Tributes flow at Vice-Chancellor’s retirement dinner

UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Gerard Sutton told a crowd of 400 well-wishers at his retirement dinner that he will be “leading the UOW cheer squad” when he retires at the end of the month after almost 17 years in the role.

Professor Sutton said he was excited about UOW’s future under incoming Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings.

“There is nothing UOW can’t achieve. Nothing is impossible … that’s in our DNA,” Professor Sutton said.

More than 400 people gathered at the University of Wollongong on Friday (2 December) to pay tribute to Professor Sutton.

UOW colleagues past and present, business, industry, civic and community leaders and many friends joined Professor Sutton and his wife Sylvia and their family at a dinner to celebrate his career.

UOW Chancellor Jillian Broadbent and her predecessor Michael Codd, former Vice-Chancellor Professor Ken McKinnon and Jenny Birt, wife of the foundation Vice-Chancellor, the late Professor Michael Birt, were among the guests who packed the University Hall to honour Professor Sutton and his achievements.

Professor Sutton joined UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor in 1990, and was appointed to succeed Professor McKinnon as Vice-Chancellor in 1995.

Under Professor Sutton’s leadership UOW won two Australian University of the Year awards (in 1999-2000 and 2000-2001) and rose to be ranked among the top two percent of universities world-wide. Professor Sutton also led the development of the Innovation Campus, Graduate School of Medicine, Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute and SMART Infrastructure Facility.

Former Vice-Principal (Administration) David Rome was Master of Ceremonies while speakers included Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor John Patterson, former Vice-Principal (International) Dr James Langridge and Professor Sutton’s son, Gerard, who is a leading Sydney eye surgeon.

Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor John Patterson talked about Professor Sutton’s golden touch, his leadership qualities and his humanity and belief in the transformative power of education. He said Professor Sutton “has UOW in his bones”.

Cricket star and UOW Ambassador Adam Gilchrist, in a video tribute, spoke about Professor Sutton’s ability to talk to people from all walks of life, and be genuinely interested in what they have to say.

Gerard Sutton (Junior) highlighted some of his father’s qualities – his loyalty, his sympathy for the underdog, his willingness to go in to bat for those in need, and his readiness to look for the best in people.

“Dad dedicated his life to his family, his friends and the University of Wollongong – and the lines have become appropriately blurred. Dad chose creative altruism, and we have all been the beneficiaries of that,” he said.

In her vote of thanks, Chancellor Broadbent said people had come to show their affection and respect for Professor Sutton. She described the retirement function as “happy and sad” – happy because it celebrated Professor Sutton’s achievements and contribution, but sad because his era at UOW was coming to an end.

Professor Sutton said he was honoured by the tributes, and thanked all the guests for coming.

He recounted that he had joined UOW to learn how to be a Vice-Chancellor from Ken McKinnon, who he said was the best of his era.

“We thought we’d stay three years … and we’re still here 21 years later,” Professor Sutton said.

He said Professor McKinnon had been a great mentor, while Chancellors (the late Justice Robert Hope), Mr Codd and Ms Broadbent had provided him with outstanding guidance and support.

“But the real secret (to UOW’s success) has been the quality of the UOW staff,” he said. “We have had the best senior executive, deans and directors in the country, and that has served the University extremely well … as has the total, absolute commitment of all staff to the success of the University.

“They have delivered the success, while an absolute bonus has been the support we have received from the town and the region. We have received leverage from the city, and the city and region have gained leverage from us.”

Professor Sutton thanked his Executive Assistant Halina Majer and UOW’s Protocol officer Heidi De Coster (who led the organisation of the dinner) for their support over many years, but singled out his wife Sylvia for special mention. “Sylvia’s wise advice has been invaluable. Many of the good decisions have come from discussions with Sylvia.”

Report: Nick Hartgerink
Pictures: Sean Maguire and Mark Newsham


  • Professor Gerard Sutton and his family at his retirement dinner.

  • Former Vice-Chancellor Ken McKinnon signs the guest register, watched by his former deputy Peter Rousch.

  • Professor Gerard Sutton (Junior) gave a moving family tribute about his father.

  • Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor John Patterson gave a light-hearted but emotional tribute to his boss.