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Dicker, George Edgar (1926–1994)

by Colin Plowman

Many hundreds of graduates of the Australian National University will have seen George Dicker's signature at the foot of their degree testamur or diploma certificate. To many this signature will be just another formality of a great and perhaps admired institution.

To others, and particularly to his colleagues, that signature - firm, distinct and full of character - represented the man. A man that the University was indeed most fortunate to have had as its loyal and most effective servant for 20 years.

In 1965 George spoke to me recalling our acquaintanceship and then our friendship beginning at Dubbo High School in the 1940s, then in the RAAF and again at the University of Sydney during the late 1940s and early 1950s. He said that he did not look with great enthusiasm to the continuation of a most successful career with the New South Wales Public Service. Those who knew him at the time saw him, within a short period, becoming the head of one of the major departments of the NSW Public Service.

George was looking for something different, neither power nor prestige. I think it was the satisfaction of putting his tremendous talents of intelligence, industry, compassion, humility and above all, integrity, to use in a smaller, more cohesive, and for him, hopefully more personally rewarding milieu. He saw a university, and particularly the ANU, as offering the potential he was seeking.

I believe he was a "country boy" at heart, so the idea of moving to a smaller community with the possibility of living closer to the country was also attractive to him and his wife, June. He did achieve that end and "Myambah", his country house, and even the Sutton Bush Fire Brigade, were dear to his heart.

His success at the University was plain to see and consummate. His progress from Assistant Registrar in 1965, to Deputy Academic Registrar in 1973, to Academic Registrar in 1974 and finally Registrar in 1979 left no doubt about that. But that is the formal side; his progress was more notable in the effect he had on his colleagues and those whom he served. A hallmark of this relationship with colleagues and others was his courtesy, his proper sense of the scope of his duties and responsibilities, his wise counsel to all with whom he came into contact and above all his personal integrity and his ability to accept and, in his own generous way, to excuse others who could not match his example.

In spite of all of this, his life at the University may not have been always as rewarding as it should have been. His journey up the administrative ladder was exceptional. His recognition by his close colleagues was warm and generous. His standing among his peers in other communities brought great credit to the University. His selection as an Association of Commonwealth Universities-Commonwealth Foundation Travelling Fellowship recipient in 1973 is testimony to that.

Together with some of his administrator colleagues, he worked hard to keep firm and clear bridges between administrators and academics. He found this easy to achieve and it would be very easy to document particular examples of the level of acceptance he received from his academic colleagues and the extent to which his advice was valued. However, it was a disappointment to him that the administrative and support activities within the University were not more readily appreciated. He did much by example rather than by precept to strengthen the bridges and did not welcome the moves made by the University away from collegiality.

Perhaps another disappointment was the slight sadness that the term and office Registrar - an office to which he had added lustre - had begun to lose some of its significance.

His sense of humour was sometimes hidden by the pressure of work and responsibility that he unstintingly undertook, but it sparkled when the occasion was appropriate.

When the history of the ANU is written, the name of George Edgar Dicker and the value of an exceptional servant and Registrar of the University will be recorded.

Original publication

Citation details

Colin Plowman, 'Dicker, George Edgar (1926–1994)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/dicker-george-edgar-310/text311, accessed 18 September 2019.

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