Published on 22 June 2020

Vale Ray Gilbert

Today, we pause to remember our former Mayor, Ray Gilbert OAM JP, who passed away last week, aged 92.

Ray had a long and illustrious 34-year career in local government.

Ray was a City of Noarlunga Councillor/Alderman from 1970-72 and 1974-85, and served as Mayor from 1985 to 1997.

He became City of Onkaparinga’s inaugural mayor following the amalgamation of Happy Valley, Noarlunga and Willunga councils in 1997, and he remained in the role until he chaired his last Council meeting on 7 November 2006, before retiring.

Ray also volunteered tirelessly with many community organisations and he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for service to local government and health services in 2002.

The former Mayor and his wife Edith received the Key and Freedom of Entry to the City of Onkaparinga on 27 October 2006, in honour and recognition of their achievements and outstanding service to local government and the community.

We thank Ray for his service and the difference he made to our city and to so many people’s lives.

Our sincere condolences to his family and all who knew him.

In Ray’s honour, we’ve republished below a 2006 article from our council magazine, published just before Ray’s retirement, in which you can hear him describe his story in his own words and get a glimpse at his legacy.

Rest in Peace, Ray, and thank you.

August 2006

After more than a third of a century of service to local government, Mayor Ray Gilbert OAM JP announced that he would not be standing in the upcoming election.

Ray has spent 34 years in local government and became the inaugural Mayor of the City of Onkaparinga in 1997. He has worked in a voluntary capacity with a large number of community organisations and was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for service to local government and health services in 2002.

We took the opportunity to ask Ray a few questions.

Ray, tell us when you moved to the south and what brought you here? 

The lifestyle the south offers has really shaped our lives. I was working as a design draftsman when Chrysler moved from Keswick to Tonsley Park in 1956. We had a young family and it seemed an ideal time to move to Port Noarlunga. We built a house here—we did most of the building ourselves—and our children went to Port Noarlunga Primary and later Christies Beach High School.

You have been a longstanding contributor to the community, not just in local government. How did this come about? 

We moved to Australia in 1952 and lived in Aldgate for a few years. During this time I was asked to join the Aldgate Memorial Hall Building Committee and before long I became the committee’s secretary. From that point there was no turning back. Soon after we moved to Port Noarlunga I was asked to join the Port Noarlunga Progress Association, then I joined the Emergency Fire Service (and I am still an auxiliary member of the Country Fire Service). I became Secretary of the Noarlunga Ambulance Service, Chair of the Port Noarlunga Primary School Council and was on the first Council of the Christies Beach High School.

Looking at all the organisations you have supported and continue to support, it seems once you became involved you stuck with it – both in terms of the number of organisations and the length of time you served. How did you do it? 

None of this would have been possible without my wife Edith’s encouragement. It’s just not possible to raise a family and support the community alone and I have been tremendously fortunate to have Edith by my side. And Edith has also played a part in the community in her own right, as patroness or chair of a number of organisations including Southern Area Blind and the Southern Urgency Relief Fund, and assisting numerous local families with the Mayoress’ Charity Christmas Tree Appeal which has received tremendous support.

What brought you to local government? 

When I moved to Port Noarlunga it was a tiny community and there was much to be done. In 1970 when I first joined Noarlunga Council as a Councillor for the Port Noarlunga Ward the rates income for the entire council was a little over half a million dollars—this year income from rates for the City of Onkaparinga will be nearly $65 million. But back in 1970 so much needed doing. I was approached by one of the local residents and asked to stand for Council—I agreed and won a seat.  And the rest, as they say, is history!

You’ve spent more than a third of a century in local government and are the City of Onkaparinga’s first and only Mayor to date – what’s kept you going? 

I’m a firm believer that if you want things to be done you have to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get on with the job. It’s no good standing and waiting for others. Though having said that, I’ve had tremendous support—I’ve been fortunate to have worked alongside a wonderful team of elected members, staff and community members.

What have been your most satisfying moments as an elected member? 

It has been immensely satisfying to see the City of Onkaparinga grow and thrive. We’ve moved from a heavy industry-based economy, to one that generates substantial revenue from the arts, tourism, wine and food as well as a range of knowledge and innovation-based industries.

There have also been some real milestones for me at the community level, such as the opening of the Noarlunga Leisure Centre and our Community Centres. The dedication of the Memorial Gardens in April 2005 to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Gallipoli was also very significant for me.

What’s around the corner for Ray and Edith? 

I’m planning to spend more time with my family—I have two children, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren. I’m also planning to take up sketching again—something I’ve not had much time for. But my retirement from local government won’t be the end of my community service—helping others is what it’s all about and I’m sure Edith and I will carry on.

What do you wish for the City of Onkaparinga? 

I’m as excited about the future today as I was about major developments in years gone by. There will always be things we want changed but my biggest wish is for more opportunities for our young people to be employed— it’s most important.

Finally, what message would you give to encourage other people to participate in local government? 

It’s a lot of work, but it’s tremendously satisfying. Councillors need to be prepared to get out there and listen to and work for the people who elected them. You have to get involved, to understand and you have to be prepared to change your opinion. But the rewards are countless. I’ve seen some great achievements and have made some lifelong friendships.

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Ray had a long and illustrious 34-year career in local government.