When I heard that Tom was being installed as Chancellor of the University of Canberra, I wanted to offer him a few words of congratulations. I also want to say congratulations to outgoing Chancellor John Mackay for his excellent leadership over the years.
I’m thrilled to be here with all of you today.
As you know, Tom has been a dedicated public servant for four decades and is committed to fighting discrimination, to social justice, to human rights, and to promoting health and education. I could go on all day about his professional life, but others have done this earlier and have done a much better job than I could. Clearly, Tom is an impressive man by any measure. However, it is his personal qualities that make him the kind of person whom I am proud to call a friend.
So, today, I want to talk to you about Tom Calma the person. I’ve known Tom for a short period of time – he was one of the first people I met after I arrived – but he’s become a dear friend. When I talk to people about Tom, there are a few words that come up over and over again. Caring. Warm. Kind-hearted. A dedicated mentor. A leader. A good example for young people. A man who’s incredibly proud of his family. Tom treats everyone from the Governor General to the newest intern with equal respect, consideration, and kindness. Tom is all of these things, but words are – as is so often the case – insufficient to describe the depth of his character.
So when I was thinking about how I wanted to describe him – and his work – today, I thought a lot about what great leaders and thinkers have had to say about leadership. And yet, nothing seemed quite right. What they described wasn’t selfless enough to equate well with what I know about Tom. They didn’t touch on the ways in which he quietly inspires others. I finally came across a passage by General – and later Secretary of State – Colin Powell who was writing about another general who became Secretary of State that I felt summed things up perfectly.
Powell wrote of General George C. Marshall that his power “lay in his utter selflessness. … It lay in his hard work and his immense personal sacrifice. It lay in his compassion, his wisdom. [He] practically defined those virtues. Yet he would have thought it odd if you had tried to congratulate him for these things.”
And I think that this is Tom in a nutshell.
Whether it’s advocating for Close the Gap, or promoting the value of education, or building communication across cultures, or working hard to reduce discrimination and promote inclusion, Tom inspires others both by his actions and by supporting those who work with him so that they can, in turn, shine.
I imagine that Tom is sitting over there wondering why we’re all making such a fuss. But it isn’t everyone who could – or would – do what Tom has done. Nor, I think, could just anyone have done it quite so well, or with the same degree of kindness, compassion, and strength. In short, Tom is a man whose character, judgment, and integrity make him one of the finest people I have ever known and a man certain to lead the University of Canberra to greatness!