Tribute by The Weekly Times Editor John F Booth AM
Betty Cuthbert was a national icon and treasure but always remained the unpretentious young lady from a loving family grown up at her parents’ plant nursery on Victoria Road at Ermington in TWT Territory.
My own personal association goes back to her childhood days when her parents were active in local community life and I was a young twentyish Alderman on Ryde Municipal Council.
At her parents request I escorted Betty on some of her early public engagements and appearances and always found her to be delightful even if a little shy and self effacing.
I was fortunate to go to Melbourne for the 1956 Olympic Games when Betty shone and hit the world stage in spectacular fashion surprising all by winning Gold in the 100 metres, 200 metres and the 4 by 100 metres relay.
Betty later came out of retirement to shock the world again by winning Gold in the new womens 400 metres race and remains to this day the only person to have won all four running events.
And of course 1956 Olympics was also special for another TWT Territory icon swimmer Dawn Fraser.
So it was only natural that when the Greiner Liberal coalition government was elected and they acted on their pre-election promise to reintroduce ferries to the Parramatta River that JB had an idea.
In those days we had what I called the Three Muscateers of TWT Territory namely Ivan Petch MP for Gladesville, Michael Photios MP for Ryde and Andrew Tink MP for Eastwood and we often had joint get togethers.
The new ferries were being called RiverCats for catamarans on Parramatta River and I suggested they should be named Olympic Class and they be named after famous or well known female Olympians.
They floated the idea with then NSW Transport Minister Bruce Baird who agreed and I further suggested that the first should be named by The Weekly Times readers by competition.
Again Bruce Baird agreed with JB (more so than his son later on as Premier!) and I promoted the competition in The Weekly Times with overwhelming response.
There were two RiverCats originally which sailed into Gladesville wharf for the christening ceremony with champagne bottles across their bows supplied by TWT.
No prizes for guessing the first two winning names: Betty Cuthbert and Dawn Fraser.
Over 100 TWT readers who had suggested the winning names were guests of The Weekly Times for the day and boarded the two new RiverCats and were taken to Darling Harbour for lunch at a restaurant and visited the then new Aquarium courtesy The Weekly Times.
Bruce Baird was so impressed that he declared that “all future RiverCats will be named by The Weekly Times readers”. And that happened for the rest of the RiverCat fleet.
Betty is also remembered locally with the main street at Ermington shopping
centre named in her honour and she was guest of honour recently when she revisited her old Ermington Public School.
Betty is survived by her twin sister Marie and her best friend and companion Rhonda Gillam who says she was called by God to become Betty’s primary carer 26 years ago to care for her with her 48 years battle with debilitating multiple sclerosis.
Betty shared her Christian faith with Rhonda who says Betty often would sing “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so . . .” and Rhonda sang that to her the night she departed.
Rhonda said “now absent in the body present with the Lord. She will be up there right now with the biggest crown on her head. Truly”.
Rest in Peace Betty. Amen.