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You are here: Home / Our Community / Ross Smith (1941 - 2016) / Brett Louat address to Ross Smith Celebration 18 Nov 2016

Brett Louat address to Ross Smith Celebration 18 Nov 2016

I have been reflecting on what people before me have said and unfortunately it is often the case that we don't appreciate what we have until it has gone.

And it is certainly a mark of the man that there are so many people here this morning to bid their farewells.

I don't know a great deal about Ross and that's a shame but I have to assume that was the way he wanted it to be.

When I first took over the Sydney District from a housing perspective I had not previously met Ross. His reputation had proceeded him however and I very quickly became aware he had not had a very productive working relationship with people before me.

So very early in the process, I invited Ross into my office,sat him down and asked him how we could work together to achieve the outcomes we both needed.

He told me later that no one had ever done that before and I think that more than anything led to a comparatively amicable working relationship.

I found Ross to be a very interesting person and someone I quite enjoyed working with. He was interesting because he was someone you always had to be on your toes with.

There were times when I would make a comment in a meeting and he would raise an objection stating that in October 2012 you said so and so. And I would think DID I? Sounds like something I would say and so I would have to explain why what I was saying now was quite different to what I had said previously. lt may have been because of a policy change, change in funding or something else may have changed but I could always rely on Ross to ensure we kept the message consistent.

He was certainly someone who challenged me on a regular basis and I really quite enjoyed that interaction. I fondly remember several occasions where Jennie Leigh my EA and I would walk out of a meeting at which Ross had been present and I would comment to her that I had really enjoyed that interaction. Jennie would just smile and shake her head.

For me the pleasure came from chairing a tenant representative meeting and interacting with all our reps but certainly part of it was the challenge of trying to stay a step ahead of Ross.

But please don't get me wrong. If you have ever hit your thumb with a hammer, that's a little bit like what it was like to work with Ross sometimes. He could certainly be a pain and I can say that because I once said it to him personally.


Ross was a prolific writer on behalf of the PEOPLES PRECINCT and it was not unusual to get two or three letters a week from him all of which went to Mikey Madder our Manager for Operational Support for a formal response (a process I don't think Mikey will miss much) and then if Ross didn't get the response he wanted he would often write to the Minister.

In spite of the workload he created I respected Ross and I did so for two specific reasons:

The first was that the majority of what he did he did for other people and that is something I value

The second was that there at least 3 occasions that I remember where

Ross had raised specific issues with me and they would be issues where I had not yet been able to provide him with a response. lt might have been an issue that required Ministerial approval, it might have needed special funding or was something that needed further consideration and I had simply not been able to resolve yet.

On those three occasions, we had been about to enter a Lord Mayor forum, A Ron Hoenig forum or simply a tenant meeting and I took Ross aside and I said to him:

This is the issue you have raised with me. This is the outcome I am trying to achieve but it is sensitive and I would appreciate it if you don't raise it at this forum.

He never once let me down.

lt is obvious that Ross took his self-appointed role very seriously and he would certainly let you know when he was unhappy with the standard of service delivery. I think he used to take perverse delight in luring you into a false sense of security and then bashing you on the thumb with a hammer again as if to say I am still here.

He did however have a human side. He didn't show it often. Not to us anyway. But when Alison O'neill the previous team leader in Waterloo advised Ross she was moving to Western Sydney he wrote to her.

And in his letter, he thanked her for what she had achieved and for what she had tried to achieve.

From our perspective, it was that rarely seen human side that made

Ross stand out as someone special.

I don't know what drove Ross. I don't think many of us did. There is a quote here from Ross that he valued people and community and he certainly demonstrated that through the years I have known him.

He definitely took pride in championing the lot of those who either could not or would not speak for themselves.

For me personally, I value the working relationship I was able to establish with Ross.

And one thing is certain. Ross has left a legacy for the Waterloo residents that will live on well into the future.