The passing of Pat Reilly, Emeritus Mayor of the City of Willoughby, on 20 January 2014 was keenly felt by his constituents. He had served on the council for over 26 years and had been Mayor for 16 years.
Pat Reilly was born in Willoughby, educated at St Thomas’ Primary School in Willoughby and St Pius X High School at Chatswood, and lived in the municipality (later the City of Willoughby) all his life. On leaving school, Pat became a musician playing drums for rock and jazz bands, while selling musical instruments for Boosey & Hawkes. He subsequently became sales and marketing manager for musical instruments across Australia, while also gaining recognition as an ‘Elvis impersonator’ in the 1970s. Pat became president of the Australian Music Trades Association.
In 1988. he brought his new bride, Beth Nannelli to live on Eastern Valley Way in the suburb of Willoughby. They would both become key leaders in the local community.
Pat is reputed to have tried numerous political parties–the writer met him at a Labor Party function in Willoughby during 1977 when he was a member of that party–and he later joined the Liberal Party. Subsequently he became an ardent opponent of party politics in local government and this stand for ‘independence’ brought him electoral success in the local electorate.
Elected as mayor of Willoughby in September 1997, Pat Reilly became the first popularly elected mayor for the city two years later. His initial two years in office came after the previous administration had lost public support due to the manner in which it had tried to impose plans for a new civic centre to replace the existing town hall and concert hall in Chatswood.1
Pat established a strong working relationship with the new general manager, John Owen, and his senior staff at council and together this team built a remarkably effective consultation process that ensured effective community input into the planning of the new Civic Place. By mid-1999, Council had distributed information material to all residents on the Chatswood Civic Centre strategic plan and the central role of the new Civic Place in that strategy.2
The Civic Place Master Plan went on public exhibition in April 2003, backed by a massive publicity campaign to ensure a maximum public response. A vocal minority opposed the Civic Place concept mainly on the grounds of its cost. Pat Reilly answered the critics by putting the Civic Place Project to a public referendum at the March 2004 local government elections.
It received a strong endorsement, with 58.7% of voters saying yes, against a 38.1% no vote, the remainder being informal. Thus, the new civic centre proceeded as one of the largest infrastructure projects to be undertaken by a local government in Australia.It was a proud moment for Pat when the new centre, now named The Concourse, opened in September 2011, bringing his vision of Willoughby City becoming a major cultural centre in the state and nation to fulfilment. Sadly, Pat’s health had deteriorated significantly giving him limited opportunity to enjoy the wide range of performances at The Concourse, but he expressed his pride when he saw schoolchildren perform on Concert Hall stage or a professional world-class performance there.
It was Pat’s desire that the new centre would be self-funding apart from the grand new City Library contained therein, which was an ongoing council responsibility. It was therefore of great personal satisfaction to him when The Concourse generated rental of more than $3 million for the year ended 30 June 2013 and the complex was well on the track to becoming self-funding according to the planned schedule.3
Pat Reilly had a reputation as a ‘larrikin mayor’, but he had a special knack of engaging with the increasingly wide range of interest groups and ethnic cultures that make up the Willoughby community.
The writer got to know Pat Reilly well through his involvement in his local progress association and the Federation of Willoughby Progress Associations. Pat was always available to officiate at the annual general meetings of progress associations and he made time to attend meetings of the Federation on a regular basis, where he would provide an off-the-cuff briefing on the issues coming before council of interest to delegates.
With the support of a highly professional council officers, the Reilly years saw Willoughby City Council embrace a sound strategy for city development that focused intensive urban development along the main North Shore Railway line and protected traditional residential areas from ‘over development’. The establishment of 12 conservation zones, including the internationally-recognised Griffin Conservation Area in Castlecrag, has been a successful strategy in conserving our heritage (when compared with the situation in most local government areas), while Willoughby City Council has also been a leader in conserving and enhancing its significant areas of bushland.
Both Pat and Beth Reilly were strong supporters of the Willoughby District Historical Society. Pat served as our Patron from September 1997 and attended key society functions, complete with mayoral chains.
Beth was even more closely involved with the WDHS, helping out with collection management tasks on a regular basis in the early 2000s.These are all important legacies of the ‘Reilly years’ at Willoughby City Council. But, Pat also linked up with and supported a wider community, from sporting clubs to cultural organisations and ethnic groups. He was a strong supporter of Willoughby Council’s MOSAIC program that provides support to ethnic groups across the North Shore. In particular, he built remarkably strong ties with the local Chinese community in Chatswood.
Indeed, a night out with Pat and just one other colleague in a private room attached to a Chinese restaurant at the Mandarin Centre–including a hearty meal, fine wine and a Karaoke machine playing Elvis hits (in which we had to participate)–was an experience that this writer will not forget!
My thanks are extended to Beth Reilly for her personal contribution to the preparation of this memorial piece. (Bob McKillop)
1 R F McKillop, personal journal for 6 February and 11 April 1997, Federation of Willoughby Progress Association meeting on Chatswood Civic Centre; 14 May 1997, public meeting on Chatswood Civic Centre proposals.
2 The funds for the design, writing, printing and distribution of the Civic Place brochure distributed to residents was personally met by Pat and Beth Reilly, Information provided by Beth Reilly, 9 June 2014.
3 Personal advice Beth Reilly, with figures supplied by the Willoughby City Council General Manager.