BENDIGO is mourning a true champion for the city with the death at the weekend of former Bendigo Advertiser editor, city councillor and community stalwart, Wayne Gregson.
Mr Gregson died on Saturday after a five-month battle with cancer. He was 64.
He is being remembered as a true wordsmith, a champion for causes and a genuine mate with a wonderful sense of humour.
He was a good old-fashioned journalist's journalist. He knew what made a good story. He could make a good story exceptional. His words had the ability to make significant change ... and they often did.
In describing his good friend, former Labor MP Steve Gibbons said Bendigo had lost one of its favourite sons who did an enormous amount for the region.
"Wayne was a champion for Bendigo, highly regarded and highly respected," said Mr Gibbons, who shared Mr Gregson's passions for motorcycles and classic cars.
"He was also someone with a wonderful sense of humour and a list of special sayings unique to him. One saying I remember fondly was 'Never argue with a person who buys ink in 44 gallon drums', meaning don't argue with a (good) journalist."
Mr Gregson, he said, could take pride in being responsible for driving change within the region.
On the other side of the political fence, former North Western Province MP, Ron Best, from the National Party, said his relationship with Mr Gregson grew from a professional one into a close friendship.
"It started out in a professional way, I was the polly and he was the journo. It developed over the years into an absolutely wonderful relationship and friendship," Mr Best said.
He described Mr Gregson as an old-school journalist who was ethical and could hold confidences. "Sometimes in politics, the whole story cannot be told immediately. As a politician, I could rely on Wayne for counsel and advice and to maintain confidentiality. My respect from him grew from there.
"As far as Wayne was concerned, if it was good for Bendigo it was worth supporting, and that was the basis of our relationship."
As an award-winning journalist with almost 50 years' experience, Mr Gregson had the enviable ability to swap pragmatism for wit.
His Down the Mall pieces and the Bushwacked column, a regular in the Bendigo Advertiser for more than 30 years, were constant sources of humour, often about himself.
His final Bushwacked column on December 13 last year - weeks after he was diagnosed with aggressive and inoperable cancer - would have shocked his myriad of followers when published.
He wanted to get his last column right. And he did.
He told his loyal readers not to feel sad for him, because he wasn't. He described his life as "an absolute romp", stressing he had nothing left to tick off his bucket list.
"(My life has been) so full of fun, love and unexpected turnings and twistings, passions, interests, efforts to make a difference," Mr Gregson wrote.
Of his long and distinguished career in journalism, Mr Gregson said every day was a privilege and a challenge. "Things just move and change and if you are lucky, you get to witness a few interesting chapters of the story. Sometimes, if you're really lucky, you get a small walk-on part."
For Mr Gregson, those cameo appearances have played a pivotal role in improving such vital infrastructure as medical facilities in Bendigo and fixing the Calder Freeway in and out of the city.
In paying tribute to Mr Gregson during an address in Federal Parliament late last year, Murray MP Damian Drum, described his former media advisor as "one of the smartest, funniest and talented journalists" that the Bendigo region had ever had.
Mr Gregson worked for 10 years for Mr Drum during his stint as the state MP for Northern Victoria Region. His wife Linda was also the former state MP's staffer for 14 years.
"(Wayne) has an extensive work record, but he has loved life as well as anyone could ever wish to love life," Mr Drum said.
"I just want to thank Wayne for the 10 years that he worked in my office, totally bipartisan, totally without politics, but a great supporter. He loves everything to do with Bendigo, with the region of Bendigo and with central Victoria.
"He has a fantastic reputation in the journalist fraternity within Victoria."
His reputation in media transcends generations.
Current editor of the Bendigo Advertiser, Nicole Ferrie, fondly remembers Mr Gregson as a mentor in the start of her career.
"Wayne taught so many so much - in journalism, leadership and life," Ms Ferrie said.
"He was a master of his craft with an unparalleled gift for storytelling and a sharp nose for news. He was a fearless and passionate leader and forever a champion of the Bendigo Advertiser and our city.
"His legacy lives on in newsrooms across the country - in every journalist who was trained by a great wordsmith and terrific newshound."
Former media colleague and friend for 44 years, Peter Hargreaves, said journalism wasn't Mr Gregson's only calling, vocation or community leadership role, but it was the one he most wanted to be remembered for.
"He recently asked me 'What would you like written on your headstone?' I had no idea, but Wayne knew want he wanted for his own. 'One word will do it - JOURNALIST'," Mr Hargreaves recalled.
As a journalist, Mr Gregson was old-school - entering the world of newspapers straight from secondary school. He began his career as a wide-eyed 16-year-old at Sunraysia Daily, a newspaper in his home-town of Mildura.
"This was a time when journalists were taught their craft in-house - on the job. But it wasn't just a job for Wayne - he lived and breathed it. Wayne didn't just write, he crafted and shaped sentences to inform and entertain."
Mr Gregson's career took him from Mildura to The Courier in Ballarat, ABC radio and television in Hobart, Tasmania.
For many years he wrote one of the most read, most influential daily newspaper columns in Australia - A Place in the Sun - in the former Melbourne newspaper The Sun, which later merged with The Herald.
As editor of the Bendigo Advertiser in the 1990s and early 2000s, Mr Gregson relished in using his position to influence outcomes he saw as important to the city. Mr Hargreaves said he would push and pull the levers of power and influence to secure the best for Bendigo.
Only months before his cancer diagnosis last year, Mr Gregson rediscovered a love for live radio, joining Bruce Lees as a morning "shock jock" on Bendigo's Gold FM. Mr Gregson described radio as one of the most dynamic, authentic and adaptive forms of the media.
Mr Gregson was recognised a number of times for his work in the media, including the coveted Walkley Award during his time at the Bendigo Advertiser and earlier at The Sun for his contribution to the campaign to reduce the Victorian road toll. He was also awarded the Centenary Medal for his services to journalism and his community.
Former Bendigo Advertiser editor Michael Greenwood remembered Wayne as a "man committed to the betterment of Bendigo and its community, both through his public service and as an award-winning journalist and editor''.
"He was a raconteur with a deep knowledge and passion about many diverse subjects, and he left an indelible impression on all who met him,'' he said.
"He leaves an outstanding legacy of which his wife Linda and family can be proud".
Respect for Mr Gregson also comes from the other side of media - advertising.
Speaking to the Advertiser during a tour of the U.S, retired Bendigo real estate agent Doug Lougoon said he first met Mr Gregson in mid-2000, when the then Bendigo Advertiser editor convinced the businessman to resume advertising with the daily newspaper.
"Wayne convinced us it was a good idea to start working with the Addy again, after many real estate agents deserted the paper for the opposition. For the next 15 years, until my retirement, we worked with Wayne and with the Addy," Mr Lougoon said.
"Wayne and I had a mutual respect and he referred to me as Dougie the House Seller.
"He was loved by so many people in Bendigo, because he had the ability to talk to people from all levels. From a Rotary point of view, he made a great contribution to the community and made a difference to so many people."
The retired businessman also has fond memories of Mr Gregson after he joined the Rotary Club of Bendigo Sandhurst in 2004. Both Mr Gregson and his wife Linda are former club presidents.
As part of his work with Rotary, Mr Gregson spent a lot of time working on projects in East Timor. The Rotary Club of Bendigo Sandhurst has established a scholarship in Mr Gregson's honour to be awarded to a promising student in East Timor so they can further their journalism studies.
Mr Gregson was a City of Greater Bendigo councillor for the Sandhurst Ward from 2004-08. During that time he was huge supporter of and instrumental in driving projects at the Bendigo Art Gallery, library, the Epsom Shopping Village and pushed for the CBD to be pedestrian-friendly.
City of Greater Bendigo mayor Margaret O'Rourke said Mr Gregson's death is a great loss to the community.
"He touched so many people and so many organisations. He had his finger on the pulse. He was a good friend to so many ... a mentor and an advisor," Cr O'Rourke said.
Even years since his time as a Bendigo councillor, Cr O'Rourke said Mr Gregson's influence on many important projects in the region was being felt.
"From his time as a councillor, to his years as the editor at the Advertiser, to his work as an advisor for Damian Drum, no-one can underestimate the contribution Wayne Gregson made to Bendigo," she said.
His love of anything Bendigo was the driving force behind the continued success of Bendigo Heritage Attractions, with Mr Gregson being the former acting CEO and board chairman. Just before his cancer diagnosis last year, Mr Gregson accompanied other board members and the current CEO Peter Abbott to Dubrovnik to attend the Best In World Heritage Conference, of which the Bendigo organisation was a category finalist.
Mr Abbott said while it was disappointing for Bendigo Heritage Attractions to not win an award, it was an honour for the organisation to be recognised as a finalist.
"Wayne was a very hands-on chairman and acting CEO and that was because of his underlying love of Bendigo. He was very supportive of his staff and volunteers and was keen to push Bendigo forward," Mr Abbott said.
Mr Gregson is survived by his wife Linda and three daughters Ainsley, Hilary and Lizzie. He was the son of Monica and George Gregson and brother of Ken, Debra, Kim and Tanya.
Funeral arrangements for Mr Gregson will be announced at a later date.
- Kim Quinlan, a former deputy editor of The Courier in Ballarat, was inspired to join journalism by her brother ... Wayne John Gregson.
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