Former Albury mayor John Roach dies

JOHN Roach AO, a former mayor of Albury for 12 years, died suddenly yesterday.

Mr Roach, 77, had been expected to meet friends at a club and was found dead when one checked on him at his Wilson Street home.

He was one of the most influential figures in the Border’s public life as an alderman from 1959 to 1999 and as chairman of the Murray River (Electricity) County Council for several years.

In 1984, he stood as Liberal candidate for Farrer but an unexpected boundary change handed the federal seat, in effect, to the National Party’s Tim Fischer.

Mr Roach then left party politics and earned wide respect as an impartial and dignified mayor whose duties included hosting the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

John Lester Roach was born in Albury on December 5, 1935, part of a family that settled in Albury in 1840.

He joined his father, Fred, in a real estate agency in 1956, after working at Dalgety’s.

On his 24th birthday he was elected an alderman, a protege of long-time mayor Cleaver Bunton.

Soon after, the city expanded by absorbing Lavington from Hume shire and Tom Pearsall joined the city council from Hume.

Mr Roach saw Mr Pearsall as a visionary prepared to spend his money on major projects and seek investment for Albury overseas.

He backed Mr Pearsall’s view that Albury shouldn’t be a retirement and garden city, but must gain industry and jobs — a strategy not shared by Mr Bunton.

As mayor from 1977, Mr Roach became a board member of the Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation but was always critical of it, believing it stifled Albury’s residential growth for years.

“I served on the board for 10 years and it wasn’t easy,” he once said.

Being a single man, Mr Roach invited his cousin, Yvonne Jackson, to be mayoress.

Throughout his mayoralty, their civic duties included not only hosting royals but naturalising hundreds of new citizens in a way that made them feel true citizens of Albury.

Mr Roach served two terms as deputy mayor, chaired several city committees and presided over the NSW Local Government Electricity Association for five years.

In 1977, he flew to Seattle to “christen” a Qantas 747, The City of Albury.

Outside council, he was in Apex, Lions and Rotary at different times, chaired the Salvos’ Red Shield Appeal for years and was involved with the Red Cross, Spastics Council and Arthritis Foundation.

Albury was judged NSW’s most progressive city when he was mayor in 1984.

In 1999, Mr Roach was ousted from the council with others after “the most difficult, inharmonious and unpleasant” council in 40 years.

He accepted defeat with aplomb, citing a mood for change that reminded him he had been elected when he and several Apexians thought it was time to remove some aldermen.

While he did not comment on civic politics after 1999, he regretted that NSW had abolished council-run electricity authorities such as Murray River County Council.

“We had the cheapest electricity in the state, top staff and no debt, yet we were just snuffed out overnight,” he said.

He was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1993.

Arrangements for a funeral at St Matthew’s Church are yet to be announced.