Leslie M. Stewart
From the inauguration of the Company in 1964, Les Stewart, the Secretary of the University Council, was its Secretary. He continued in that Office until his retirement from the University in 1975, and beyond that, without fee, until 1989. Thus he saw International House develop from a pure notion to the vibrant College it is today.
Les was a fascinating character. He started as a clerk in the Premier’s Department on I July 1929 and served there for 25 years. He gained a Diploma of Commerce from the University of Sydney in 1935, and served in the Army for nearly four years. Thus, when he joined the University as an Assistant Registrar in 1961 he had a profound knowledge of public service procedures as well as the hard experience of service life in wartime.
To this he added a knowledge of the personal characteristics and viewpoints of a host of political and governmental personalities who moved in and out of the Premier’s department. He had a fund of recollections of life-changing remarks made by long-dead politicians in unguarded moments. Given his exceptional memory and his willingness to recall his memories, he was able to throw an unexpected light on many a situation.
He was, first and foremost, the legally correct secretary and every chairperson has paid tribute to his guidance and advice in the conduct of company affairs. He could be relied upon to write brief and accurate records of discussions and motions which were fair summaries of often confused situations. Professor Ratcliffe describes him as a ”honest broker . . . who always tried to be loyal and helpful.”
As a part-time student of the University of Sydney, a returned serviceman with family responsibilities, he qualified for the Bachelor of Laws in 1949, and the story he tells of that occasion is typical of the story he could often tell. As graduation day approached, Les was discussing with Jack (later Sir Harold) Dickenson, Secretary to the Public Service Board, the fact that he would not appear at the ceremony because he could not afford to hire the academic gown. The conversation (in the offices of the Public Service Board) was overheard by a tall, rather striking, man who said: “I am a Bachelor of Laws of the University of Sydney, and I would be happy to lend you my gown.” Les thanked the person for his kindness and asked ‘What is your name, sir’ “Gough Whitlam” was the reply. So Les did graduate formally – in a gown borrowed from Gough Whitlam.
Les was greatly helped by his wife Dorothy and they were both to be seen at functions like International Nights and the Directors Dinner.
This unobtrusive but vitally important service of seeing things were done in the proper way at the proper time was an important contribution to the standing of the Company in the eyes of the Government Auditor who invariably commended in the Annual Auditors Report the way the Company handled its affairs. To this we add his genuine interest in the welfare and problems of the residents.