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Donald Robert (Don) Willesee (1916–2003)

by Tony Stephens

from Sydney Morning Herald

Don Willesee, Australian Information Service, c.1972

Don Willesee, Australian Information Service, c.1972

National Library of Australia, 43320227

Don Willesee, foreign minister in the Whitlam government and patriarch of the Willesee family, died in hospital yesterday. He was 87 and had suffered two heart attacks.

The former West Australian senator spent his last days in the company of his wife, Gwen, and their six children, Colleen, Mike, Terry, Geraldine, Don junior and Peter.

The family said he would be remembered as a key figure in the reformation of the Labor Party. He will also be remembered as the youngest senator since Federation when elected at 33 in 1949, and for his work in foreign affairs, including Indonesia's controversial takeover of East Timor.

Senator Willesee, pictured, said in 1975: "We should continue our efforts to persuade the Indonesians that an independent Timor need not to be detrimental to their interests."

However, no country wanted to go to war with Indonesia over East Timor at a time when the Cold War still raged.

Born in the Kimberley town of Derby, Don Willesee left school at 14 when his father and brother lost jobs during the Depression. He said later that the post office where he worked and the union provided his education.

Don Willesee junior said yesterday: "He really maintained the humble perspective of it all. He was an absolute role model. He has given the whole family a sense of social justice."

Willesee worked with Whitlam to reform the party and spent 23 years in opposition before Labor returned to power in 1972.

Kim Beazley, the former Labor leader, said Willesee made an enormous but quiet contribution to the Labor movement.

A state funeral will be held in Perth.

Original publication

Other Obituaries for Donald Robert (Don) Willesee

Additional Resources

Citation details

Tony Stephens, 'Willesee, Donald Robert (Don) (1916–2003)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Don Willesee, Australian Information Service, c.1972

Don Willesee, Australian Information Service, c.1972

National Library of Australia, 43320227

Life Summary [details]


14 April, 1916
Derby, Western Australia, Australia


9 September, 2003 (aged 87)
Joondalup, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Key Organisations
Political Activism