The following tribute to the late Gerard Sharkey, a final year Parade College student of 1959, was recently brought to the attention of the Association by Pat McNamara (1957) and can be reproduced here with the kind permission of VicRoads Association.
Gerard Sharkey died on 12 January 2018 after a long illness. Gerry was a quiet and humble man not given in any way to blowing his own trumpet and yet his life’s achievements were formidable – as a loving and caring family man, as an engineer, as an army officer and as a planner and VCAT member.
Gerry was born on 11 September 1941. When he was young, his family moved to Mansfield where his father, Frank, was the Shire Engineer. They eventually moved to Heidelberg and Gerry attended the Christian Brothers in Clifton Hill from 1951-52, and then Parade College in East Melbourne in 1953 from where he matriculated in 1959. He studied Civil Engineering at RMIT and on graduation went to work at the Country Roads Board. Whilst studying, he worked as a tram conductor, a postman and at Buckley and Nunn.
Gerry met Susan who was to become his wife in 1964 and they married in 1971. Following their wedding, Gerry was transferred to Traralgon where their two eldest sons, Daniel and Joshua were born. Naomi, Michael and Benjamin were born in Melbourne after their return to the Burke Road house in 1977.
Gerry continued to study. In addition to his Fellowship Diploma in Civil Engineering from RMIT, he obtained a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Melbourne, a Graduate Diploma in Urban Policy and Planning from RMIT, a Master of Social Science majoring in environment and planning from RMIT and a Masters in Theology from the University of Divinity. He was also an accredited mediator and a CPA.
When Gerry died, he was three years into research of the Irish Catholic Church in Australia for his PhD. His PhD supervisor observed that he was, “a very diligent and conscientious researcher, (even through illness), with a great love of Australian history. He wrote elegantly and with insight”.
Gerry’s engineering career spanned from the Country Roads Board and the Road Construction Authority to VicRoads. He was involved in the planning, design and construction of many freeways, roads and bridges Victoria especially in Gippsland. He eventually became the Right of Way Engineer managing the acquisition of property for all the organisation’s road projects. Whenever he knew of someone whose land was being compulsorily acquired, Gerry always made himself available to personally talk to the people affected.
Gerry also worked in the Department of Premier and Cabinet for a period.
He also had a long association with the Royal Australian Engineers, reaching the rank of Major before he transferred across to the Pay Corps where he attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Some of the RAE Squadrons that Gerry served in were 104, 107 (where he was OC), 203 and 22 Regiment. In all he contributed over 30 years to his military career most of which was as an Engineer.
After he retired from VicRoads, he was appointed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, later the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. He commenced as a member and later rose to senior member. In his time at VCAT, Gerry predominantly heard planning cases, but sat on multiple lists. He said that his time at VCAT was the highlight of his professional life. During his time at VCAT, and after, Gerry mentored and supported lawyers and barristers who appeared before him. Because of the many fine barristers he met, he was proud to see his son, Michael, called to the Bar. He had great pleasure in giving him his robes at his signing of the Bar Roll.
Gerry enjoyed travel in Australia and abroad – especially to Ireland to trace the Sharkey family roots. He once had a tour through the Vatican with Tim Fisher, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and the Ambassador to the Holy See at the time. On one of his many trips to Ireland 20 years ago Gerry took it upon himself to visit An Bord Pleanála, an Irish institution like VCAT – a statutory, quasi-judicial planning appeals tribunal. According to the then Chief Officer of the Board, Paul Mullally, Gerry simply called into the offices, unannounced, and asked to meet someone there. Paul says that fortunately it was him. Paul and Gerry became great friends and corresponded regularly, and Paul said that some planning provisions and procedures in Ireland were amended as a result of Gerry’s advice.
Gerry was diagnosed with a serious form of Amyloidosis almost 15 years ago, and was given four months to a year to live. 2017 was a difficult year for Gerry’s health. He was hospitalized six times and his health gradually deteriorated. Over the last two years his illness progressed to the extent that Susan devoted herself to caring for and nursing him on a 24-hour basis at home or at their house at Rosebrook near Port Fairy. The Sharkey family has a long history in Rosebrook going back over one hundred and fifty years. Gerry’s grandparents settled there in the road that now bears the family name.
We were incredibly privileged to have him as a friend and colleague.