Don Jessop, a former Senator for South Australia and Grey MP, has died at his home in Adelaide. He was 90.
Born in 1927, he served in the Federal Parliament for almost 21 years before returning to his profession of optometry both in Port Augusta and Adelaide.
Mr Jessop always regarded himself as a “reluctant politician” who had at first resisted approaches to run for the Liberal Party in the Labor stronghold of Grey.
But, 10 years on the Port Augusta Council, senior roles in Apex and Rotary and a reputation as Australia’s flying optometrist, helped him to unexpectedly capture the seat of Grey with a 7.8pc swing at the 1966 election.
Reports have circulated that Mr Jessop’s rise to power came after a botched attempt by future Labor prime minister Bob Hawke to nominate for the seat. His nomination form reportedly arrived a day late.
Mr Jessop lost the seat to Labor in 1969, but moved to the Senate.
His preparedness to cross the floor in support of the then Whitlam Labor government’s Supply Bill in 1975 was a stressful time.
He said later he had spoken to then Opposition leader Malcolm Fraser on November 9, 1975, and “requested that he pass supply or provide a properly considered constitutional reason why we should vote against the bill”.
The independent-minded Mr Jessop was proud of chairing several important Senate Committees including Privileges that are listed in his Parliamentary biography. As chair of the Science and the Environment Committee for seven years, he drove his passion to make change and highlight the importance of water and the Murray River to SA.
A life member of the South Pole Society, he was part of the first official party to travel to Antarctica’s McMurdo Sound to look at research work at the Casey base in 1979.
Mr Jessop attended Mitcham Primary School and Unley High School before studying optometry at the University of Adelaide. Throughout his life, Australian Rules Football and vice-presidency of the Sturt Football Club were important winter activities and summer was all about tennis. In retirement, he sang with the Adelaide Male Voice Choir.
The former sSenator is survived by Barbara, his wife of 69 years, their three children, Meredith, Lynne and Michael, 11 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren.
Mr Jessop died on May 21.