words by suzy grinter | photo by silvia mogorovich
“The first test of a truly great man is in his humility”. John Ruskin
Bill Tweddell is the first James Cook University graduate to hold the post of Chancellor. His father would have been over the moon.
“Dad had always wanted to be an engineer but his father died when Dad was only fifteen, so instead of studying, he found himself working. He was determined his own kids would have the opportunity for a University education.
“All five of Dad’s children went to James Cook University and some of us went on to further studies at other universities. I have been surrounded by academically-gifted family members. One cousin achieved a PhD cum laude, another is a University Medallist, both from JCU. I’m saying this to make it sound like I’m highly intelligent too,” laughs Bill.
The new Chancellor of JCU has a very infectious and sometimes self-deprecating humour, which is funny in itself, as he has a truly formidable curriculum vitae.
Bill and wife Chris undertook parallel studies for some time.
“I started with Arts and went on to Economics. Chris’s Commerce degree overlapped with my Economics studies. Sadly, anything I studied that she did also, she did better than me,” Bill says with a grin.
There’s that twinkle again, as Bill goes on to tell me that he was an “okay student” but not a good studier until he found something he loved, and that was foreign affairs.
That love, and his main love, Chris, who unselfishly supported his diplomatic career from beginning to end, took Bill to great heights as Head of the Americas and Africa Division of the Department in Canberra, Australian Ambassador to Vietnam, Deputy High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Consul-General, Hong Kong and Macau, High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, and Deputy High Commissioner, India, with earlier postings to Greece and Bangladesh. He was also Chief of Staff to the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer.
Bill’s last posting was Ambassador to the Philippines from 2012 to 2016.
“I’m sure our two sons Andrew and Paul paid some covert price as sons of a diplomat, but their lived experience is something you can’t buy or learn. It was hard for Chris too: she’s a graduate in Commerce and could have had a great career in accounting.
“Diplomacy was a pretty competitive, stressful and busy career but nothing would really have tempted me to kick on from that except for my old university. To be able to do something for the place that gave me such a start in life, as a student and employee, is humbling.
“North Queensland is our home. It has always been heartland for me,” says Bill.
In 2010 JCU recognised Bill as one of its Outstanding Alumni.
“On the basis of what I did after university, rather than a stellar academic record,” Bill laughs.
“I’m still settling in to my leisure activities. I walk a lot, and do Pilates. We bought an old Queenslander and we’re trying to cram the accumulated eclectic excess of eight overseas postings into this little house.
“One of the great gifts of my forty years in the diplomatic service was the quality of the people, and I’m not just saying Australian Foreign Affairs Department officials, I mean Australians, and foreigners, from other walks of life, and if you are going to give that up, rather than going cold turkey, there’s no better environment to be in than the wonderfully enriching community of a university,” Bill concludes.
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