Vale Allan William McDonald AO QC

Athletics Australia notes with great respect and much sadness the passing of its sixth President and Life Governor – the Honourable Allan William McDonald AO QC.

Allan McDonald’s involvement in and service to athletics was both extensive in time and substantial in contribution.

He was President of Athletics Australia from 1978 to 1983 having been one of its two vice-presidents from 1972 to 1976. He became a Life Member in 1993 and in turn a Life Governor from 2008. He was a delegate to the Australian Olympic Federation and Australian Commonwealth Games Association.

At state level Allan’s contribution was equally strong – serving as a skilful chairman of the council of the Victorian Amateur Athletic Association (now Athletics Victoria) from 1962 to 1976, before becoming its President, and remaining in office until 1978 when he took over the chair at nationallevel. He was made Life Member of VAAA in 1979.

His period at the helm of Athletics Australia was particularly significant. Those five years during which he served as its President saw more change than perhaps any other half decade in the sport’s history.

His time in the chair began with the amalgamation of the men’s and women’s national bodies. It was not easy for it was not a merger in any real sense of the word. It could so easily have gone astray but it did not. Allan understood and when he thought there were others who might manage a particular issue more capably or appropriately than himself, he deputised them to do so.

The task was far from complete as only Western Australia and South Australia had progressed amalgamation at state level and there was still much to be done to respect the past history of both sides of the sport and those who had made contributions to it. And then in 1980 there were new divisions within the sport over attendance at the Moscow Olympics.

There were big changes during this period in national governance. Allan steered the sport through to a board elected on ability rather than state representation and with places guaranteed for women. This was a huge change for until then virtually all the sport’s policy decisions and many resolutions of the bread and butter issues were made at two or three day general meetings of the states held twice each year.

He also took the radical step of incorporating the then Australian Athletic Union as a company limited by guarantee.

These were ground breaking initiatives at the time – and more than 30 years before the Australian Government mandated them for all sports.

Allan’s presidency also saw member association status granted to the AACT and the sport’s move into commercialism – its first million dollar sponsorship and a foray into mass participation running, capitalising on the athletics’ world’s then burgeoning global love affair with marathons. And there was the launch of a successful bid to host the World Cup of Athletics in Canberra in 1985.

Allan’s skills were in governance and leadership. He did not seek for himself key positions in competition organisation or team management. Rather he preferred to make his contribution to the grass roots of the sport raking the jumps pit at interclub.

Typical of his approach to these things, when the first Australian Marathon was staged in Sydney in 1983 and entries went way beyond expectation, Allan sat on the floor with volunteers at the race hotel, threading ribbons onto extra finisher medallions.

In later years, Allan retained a discreet distance, but remained a keen interest in Athletics Australia and its governance, always dissecting its annual reports and often in attendance as a Life Governor at its annual meetings. When he felt he was not overstepping the mark as a past administrator, Allan sought the call to speak – his contributions always worthwhile and often occasioning reflection and action by his successors.

Fellow QC and one of his successors as AA President, David Grace regards Allan as a lifelong devotee of athletics, “his contribution extended well beyond his years on the board and his presidency. He was vitally interested in the sport and continued to attend events and remain as a source of support and guidance for subsequent administrations until his illness prevailed in recent years. He was a great support for me and offered sage advice often. He will be missed.”

Allan was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2011 for distinguished service to the law and to the judiciary, particularly the implementation of mediation initiatives and administrative reforms, and as a mentor, to medical research ethics, and to a range of sporting organisations. He had earlier received the Australian Sports Medal in 2000 for his substantial contribution to athletics.

As a young man, Allan was a keen sportsman. At Geelong College, he was stroke of the rowing eight, a cadet under officer, a member of the first XVIII in football and significantly for the future perhaps, the winner of the school cup for athletics.

Once at Ormond College at Melbourne University in 1955 Allan pursed his interests as a competitor in sprints and hurdles for MUAC, in turn becoming a very hands on and enthusiastic club president.

Allan was a more than handy athlete with a best of 9.9(h) for 100 yards in 1958 and 22.9(h) for 220 yards two years later. However it was in the 220 yards hurdles where he excelled. At Intervarsity, Allan was joint winner in 1955 in Adelaide and was third in Melbourne 1956 whilst he finished fourth in the event in the 1960 Victorian Championships in 25.0(h).

Fellow AA Life Governors evoked memories of Allan’s time as a competitor. Denis Wilson recalled they first met at Intervarsity Athletics in Brisbane in 1958, where Allan finished fifth in the 100 yards and was a member of the winning Melbourne University sprint relay team. Denis remembers Allan being equally enthusiastic and engaged on and off the track.

Roy Boyd reflected: “I had a lot of respect for Allan both for his athletic ability which I saw often during the 50’s and later for his leadership. This is a sad loss.”

Brenda Pearl’s thoughts were of his later contributions: “He was a lovely man. I really appreciated it when he always visited the officials’ room as it meant such a lot to the technical officials to have their president call in to say hello”.

In his professional life, Allan was a Judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria from 1988 to 2002. Admitted as a barrister and solicitor in 1960, he was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1977.  He was bestowed with an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by Deakin University in 2004.

He was an appointed member of Court of Arbitration for Sport from 2004 and in his roles with Deaf Sports Australia was a member of the Board of Directors and Organising Committee for the 2005 Deaflympic Games in Melbourne.

Allan was a member of the Victorian Youth Advisory Council from 1973 to 1975 and a long-serving committee member and for a period vice-president of the Melbourne Cricket Club.

Allan’s service to the entire community, but particularly for his colleagues in our sport to athletics, is remembered with fondness and gratitude. Sincere condolences are extended to his wife Margaret, their children and their families.

The Funeral Service to celebrate Allan’s Life will be held at the Wesley Uniting Church, 100 Yarra Street, Geelong on Tuesday 27 June commencing at 2pm.