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John Herron remembered as a man of ‘unfaltering faith’ and ‘unshakeable integrity’ at state funeral

Family man: “He always considered that his greatest achievement was his happy marriage – John and Jan only recently celebrated 60 years of marriage …”

JOHN Herron was a Renaissance man – world-class surgeon, senator, philanthropist, Harley Davidson rider, rugby enthusiast, husband, father and committed Catholic.

A state funeral was held for Mr Herron at St Stephen’s Cathedral on Friday, March 1 and he was buried at Nudgee Cemetery.

Mr Herron, who died aged 86, was a devoted husband of 60 years to Jan Kenny, a father to 10 children and grandfather to 24 grandchildren.

Long-time friend and parish priest Fr Jim Spence gave Mr Herron’s eulogy at his funeral Mass.

“He always considered that his greatest achievement was his happy marriage – John and Jan only recently celebrated 60 years of marriage – the upbringing of a successful loving family, and his 24 grandchildren,” Fr Spence said.

“He will be remembered for his enduring sense of humour, his enormous generosity, his unfaltering faith, and his unshakeable integrity.”

Born in Home Hill to James Herron and Elizabeth Snee on September 4 1932, Fr Spence said Mr Herron had “an idyllic childhood”.

His father migrated from Ireland to Australia at the suggestion of two of his sisters, who were Sisters of St Joseph.

Mr Herron had two brothers Jim and Paul and, after a time managing hotels, his parents bought a newsagency in Paddington. 

“Every day for the next two years, John delivered newspapers for his parents’ newsagency from the back of a Harley Davidson motorcycle with a side-car,” Fr Spence said.

“In his second year, he went to night school and matriculated, enabling him to enter Medicine at the University of Queensland with a Commonwealth Scholarship. 

“He wrote to the then Prime Minister Robert Menzies, thanking him for the scholarship.”

He became president of UQ Medical Society, editor of the UQ medical school journal and was also a UQ Union Councillor.

“His love of rugby continued, and spurred on by the Wallaby captain and life-long friend Chilla Wilson, who he met in 1951 at the UQ Rugby Club, he trained with the team and acted as a medical officer whenever possible on match days so he could be on the field when the Wallabies played,” Fr Spence said.

He graduated with a bachelor of medicine and a bachelor of surgery.

A lifetime of extraordinary achievements followed for Mr Herron in the medical field.

It was at this time, on March 9 1958, Mr Herron laid eyes on Jan Kenny.

“It was love at first sight,” Fr Spence said. 

“They became engaged on September 22 that year and married on January 30, 1959. 

“Both wanted to have a large family.”

And they had one.

Their first child, Maryann, was born with Down Syndrome the year after their marriage – Mr Herron later became a founding member of Down Syndrome Queensland.

After Maryanne came Elizabeth, Nicholas, Samantha, Maryrose, Catriona, Annabel, Wilhelmine, Thomas and John.

After years leading the Queensland branch of the Liberal Party, Mr Herron entered national politics – elected to the Senate in 1990.

His work in politics culminated in his appointment as Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Affairs.

“A vociferous advocate for indigenous Australians, he thrived in the role and made many friends in the community,” Fr Spence said.

“He resigned from the Senate in 2002 and was appointed Ambassador to Ireland and The Holy See in Rome.”

Fr Spence said John was Knight-Commander of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and during his tenure as ambassador, he was named a Papal Knight of St Gregory.

His knighthoods befit his work as a Captain in the Royal Australia Army Medical Corps and Squadron Leader in the Royal Australian Air Force.

These were some of the myriad ranks, awards, citations and recognitions Mr Herron received in a lifetime of national service.

His love for motorcycles endured too, riding until he was 74.

“Known for his meticulous planning, his annual re-visiting of his five-year plan, his ‘Map for Life’, his extensive journaling in diaries that he has written every day for the past 55 years, and for being highly organised, he directed his own departure from this life, surrounded by family and holding Jan’s hand, exactly as he planned it,” Fr Spence said.

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