Death of Mr Robert Stone
|About this Item||Subjects||Football; Obituaries
||Speakers||Greene Mr Kevin
||Business||Private Members Statements, Condolence
||Commentary|| Robert Stone
Mr KEVIN GREENE (Georges River) [5.22 p.m.]: On Wednesday 3 August I attended the St John Bosco Catholic Church at Engadine for the funeral of well-known sporting administrator and former State of Origin and St George rugby league great, Robert Stone. I am sure that the church could hold over 1,000 worshippers, but like hundreds of others who attended the funeral, I am yet to see inside it. That indicates how many people came to pay their respects to a much-loved husband, father, teacher, coach, administrator and tough-as-they-come rugby league forward.
Eulogies were delivered by long-term friend Randall Barge, his premiership winning captain, Steve Edge, the St George Illawarra Dragons chairman, Warren Lockwood, and a teaching colleague, and there were touching tributes from his children. Together they outlined a magnificent rugby league career that included 281 games for his beloved St George—the third highest in the club's history—and representation in the first State of Origin game in 1980. I think Robert is the only player to have won premierships in all three grades for St George, including membership of Bath's Babes—the famous 1977 team that defeated Parramatta in the first replayed grand final. Mention was also made of his often-recalled try in the replayed match when he broke from the scrum to sprint away and score under the posts. Robert also played in St George's last premiership team in 1979.
A large number of Robert's team-mates and current St George players attended the funeral. I also saw many well-known rugby league identities who were representing many eras of the game and various National Rugby League clubs. Robert had been heavily involved with the New South Wales Primary Schools Sports Association [PSSA] rugby league, including coaching the State team. The PSSA was represented, and also in attendance to pay respect on behalf of the Kogarah Municipal Council were the mayor, Michael Platt, and the council's general manager, Gary Sawyer. They too were standing outside the church, as was the Federal member for Barton, Robert McClelland, and his wife, Michelle. It would be easier to list those who were not at Robert's funeral rather than those who were, such was the stature of Robert Stone in the community.
As well as outlining Robert's playing career beginning with his days at the Marist Brothers school at Kogarah, which was well represented at the funeral by students and teachers, and his extensive teaching career, speakers also noted his recent role as executive director of St George Rugby League, in particular his work as Bob the Builder when he oversaw the extensive renovations of Jubilee Oval and the return of his beloved Dragons to their spiritual home. Robert was passionate about everything related to St George, and that passion came out in his hands-on involvement in the redevelopment project. One of the features of that work is the Legends Walk outside the ground. It was opened in March last year two days after Robert's first operation to remove a brain tumour. He was released from hospital and went straight to the opening, which took place in the pouring rain—a demonstration not only of his passion for St George but also of his enormous courage and strength. These characteristics, of course, would be demonstrated on many occasions throughout the ensuing 16 months.
The last time I spoke with Robert was at the West Tigers game, when he arrived in a wheelchair. By that stage he was really battling, but still refused to concede. His wife, Anne, and his children, Melissa, Belinda and Michael, were with him, looking after his every need and clearly demonstrating their obvious love and affection for their respected husband and father. This was also obvious at the funeral service: while Robert was well-known to the rugby league world as a tough and uncompromising rugby league forward, more importantly he was a loving husband and a generous father. The respect he earned on the football field from his peers was nothing compared to the love he received from his family.
While mentioning the commitment of Robert's family throughout his illness, I should also comment on the support given to him by the St George Illawarra Dragons. I went to my first St George game in 1966 when St George defeated Manly at Jubilee Oval. Like many others, from that time I have red and white eyes. However, at the West Tigers game and at the funeral service, as well as at the Parramatta game, I had never been prouder to say that I was a St George man. At the West Tigers game all the officials I was with were thinking of Robert and looking after him. At the funeral service it was obvious that the St George family had lost one of its own. I know that throughout Robert's illness the club was very supportive of both Robert and Anne, particularly in the last months. At the Parramatta game during the half-time break the club showed a tribute video to the crowd which must have played for over five minutes. The crowd stood in silent homage—a fitting tribute to a departed hero.
Sport can be seen as many things. One thing that Robert Stone's passing reinforced in my mind is that true sporting teams are like family. Robert spent a lot of his time as an administrator, making sure that former players were still a part of the club and the St George family. The family lost a great man with Robert's death at the young age of only 49. To Anne, Melissa, Belinda and Michael, we share your loss and thank you for sharing your husband and father with not only the rugby league world but most importantly with the broader St George community. Robert Stone was a great administrator of the game, he was a great rugby league player, and also devoted his life to looking after the needs of many young people. He will be sadly missed. Again I say to Anne, Melissa, Belinda and Michael, we share your loss and thank you for letting us be part of your husband's and father's life.