropping supplies to Commonwealth forces,” Mrs Austin said.

“He remained really close friends with some of his flying mates, they had a reunion of about five of them at one point. But there’s only one of them left now.

“He lost a lot of colleagues, but he did have some wonderful stories.”

For Mrs Austin, her father was “a very warm and caring dad”.

“He was always there for mum and I — we described him as our rock.

“He gave us a great life.”

2006 - Graham Lant at the 20th anniversary of the Albury Wodonga Cancer Foundation. Pictured with 20-year member Jane Ayers and chairman at the itme, Eric Turner. Picture: PETER MERKESTEYN

2006 - Graham Lant at the 20th anniversary of the Albury Wodonga Cancer Foundation. Pictured with 20-year member Jane Ayers and chairman at the itme, Eric Turner. Picture: PETER MERKESTEYN

Mr Lant was on the old Albury Wodonga Development Corporation board and also got involved at the start of the Albury Wodonga Cancer Foundation, which he served as chairman for more than a decade.

Mrs Austin said her father was “very, very much” into whatever he could do for the community”.

“He saw the foundation as a very good opportunity — it was quite a passion for him.”

The Lants spent more than 30 years on a property at Wirlinga they named “Kookaburra”.

A regular highlight was a Boxing Day lawnmower derby with their neighbours.

“It always started out the front of Kookaburra, it was all good fun,” Mrs Austin said.

The couple moved to a retirement village near Lake Hume two years ago and Mr Lant died in Mercy Care’s palliative care ward on May 31.

His funeral will be at Lester and Sons in North Albury, on the corner of Mate and Wantigong streets, at 2.30pm today.

All are welcome, though a private cremation will follow.

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