STUART Richard McDonald was not just a pillar of the Rochester and district community, he was a veritable rock on which a lot of success and progress was built.
Born in Rochester in 1928 to Lily (nee Scurrah) and Angus McDonald, Stuart was the eldest of three brothers – followed by Russ (deceased) and Murray.
From his earliest days at Timmering East Primary School, where he started in 1934, it was clear he would be an exceptional scholar.
In 1940, soon after the outbreak of World War II, Stuart arrived at Echuca High School for five years and then completed his secondary education in 1945 at University High School before taking a place as a science undergraduate at the University of Melbourne.
He completed a Bachelor of Science (Honours) and then a Masters majoring in chemistry and metallurgy.
He worked at CSIRO for a short time and was a resident tutor at his alma mater’s Trinity College.
Like many of his generation, who had come off the land, fate would intervene to change his life direction.
Stuart was preparing to relocate to England to do his PhD when his father became unwell and Stuart made the decision to forego his academic future and returned to Timmering to manage the family farm.
But there was a silver lining in this particular cloud – it was at this time he also met Barbara Sanders, from Birchip and teaching in Melbourne at the time, who in 1954 would become his wife and they would have three children (Marie, Ian and Fiona).
Back on the farm Stuart focused his considerable intellect on a new set of problems, becoming a successful irrigation farmer producing cereals, sunflowers, hay and beef cattle.
His son Ian said Stuart’s interest in the welfare of all farmers led to his involvement in the Australian Primary Producers Union and Victorian Farmers’ Union.
It stirred an early interest in politics and with Country Party Federal Leader (and for 22 days Prime Minister following the disappearance of Harold Holt at Cheviot beach in 1967) Black Jack McEwen as a next-door neighbour his entry into the Country Party was a given.
“With McEwen as a mentor Dad joined the Country Party and then entered the Victorian Legislative Council in 1967 as one of two members for Northern Province,” Ian said.
“He was then elected leader of the Country Party in the Council some years after and held office until 1979 when his Province was abolished in an electoral review,” he said.
“Dad stood unsuccessfully for Bendigo Province as a result of the changes – but that did not slow down his determination to do everything he could to help others.
“In 1982 he became the National Party’s Victorian president and then federal president from 1987-1990.”
Stuart would also play a dynamic leadership role with the Rural Finance Corporation, which under his 12 years of guidance as its chairman, became a significant and vital player in the support of rural populations.
“The corporation has always been an administrator of disaster relief schemes for fire and flood, and done a good job in delivering those schemes,” he said on its subsequent sale to Bendigo Bank.
In 1992 Stuart chaired a committee reviewing the rural water industry in Victoria, which led to the ‘Future Management Review’, known thereafter as the McDonald Report.
Sadly, in 2000, after 46 years of marriage, Barbara McDonald died.
Three years later Stuart was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for services to agribusiness and to the Parliament of Victoria at which time he said his schooling at Echuca High School was the cornerstone for his career and achievements.
“I made good friends there and the education I received formed a good basis for my move into my university career,” he explained.
“Dad’s commitment to his community was further highlighted with his years of service on the Rochester Hospital board,” Ian added, “mostly as its deputy chair.
“His service was recognised with him twice being made a life governor of the hospital, most recently just last month,” he said.
“He was also a life member of the National Party, an active and enthusiastic Rochester Lions Club member and in recent years transferred that energy to Probus.”
Stuart is survived by his children; Marie, Ian and Fiona, their partners; Sandy, Ann and Tony and grandchildren; Jessica, Thomas, Xenia and Angus.
A service was held at Rochester Presbyterian Church on Thursday December 28.
In lieu of flowers Stuart’s family has asked for donations to REDHS.