Tribute to Chancellor John Fahey

ACU is profoundly saddened by the death of the university’s Chancellor the Hon John Fahey AC, GCSG on 12 September 2020, aged 75, after a battle with leukemia.

Mr Fahey was the fourth Chancellor of ACU, appointed in 2014 to replace Sir Peter Cosgrove. He was reappointed for a further term in 2019.

A man of great integrity and deep faith, Mr Fahey was born in New Zealand in 1945 to Irish migrants Stephen and Annie Fahey, educated at Chevalier College in the NSW Southern Highlands and at the University of Sydney. Upon graduation he practised law before entering public life as a politician, industry leader, and administrator.

Mr Fahey was NSW Premier from 1992-95 before entering federal politics, where he served as Minister for Finance and Administration in the Howard government until 2001. As chairman of the bid team, he was instrumental in securing the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

He earned the affectionate epithet “Jumping John” Fahey for his enthusiastic response to the announcement Sydney had won the bid. He had already earned the admiration of the public when leaping to disarm a protester who had threatened Prince Charles with a gun at an awards ceremony in Sydney in 1994.

In 2002, Mr Fahey was made a Companion of the Order of Australia for his work in the political arena, and for facilitation of industry growth and industrial relations reform.

Five years later he became President of the World Anti-Doping Agency, a position he held until November 2013. In this role, Mr Fahey was a driving force behind moves to increase and enhance drug testing in sport around the world.

In 2019, Pope Francis awarded Mr Fahey the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St Gregory the Great, one of the Church’s highest awards, in recognition of his significant and distinguished service to the Catholic Church in Australia including ACU.

During his time as Chancellor, the university’s reputation as a Catholic university has been enhanced. Much of this was due to the personal convictions that Mr Fahey had on the critical role that the university plays in the life of the Church in Australia. This was reflected in 2015 when ACU was awarded the Ex Corde Ecclesiae medal, the highest award of the International Federation of Catholic Universities.

As Chancellor, Mr Fahey encouraged ACU to develop into a national university of stature. Under his stewardship, the university underwent a long-term, sustainable expansion strategy that encompassed a rise in the numbers of both students and staff, the establishment of two new campuses, enhanced research capabilities, deepening partnerships in Australia and internationally, and greater engagement with our communities. 

Most recent significant initiatives over the past 12 months have been the successful partnership with Blacktown City Council within the Diocese of Parramatta to establish ACU’s newest campus, and the appointment of our fourth Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Zlatko Skrbis. 

Family, faith and football have always been central to Mr Fahey. Such was his lifelong love of rugby league team Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs, he was once a reserve grade player, always a fan and later became patron of the club.

His personal life has been marked by great joy and deep tragedy. An aggressive bout of cancer threatened to fell him in 2001 but he overcame the disease with only one lung, shorter of breath and a renewed determination to contribute as a leader, mentor and campaigner. He was profoundly affected by the sudden death of his daughter Tiffany who was killed in a car accident in 2006. The Faheys raised Tiffany’s two children.

He is survived by Colleen, children Matthew and Melanie, and grandchildren Amber and Campbell.

ACU remembers Mr Fahey as being greatly loved as Chancellor by both staff and students. He was profoundly committed to the idea of a Catholic university, and brought to the office courage, wisdom and dignity.

On behalf of the Vice-Chancellor and President, the President of ACU Corporation, Corporation, Senate and the ACU community, ACU extends condolences to his wife, children and grandchildren. May he rest in peace.

Information about University Memorial Masses for the late Chancellor will be sent to all staff once arrangements have been finalised.


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