FORMER Warrnambool MP John McGrath AM has been remembered as a man of conviction for whom the whole country should be indebted to for his work in mental health, according to former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett.
The former National Party member for Warrnambool and popular businessman passed away after a long battle with illness in Adelaide on Sunday night.
His long-time friend Bill Quinlan described Mr McGrath as an outstanding politician who had the ability to mix with people from all walks of life.
He was elected to the Victorian Parliament in 1985 and served under Mr Kennett, who on Monday paid tribute to Mr McGrath as the voice of reason, a man of conviction who argued well for the things he believed in.
"I, and not just the people of Warrnambool but the people of Australia, should be indebted to him for contributing to the important work that Beyond Blue has done in the area of mental health right around the country," he said.
Mr McGrath was a founding director and deputy chairman of Beyond Blue when it formed in 2000, he was on the board of Headspace and was the first chairman of Mental Health Australia.
After his son Shane took his own life in 1993, Mr McGrath made it his life's mission to make changes to the mental health system at state and national levels.
"He was a public servant in the very real sense of the word, when service and participation was more important than remuneration," Mr Kennett said. "Some people do things to be remunerated, John did things because he believed in them and invariably they were community-based."
Mr McGrath was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2008 for services to mental health, Victorian Parliament and the National Party of Australia.
Mr Quinlan, who was the campaign director for Mr McGrath when he was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly, said he would be remembered as a thoughtful citizen who guided the community to high standards.
"John had a diligent committee headed by his sister Cath Lourey who was the driving force behind his campaigns," Mr Quinlan said.
Mr McGrath, 81, was born in Port Fairy and educated at St Bridget's Crossley. He grew up on the family farm at Killarney and began his working career at Nestle.
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Mr McGrath played football for Tower Hill when they defeated Old Collegians to win the 1961 premiership - something he told The Standard was the highlight of his sporting life.
He moved to Geelong to work in the fuel industry before setting up a tyre business in Warrnambool in 1972.
The father-of-five children served as the National Party spokesperson for housing, before moving to transport and labour in 1988 with the added responsibility of party whip.
In 1992, he was appointed deputy speaker and chairman of committees - a post he held until his retirement from politics in 1999.
Mr Kennett said Mr McGrath was "absolutely committed" to the Warrnambool region, not just as a politician but as an individual.
"He was a charming individual but there was a streak of independence in him as well. While you could see him as a loving individual and typical father, grandfather-type figure, he was very instrumental in defending the things and values that he believed in," he said.
He is survived by his wife Lyn and children.
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