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WHEN he rose to give his valedictory address to the ACT Assembly on October 24, Liberal Steve Doszpot prefaced it by saying it was “a speech that I wish I didn’t have to give”.
And here am I, a mate, barely a month later writing the story I dearly wish I didn’t have to write.
For the long-serving, much-loved MLA died last weekend in Clare Holland House after an agonising year living under the shadow of inoperable liver cancer. He was 69.
During a grim radio interview with Rod Henshaw and me on 2CC’s “CityNews Sunday Roast” program days after his emotional farewell to his Assembly colleagues (who were, to a person, generous in their praise of him), he did what he did so well so often and put himself last.
Fragile as he was, there was no anger, no self pity in fessing up in short breaths on radio, that while he couldn’t be saved there needed to be more understanding, awareness and funding for the early diagnosis of liver cancer, the disease that was inexorably tightening its grip on his future with every passing day.
In his selfless speech to the Assembly he pledged to keep up his advocacy for so long as he could, “not only for the thousands of cancer sufferers in our community but also for their families, who are so important as hard-working carers providing love, support and hope”. While he was hopeful of another year to do it, it wasn’t to be. Four weeks later he was gone.
He is to be afforded state funeral on Friday, December 1 for what Chief Minister Andrew Barr appropriately describes as “a mark of respect and recognition of his great contribution to the people of the ACT, both as a member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and through many community and charitable organisations”.
He was one of the Assembly’s few authentic politicians. He looked and sounded like us because he was one of us. He wasn’t an apparatchik, a flack, a factional toady or opportunistic staffer from the professional political classes that beleaguer modern politics.
Over his nine Assembly years he represented three electorates – Brindabella, Molonglo and, most recently, Kurrajong. Before that he’d been in IT and business around Canberra for years. He’d held conspicuous roles in the administration of (sorry, Steve) soccer in the ACT through the sport’s highs and the lows. He’d been a radio and television sports broadcaster. And throughout all that brought up two kids – Adam and Amy – with wife Maureen.
His love of people was forged in these community years, arming him with the passion to empathically hold down shadow ministries for Education, Sport and Recreation, Family and Community Services, Urban Services and Seniors.
He was also one of the few MLA’s with “snow on the roof” (grey hair) keeping a keen watching eye out for senior members of our community at risk of being marginalised by the effects of increasing rates on fixed-income constituents and seniors.
Over the past nine years, Steve Doszpot’s annual, trivia-quiz, charity nights raised about $230,000 for 10 local charities and individuals. Steve wrote all the questions and anyone unfamiliar with his lifelong passions for soccer and Beatles music were in for a long night.
In an interview at his home with me in October, Steve talked about his commitment to hope beyond a cure and the role his faith (“not very fashionable these days”) was having in assisting a positive attitude to his situation.
I asked what would he miss at leaving politics?
“I’ll miss community involvement. I like meeting people. I’ll miss not having the ability to influence legislation and I’ll miss not being able to complete some of the tasks,” he said, ruefully pointing to the dangerous dogs issue that he had fought hard to bring into public view over recent months.
His Hungarian heritage was never far below the Doszpot surface.
His father Istvan, wife Anna, mother-in-law Borbala Cziegler and three children Istvan (Steve), Anna and Gustav escaped the Communist regime of Hungary to arrive in Sydney as a refugee family in 1957 with nothing.
“My father was always reminding me as a young man that I, as the eldest child, would need to somehow thank Australia for the generosity shown to our family of refugees 60 years ago,” he told the Assembly.
“My father passed away 16 years prior to my election to this Assembly but I have always remembered his words, and one of my remaining tasks is to thank our Prime Minister, on behalf of our family.”
I think it’s we who should be thanking you, Steve, for your leadership as a citizen, sportsman and politician, and for your tireless love and unselfish contribution to our city and, through it, the country.
A state funeral for Steve Doszpot will be held at St Christopher’s Cathedral, Manuka, 10am, on Friday, December 1.