Bernie Malouf cuts the celebratory cake as our first mayor in 1987.
Bernie Malouf cuts the celebratory cake as our first mayor in 1987.

Tributes for first mayor

THE founding father of the city of Coffs Harbour, Bernie Malouf, has left quite a legacy.

One of life's “gentle” men and a driving force behind starting local aged-care services and persuading a university to open its doors in Coffs Harbour, the city's first mayor died at the weekend aged 88.

Mr Malouf was one of the few people honoured with an Order of Australia Medal and one of an even smaller number of Australians awarded a papal medal for his services to the Catholic Church and wider community.

When Coffs Harbour was officially declared a city on September 1, 1987, by then premier Barrie Unsworth, Mr Malouf was instilled as our first mayor.

Mr Malouf's death was announced to the Coffs Harbour Catholic congregation during Saturday evening mass by Father John Casey.

“A lot of people will miss him. There was a ripple that went through the church when Father Casey announced his death at the altar,” said long-term friend and colleague Patrick Littler.

Describing Mr Malouf as a mentor, good mate, visionary as well as a humble man, Mr Littler was grateful to have been able to say goodbye to his former council boss.

A member of one of the older Coffs Harbour families, Mr Malouf lived above Malouf's Drapery on the corner then known as Malouf's Corner, where the St George Bank stands today.

Opposite was Tony Simmons of Jack Simmons Menswear, who remembers him as, “very soft-hearted and a very, very astute businessman”.

“We were both in business together and although we were in opposition, we were always good friends,” Mr Simmons said.

Both men were approached by Father McEvoy to help establish aged-care facilities in a town where there was none.

Mr Malouf threw himself into the task, doorknocking, fundraising and working hard as part of a small team of Catholic men to open first Oznam Villa, then St Augustine's Aged Care, and later St Joseph's Aged Care. One of the wings of St Joseph's is named in his honour.

“He was terrific for the Catholic Church in general and great for the city as well,” Mr Simmons added.

Sometimes working hard for charity can take the fun out of life but this never happened to Bernie.

“He had an impish sense of humour. He was always playing tricks on people, although he certainly had the respect of people,” Mr Littler said.

Mr Littler also recalled an occasion at council, where Mr Malouf commented on an attractive new female staff member, saying he felt like giving her a big hug.

Mr Littler looked on horrified as he walked over to the woman and gave her an enormous hug, before hearing the woman exclaiming how delighted she was to see him again and learning how well they knew each other.

In his younger days, he was known for sliding down the veranda posts to get up to mischief away from the family home.

He was also a talented footballer, playing rugby league with his brothers in Coffs Harbour in the 1950s, playing rugby union for the army and running on for Western Suburbs rugby league in his youth as well.

During the war, he served in the Citizens Military Force and Australian Infantry Battalion, performing overseas service in Borneo and carrying shrapnel injuries in his hip to his grave. After retiring from the family business, he became heavily involved in fundraising for Catholic aged care, before being persuaded to run for public office as a councillor.

After several years as alderman, he was elected shire president and was able to pursue his passions for developing Coffs Harbour. Knowing fellow alderman Marnie Yeates' tenacity for achieving, he appointed her chair of the council's committee for promoting the establishment of a university and fully supported all initiatives to achieve this dream.

“He was really keen to preserve what made us unique – the Coffs Harbour environment. I remember going away on trips with him to promote clean industries moving to Coffs Harbour and you can't get a much cleaner industry than a university,” Mr Littler said.

Mr Malouf is survived by sons Michael and John and daughters Carol and Maryanne and three grandchildren. Michael Malouf said: “I feel quite inadequate by comparison. We loved him very dearly and were very proud of him.”

“He was determined not to go into a nursing home, which was quite ironic, really,” his son said. Mr Malouf's funeral will be held at St Augustine's Catholic Church tomorrow at 10am.

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