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Johnstone, Paul Lorimer (1922–2010)

by Pamela Johnstone and Doug Hewitt

Paul Johnstone, n.d.

Paul Johnstone, n.d.

Many published obituaries are about "famous" people on a national or international scale but, as Lord Byron said, "What is fame? The advantage of being known by people of whom you yourself know nothing, and for whom you care as little".

Lord Byron clearly understood that deserved recognition from a local community is far more important than fame. And Paul Johnstone, of the northern NSW city of Armidale, did indeed deserve the local newspaper’s recent headlines - "Man held in the utmost regard" and "Another giant passes".

Paul Lorimer Johnstone, who died on 25 April 2010, aged 87 years, was a man who made an incredible contribution to the City of Armidale and beyond, by giving freely of his time and talents to a wide range of organisations and groups. In 1982, he was recognised officially for his contribution to the community and education when he was awarded an MBE.

The second child of five and the only son of Noemi and Brigadier John (Jack) Johnstone, Paul was born on 12 November 1922. He was educated at The Armidale School (TAS) where he was a keen sportsman.

On leaving school in 1939, he joined the legal firm of AW Simpson & Co (founded in 1863), of which his father was a partner. Paul enlisted in November 1941, served with the 2nd/6th Australian Armoured Regiment, held the rank of Lieutenant and saw service in New Guinea in 1942-43.

After war service, he returned to AW Simpson & Co, completed his exams and was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of NSW in 1948. On 31 July of that year, he married Rosemary Fenwicke Nivison and they had three daughters. Together with four sisters, he was, as they say, now surrounded by women.

He practised law at AW Simpson & Co as a partner and, later, as a consultant until his retirement. During his time in practice, he held executive positions in the North & North West Law Society, including that of President in 1968 and 1969. As a legal colleague recently observed "Paul was one of the old-style solicitors. He ran a general practice, he acted in his clients’ best interests and he observed professional courtesies … he impressed … with his commitment and dedication to his clients, but most of all, his decisiveness".

Paul Johnstone was an all round sportsman; he hit a mean tennis ball and, at a time of strength in Australian country tennis, became Armidale Mens Singles Champion in 1946, Mens Doubles Champion five times between 1946 and 1954 and Mixed Doubles Champion three times between 1949 and 1954. He also played a competent game of squash, was a clay pigeon shooter and, later in life, played an enthusiastic game of golf. He was not just a strong competitor; he was also a fair competitor and displayed a high standard of sportsmanship.

As an extension to his professional life, he served on the boards of the Armidale Newspaper Company and the local radio station, 2AD.

However, it will be for his dedication to his community that Paul Johnstone will be best remembered. He contributed to many organisations as a committee member, often in a formal position such as secretary or chairman, and was a driving force behind many building projects. According to a fellow committee member, he was a tough chairman but didn’t expect anyone to do more work than he was prepared to do himself and, in fact, he usually did a great deal more. According to his daughters, he often referred to, and lived by, the story of "Bruce and the Spider". Paul Johnstone’s favourite saying was "Never give up" and he applied this to his professional and community endeavours as well as his personal life.

His contribution to his community was so extensive that, in a tribute of this nature, it is only possible to make a brief mention of each. He served on the TAS school council for 27 years, for many years as deputy chairman, was secretary and president of the Old Boys’ Union, was instrumental in establishing the TAS Foundation and was the driving force behind all the school’s building appeals. Later, he was a committee member of the Association of Independent Schools of NSW from its foundation in 1973 and was chairman of the same in 1980 and 1981.

In the area of sports administration, he was elected to the committee of the Armidale Tennis Club and went on to become secretary from 1947 to 1954 and president from 1954 to 1963. He was again the driving force behind the building of the original club house and was a promoter of junior development. Years later, he became a patron of the Armidale Golf Club where, amongst other things, he was in charge of the veterans’ working bees.

For lesser mortals, the above contribution, combined with a demanding job and raising a family, would be enough. However, for Paul Johnstone this was just the beginning of his community involvement, which just went on and on and on …. He was a committed member of Armidale Legacy throughout his entire life. He regularly served on various committees and the board, was President in 1954-55 and was, of course, involved in the building of Legacy House. He was equally committed in his duty to the legacy widows and their children. When moves were made to establish a centre for handicapped children in Armidale in 1955, Paul Johnstone was a founding member of the board and served in one capacity or another until 1980. He was elected to Armidale City Council in 1971 and played a significant role in the Mall and Creeklands projects.

In 1973, he played a leading role in establishing the Autumn Lodge Retirement Village Committee and his driving force included fund raising, legal advice, harassment of ministers, politicians, directors of Social Services and, indeed, fellow committee members. His fellow community benefactor, mayor and friend, Doug Hewitt, wrote "We wisely elected Paul Johnstone as Vice President. Paul’s energy and drive reaches almost frightening proportions, particularly if you are one of the driven".

In 1974, he was elected chairman of the first council of the Armidale College of Advanced Education (ACAE), a position he held until his retirement in 1983. Paul threw himself into the task with his characteristic enthusiasm, skill and grim determination to achieve the College’s goals. His contribution to education was acknowledged when, in 1989 and 1992, he was admitted as a Fellow of the ACAE and a Fellow of the University of New England respectively.

With respect to the arts area, in the late 1970s, he became an active supporter of the New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) and was chairman of the NERAM Association’s fund raising committee. NERAM houses the well known Hinton and Coventry art collections.

Despite his extraordinary level of activity in the community, Paul Johnstone still managed to find time for his family. In their early years, his daughters remember him as a regular reader of bed-time stories, introducing them to authors such as Rudyard Kipling and Mervyn Skipper. When on holiday, he displayed amazing patience during fishing excursions with respect to the untangling of lines held by his daughters and their friends. He managed to weave his community work in without neglecting his family and his children regularly accompanied him to various working bees.

Paul Johnstone had a good sense of humour, a quick wit and was a master of the "one liner". He was an affectionate husband and father but he was of the "old school" and was uncomfortable with emotional or hotly debated discussions held around the dinner table. He was a generous host and loved to invite people to his home for dinner, not always giving appropriate notice to his wife, Rosemary. It might be imagined that Rosemary was a passive partner to the strong and determined man. Nothing could be further from the truth. By necessity, Rosemary became strong in her own right and she and Paul enjoyed a relationship that was feisty at times but lasted almost 62 years.

Despite being an active and fit man until his early 60s, during the last 25 years of his life, with his characteristic determination, Paul confronted and overcame many major illnesses, undergoing no less than five major operations and treatment regimes. In his later years, he was diagnosed with dementia but his positive attitude towards life and compassion for those less fortunate than himself was still evident. Less than a month before his death, while sitting in a doctor’s surgery, he noticed an elderly gentleman struggling with a walking frame and immediately said "You can always find someone less fortunate than yourself".

Paul Johnstone (MBE) died on Anzac Day, a day on which he had always marched, and an appropriate day for one who gave so much to his country through service to his community. He was not famous but will be well remembered by all those whose paths he crossed. Every community needs more people like Paul.

He is survived by his wife (Rosemary), his daughters (Phillipa, Pamela and Sarah), two of his four sisters (June and Jennifer) and five grandchildren.

* a shorter version of the obituary was published in the Sydney Morning Herald, 17 May 2010, p 18

Citation details

Pamela Johnstone and Doug Hewitt, 'Johnstone, Paul Lorimer (1922–2010)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/johnstone-paul-lorimer-536/text537, accessed 14 July 2020.

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