Ron Walker, one of Formula 1’s most influential race promoters, has died at the age of 78 after a lengthy battle with cancer. The Australian, a giant in both the literal and business sense, is credited as one of the founding fathers of the Australian Grand Prix’s move to Melbourne over 20 years ago.
Walker was seemingly destined for life in business and as an entrepreneur. The son of a cinema supervisor, he attended the prestigious Caulfield Grammar School and it was during this time that he started his own business washing cars and making dishwashing detergents.
An interest in politics drew him to run for local council and after being elected in 1969 he served as Melbourne’s Lord Mayor from 1974 to 1976. He was awarded a CBE in the 1977 New Years Honours List for his services to local government.
After his stint as mayor, Walker went into partnership with fellow Melbourne businessman Lloyd Williams to form the Hudson Conway property development company, which led the construction of the city’s Crown Casino complex.
A prominent conservative, he rose through the ranks of the Liberal Party and served as its honorary national treasurer from 1987 to 2002.
It was in the areas of sport where Walker’s post-political career truly shot him to prominence. In 1988 he was appointed to the role of Commissioner for Melbourne’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to host the 1996 Olympic Games. His focus turned to Formula 1, forming a close connection with F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone to successfully secure the move of the Australian Grand Prix to Melbourne from its popular home in Adelaide.
With the event having the financial backing of the Liberal Party-led state government, Walker’s connections helped secure him the position as Chairman of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation.
A classic wheeler and dealer, Walker was appointed to the F1 Commission and subsequently became one of the sport’s most eminent race promoters and cemented Melbourne’s much-coveted position as the series’ traditional season-opening Grand Prix.
Injuries stemming from a fall off a bicycle in 2010 – which included concussion and broken ribs – saw Walker step back from being at the forefront of the AGPC, but he continued to be an ever-present and highly regarded figure in the Melbourne paddock even as the effect of his cancer took hold.
He is survived by his wife Barbara and three children.
“Ron Walker was a great Australian and Victorian, who passionately loved Melbourne,” the Australian Grand Prix Corporation’s current chairman, John Harnden, said in a media release.
“He had an enormous impact on the city and state from his early days as Lord Mayor, through to shaping the landscape of sport and major events in Victoria. His legacy is unparalleled.
“The AGPC was one of Ron’s greatest loves, and his standards and pursuit of excellence have been respected and admired by generations of AGPC staff … He has had a profound impact on the world of motorsport both nationally and Internationally and he will be missed by many.
“Ron will forever be remembered by the AGPC family. He will always be Mr Grand Prix.”
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