Eulogy for the late Greg Urwin by ASG Feleti Teo

Penny and family members of the late Mr Greg Urwin
Representative of the interim government of Fiji
Prime Minister of Tuvalu
Honourable Ministers
Distinguished Guests from around the region
Representatives of the Diplomatic Corp
Representatives of International and CROP Agencies
Forum Secretariat Staff
Friends and Relatives of Mr Urwin
Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me start, by thanking you all for gracing us with your presence this morning and for joining us in this memorial service as we pay tribute and respect in honor of our fallen Commander in Chief, our fallen comrade, colleague and mate; the late Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat, our beloved Mr Gregory Urwin.

The late Mr Greg Urwin was called to rest on the 9th of this month in his home in Apia, Samoa surrounded by his beautiful and loving family as Greg himself wished after he decided to give in to his battle with cancer. It is 18 days now since we learnt of his passing. The passing of the man that was at the helm of the vaka (or canoe) named the Forum Secretariat. The passing of the captain of the vaka that was charged and entrusted by the leaders of the 16 sovereign countries of the Pacific, with the heavy responsibility to steer the vaka through the rough waters of the developmental challenges of the region.

The late Urwin was put to rest at his funeral in Apia on 14th of this month. And I am deeply and sincerely grateful that Penny and other members of the family are with us this morning and have also agreed to share with us some of their memories of their beloved husband, father and grandfather.

Although we did send a delegation to the funeral, I and some of our other senior management staffs would have loved to be there and pay our last respect to our fallen leader and commander in chief. The reason I and other senior management staff were unable to attend the funeral was because it clashed with our visit to Niue to prepare for the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting that took place last week. I explained to Wyllie (one f Greg’s son) on the phone that Greg would not have forgiven me and my colleagues if we had slipped in our preparation for the Leaders meeting because of our eagerness to attend his funeral.

The Leaders meeting went exceptionally well despites the constraints on Niue and the circumstances under which our staff worked whilst coming to terms with the passing of our Leader. I know Greg would have been proud of the way his staff acquitted themselves in servicing the Leaders meetings. I know he is out there smiling at us and I am sure if he had been around he would have tapped me and Peter and the rest of the staff on the shoulder and in typical Greg fashion he would have uttered – “job well done mate, we done it again mate”.

At the Pacific Island Leaders’ Forum in Niue last week, the Leaders were unanimous in their accolades and tributes to the memory of the late Greg Urwin and the great work he did for the pacific region, not only as the Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat but through his illustrious career as an Australian diplomat to the many pacific island countries he worked in and was accredited to.
In the Leaders communiqué, the Leaders pay tribute to this great Pacific man in the late Greg Urwin and I quote: 

“Forum Leaders expressed their profound sorrow at the untimely passing of the Secretary General, Mr Greg Urwin. Leaders conveyed their sincere condolences to Mr Urwin’s family at this deeply sad time for them. Leaders acknowledged Mr Urwin’s commitment and outstanding contribution to the political, economic and social development of the Pacific region. Leaders also acknowledged his strong leadership as Secretary General that led to many major achievements, including the firm establishment of the Pacific Plan as the platform for ongoing, strengthened regional cooperation and integration for the benefit of the people of the Pacific and his role in enhancing the international standing of the Forum. Leaders noted that Mr Urwin was a strong advocate for the Pacific and his passing represented a great loss. His significant service to the Pacific Islands Forum will be remembered by all who had the privilege of working with him.
Leaders welcomed the offer by the Prime Minister of Australia to fund the establishment, through the Forum, of five Annual Leadership Awards, to be awarded by the Forum, its Chair and the Secretariat, in the name of Greg Urwin. Leaders further welcomed the announcement by the Prime Minister of Solomon Islands to posthumously award the Cross of Solomon Islands to Mr Urwin in recognition of his outstanding contribution to RAMSI.” 

For those of us who had the privilege to know, work and interact with Mr Urwin personally, we would remember him for his high morals and great humility. He was simply a good man and a great mentor and leader who led from the front. He invested in goodness and prudent leadership, not for his own personal gain but for the benefit of the many young men and women he had mentored in Australia and the Pacific.

His character resembles the simplicity of an ordinary person yet his tenacity to respect humanity and advocate good for all, rank him an equal of the few great persons our region has ever known. I’m sure the many people who knew Mr Urwin, will readily testify to these fine traits. Certainly for those of us who have had the honour of serving under his leadership during his tenure as Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat will unreservedly and readily echo those fine testaments of others on the character of Mr Urwin.

It was in December last year when Greg and Penny took their annual leave after another arduous working year. He just completed his first year of his second term in office since his appointment as Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in Auckland in 2003. Before their departure, they hosted their traditional pre-Christmas lunch for all staff and left for Canberra.

Although he had shared with some of the staffs that he would undertake medical check up whilst on leave; none suspected anything major or serious about his health. So the staffs were in deep shock when we were informed that our boss has gone through a major surgery. Greg recovered reasonably well from that major surgery to the extent that we were able to welcome him back to the office in early April. Sadly, it was only for a brief presence as he was required to return for further medical check up.

When Greg returned briefly in April he marched straight to work, despite exhaustion from what has been a major medical procedure. Although his return was brief, his return rekindled hope that all will be well. He made his usual rounds around the corridors of the office, conducted meetings and took charge of the office in much the same manner as usual. It is unbelievable how Greg kept his wits and that unique sense of humor, when he was still recovering from a major medical procedure.

Although, his medical confinement had physically slowed his bounce, his pride and wisdom never waned, neither his fervent commitment to the service of the people of the region. Even while confined to his bed in Canberra he had insisted on being kept abreast with work, so we provided him with weekly briefs on the major developments and issues we had to grapple with from week to week.

When Greg was appointed Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat in 2003, he became the first non Pacific Islander to hold that top regional position. Many had their reservations and doubts on whether Greg would genuinely have the interests of the pacific and its people at heart. Many thought he would be simply there to tow the Canberra line or agenda. So gaining the trust of all the member countries and in particular the Leaders of the island countries was of paramount importance to Greg when he started his tenure as Secretary General.

But it didn’t take long for all to admire the special skills and leadership attributes the man had in large volume. It didn’t take long for Greg to gain the trust and confidence of all the Forum Leaders. And it didn’t take long for the leaders and people of the pacific to realize that Greg is truly a pacific man, a man that has the pacific interests at heart, a Pacific Islander who happened to be also a fair dinkum Aussie.

This was very evident in the outpouring of tributes, accolades and praises for Greg during the meetings in Niue last week. I wish I had taped all those tributes and accolades from the leaders, post forum dialogue partners, representatives of international and regional organizations who all spoke highly of the commitment and the good work Greg achieved for the region and its people.

Greg made so many significant contributions to the region during his watch as Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat and to highlight them all would fill a long novel, and I can guarantee you fascinating reading but it might take a whole day to share them. To many Greg was truly a Pacific person. He had a brave vision for the future of our region and the courage to pursue it. A Senior Secretariat Staff speaks this way of the late Secretary General. “He was very committed to the region. Greg’s heart was very much in the region – he thought he was a Pacific Islander.”

Perhaps one particular highlight deserves mention. As Secretary General he was instrumental in the implementation of the Pacific Plan among so many other responsibilities. In fact he was so preoccupied with it that on a number of occasions he had jokingly shared how Penny had reminded him on one too many mornings that he had been referring to the Pacific Plan while asleep. This particular anecdote must have been quite special to him because he had made several references to it in the many excellent speeches he wrote and delivered on the Pacific Plan. The sequence of events that accompanied this anecdote whenever it was shared was itself inspiring. First, he would remark that Penny had told him on a particular morning that he had done it again, then he would be the first to laugh about it, followed thereafter by a chorus of laughter by the audience not because the anecdote was specially humourous but because his laughter was infectious that everyone couldn’t help themselves.

Greg’s unique sense of humour is notorious amongst those that work closely with him. He may not appear humourous to many but for those who knew him know him well of his unique sense of humour.

Some of the staffs wrote of Greg, describing this quality of his and quote some of them -

“Much has been said about Greg’s infamous sense of humour – this may not have been apparent to the outside world, but to his staff and colleagues, Greg’s incisive wit was one of the great joys of working with him. His refusal to take anyone or anything too seriously helped keep everything in perspective, and his sometimes irreverent, often hilarious take on the world around him eased the way, even – in fact especially – when the challenges seemed the biggest. We will always remember how this boss made us laugh more than any other …” Another adds “ when Greg arrived at the Secretariat, his informality, friendliness, lack of pretension was like a breath of fresh air as typified by the greeting that became his signature “G’day mate” and his infectious laugh.”

I wish I had the time to share more reflections of some of the staff on this quality of the late Greg and how he was remembered by those that worked closely with him.

Another inspiring virtue of the man is his ability to inspire others. Greg through out his career and tenure as the Secretary General always had time to develop others and had brought out the best in his protégés just by what he does. One of them describes this fine quality and I quote-

“ most people in their professional lives aspire to maintain at least one of the qualities of either mental toughness, integrity, good humour or humanity. Few succeed, and even fewer are able to sustain a balance throughout their lives of all these qualities. Perhaps it is a characteristic of his generation, perhaps it was unique to the man himself, but Greg Urwin consistently displayed those virtues throughout his professional and personal life, and the young officers throughout the Pacific who were fortunate enough to be influenced by Greg are forever the better for it. We shall not see his like again.”

Indeed, we shall not see his like again but the legacy of this fine human being will forever linger in the memories of his beneficiaries. I’m sure wherever they are, their thoughts are with him and his family.

I have known Greg well before I joined the Forum Secretariat last year when he appointed me as one of his Deputies. But I have not worked or associated myself closely and professionally with Greg until I started working under him. And I can readily testify to his ability to inspire others and to bring the best out of people. There were many a times when Greg would called myself and Peter to his office and sat us down and addressed us as his sons and shared with us his vision on how he would like us to handle a particular issue or challenge. Both of us were always touched by his reference to us as “sons” and admire the manner he wanted to reach out to us and make good leaders out of us. I on my own part, and I am sure Peter will concur with me, that I benefitted so much from the short time I worked with and under Greg and he certainly made me a better person and a better regional public servant.

In closing, let me share with you some of the messages that staff have sent when asked how they would remember their boss. These are some of them:

From the Pacific Islands Trade and Investment Office in Sydney:

“We also wish to express our enormous admiration for Mr Urwin as one who cared immensely about the Pacific and its people. We recall and will value his personal interest and concern for the staff here. He encouraged us to be positive in times of adversity and challenge. He encouraged us continue to make a difference to the region, no matter how small our contribution. Most of all we recall his honesty, his gentleness and his humbleness – personal qualities he so visibly espoused.”

From a staff at the Secretariat Library:

“Even, with a high profile position, Greg is very much a down-to-earth person. He’ll tap on the glass wall to capture our attention with a “good morning” wave.
When he says “how are you”, one can tell, he’s genuinely concern. A true leader, who will be hard to replace and has left a lasting legacy with us all.

From a staff at the Pacific Plan Office:

“Mr Urwin was a very kind man who made staff especially at the Pacific Plan Office appreciated for their contribution to the Forum. He often visited us in our old Pacific Plan Office hoping to find food or snacks and tea and coffee which was always readily available. His last personal visit to our Office was last December before his trip to Australia for Christmas. We (PPO) & EU Office on Bldg 18 organized a Christmas party. He came just in time for a glass of wine and some Deep fried squids (from Fong Lee’s restaurant) because he wasn’t allowed to have his usual favorite sausage rolls. It was an honour to share some stories and laughs with Mr Urwin which only God knew would be the last.”

The late Greg Urwin’s life was simply a continuum of many fine qualities and attributes. He touched many lives and many people became better people and their lives enriched as a result of their association with this fine human being. Although he has left us, those fine qualities will sustain his legacy and memory for many years to come.

We at the Secretariat are forever indebted and thankful to God for this wonderful person and the opportunity afforded to us to associate ourselves with Greg professionally and socially and to marvel at the special skills and leadership qualities the man was endowed with.

We thank Penny and the rest of the family for the care and support they had faithfully provided him and we pray that God will be with you always. Thank you for sharing with us this wonderful husband, father and grandfather of yours. It is our pledge that in his honour we will uphold the good work he worked so hard to achieve for the benefit and well being of the region and its people.

Greg was a good person; and as the Psalmist at chapter 112 verse 6 says – “a good person will never fail; he will always be remembered”.

Greg was a wise leader and taught us all to do what is right; and as the book of the prophet of Daniel chapter 12 verse 3 states “The wise leaders will shine with all the brightness of the sky. And those who have taught many people to do what is right will shine like the stars forever.”

I know from my own experience and that of the rest of the Secretariat staff that Greg will always be remembered and that his star will shine like the stars forever.