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McGregor, John Robert (1873–1927)

There was a tragic scene in Federal Parliament to-day when the Clerk of the House, Mr. John Robert McGregor, collapsed while the House was sitting. He died subsequently in the Canberra Hospital.

The first speeches of the first business session of the Federal House of Representatives at Canberra were unrhetorical expressions of regret upon the death of Mr. W. A. Gale, late Clerk of the House. Leaders on each side spoke of the debt they owed to a man whose erudition had guided them through the thousand and one traps and tangles hidden in the labyrinths of Parliamentary procedure. Mr. Bruce spoke briefly, quietly. Mr. Charlton quietly and briefly reiterated his sentiments. Mr. Hughes introduced variations, and a little helpful philosophy. Members sat and remembered all the favours they had received from a man who knew so much about Parliament that he could be forebearing and long suffering with those who go there. And from moment to moment they looked at the new clerk, Mr. MacGregor, and considered how helpful he would be, and how he would comfort and father them all in the agonies of involved and inexplicable procedure.

Sir Elliott Johnson rose and commenced to explain what kindnesses Mr. Gale had heaped upon his shoulders, when suddenly a commotion at the table distracted members' attention. Mr. McGregor had fallen forward over his papers, as though all the strength had gone from his body. The Ministers nearest caught him as he was sliding on to the floor, and carried him from the Chamber, shocked indescribably by a gesture of drama almost impossible to believe. There was something really overpowering in the spectacle of this officer, successor to Mr. Gale, collapsing in the middle of speeches upon the man who preceded him. Nobody could sustain the pose of pleasure with which they had faced one another half an hour before. Though they did not move from their benches — it was impossible to do more than Sir Neville Howse and Dr. Page were doing — and although Sir Elliot Johnson continued to remind members of the able friend they had lost, the whole atmosphere of the place changed. In the galleries people were appalled beyond words.

Nevertheless it seemed fantastic to imagine that Mr. McGregor was dying. All this happened so quickly. One moment he was leaning back in his chair, listening, and the next he was the centre of astounded and anxious inquiry. But in less than an hour the House knew that it had witnessed a horrible piece of drama, the sort of astonishing tragedy that makes life a million times stranger and more exaggerated than fiction. Dr. Page returned [to] answer to questions, and delivered his Budget speech, but over that whole debate rang the overtones of incalculable apprehension. When they adjourned for dinner, members knew that Mr. Macgregor would never sit in the House again to show them a way out of trouble, and to soothe them in their tantrums with the indulgence of one experienced enough to be awed by nothing, not even the strange things that politicians may do and say in anger. The House had not been sitting for half an hour after dinner when members heard that Mr. McGregor was dead. If the fine white house of Parliament had exploded about their ears they could not have been more shocked than they were by this tragedy in the very hour which had inspired so much good fellowship and optimism. Four and a half hours after they first spoke, Mr. Bruce and Mr. Charlton were quietly, unrhetorically, telling the House what a terrible loss they had to think about. Parliament gratefully adjourned to readjust attitudes and values, rudely, and frightfully disturbed.

REFERENCE IN THE HOUSE.
Sir Littleton Groom, announcing Mr. McGregor's death to the House, said that he was sure that in the circumstances members would not desire to continue the sitting that night. As a mark of sympathy and respect, the House should adjourn until the following day.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) moved the adjournment of the House.

"I do not think," said Mr. Bruce, "that any words of mine are necessary to express our sympathy with the relatives of Mr. McGregor. We must all feel the deepest regrets at his death in such tragic circumstances, and I therefore move that the House adjourn until half-past 2 o'clock to-morrow afternoon.

The leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) also expressed sincere regret at Mr. McGregor's death. "Only to-day," he said, "we expressed our regret at the death, in similarly painful circumstances, of Mr. McGregor's predecessor, Mr. Gale, and now has come the announcement of the death of the latest Clerk of the House. Such events as these give some indication of the exacting nature of the duties which officers of Parliament are called upon to perform. I am sure that all the members of this House sincerely regret the occurrence. I trust that it will be some little consolation to his relatives that his death occurred while engaged in the execution of his duties."

The adjournment was agreed to in silence, members standing, and the Speaker said that he would take steps to convey to Mr. McGregor's relatives the sympathy of the members of the House.

Mr. J. McGregor was born at Boggabri (N.S.W.), and was 53 years of age. He commenced his career in the Public service as a Junior clerk in the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, in February, 1891, and nine years later was transferred to the standing committee on Public Works. Upon the establishment of the Commonwealth Parliament he was appointed reading clerk and assistant clerk, of committees to the House of Representatives on May 1, 1901. In April, 1921, he became sergeant-at-arms and clerk of committees, and in February, 1925, second clerk assistant to the House of Representatives. Upon the retirement of Mr. Clapin in July of this year, Mr. McGregor became clerk assistant, and at the beginning of the present month was appointed clerk of the House, in succession to the late Mr. Walter Gale. He was appointed to the Australian Imperial Force as captain, and, embarking in June, 1916, saw service with the Third Divisional Train, returning to Australia three years later. Mr. McGregor was married only three years ago to Miss M. L. Lawrence, of Melbourne. Mrs. McGregor is at present on a visit to Melbourne, where she received the news of her husband's death to-night by telegram.

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'McGregor, John Robert (1873–1927)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/mcgregor-john-robert-28236/text37053, accessed 20 November 2019.

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