Veteran police legend will not be forgotten

September 04, 2017

Former Footscray footballer John (Jack) Thomas.

POLICE legend Jack Thomas QPM will be farewelled in Echuca this week after he died on Thursday.

But although the 91-year-old veteran copper is gone, he will not be forgotten.

He will be remembered as a trailblazer — a fundamental part of the movement to help lower Victoria’s road toll.

At the forefront of introducing the breathalyser into Victoria in 1976, Jack helped save lives and change community perception and behaviour.

Born in Raywood on August 3, 1926, Jack started his working life on Melbourne’s railway system, but his love of law and order led him to the police force in the 1960s.

For Jack, this was a time of increased frustration as the body count from car crashes kept climbing; many of them caused by people drunk at the wheel.

By the end of the decade, police like Jack had drawn a line in the sand, launching the Let’s Declare War on 1034 campaign — which was the number of people killed on Victorian roads in 1969.

His work on reducing road trauma earnt him a Groves Medal and fellowship from the Royal Australian College of Surgeons.

Serving most of his policing career in Melbourne, rising to the rank of chief inspector, Jack was also awarded the Queen’s Police Medal, Victoria Police Service Medal and National Police Service Medal.

Jack’s life wasn’t all about the police; he was also a mad football fan. He played for Footscray in 1944, managing a season in the reserves.

Although a dodgy knee cut short that chapter in Jack’s life, he still maintained a soft spot for his beloved Doggies.

Jack was also a foundation and life member of the Old Bastards, a philanthropic group which meets in Melbourne every two months raising money for charities of its choice.

Jack spent his last seven years enjoying the quiet life with his son Neil Thomas at the Great Aussie Beer Shed.

A shed Jack helped build and where he worked as a loveable tour guide.

‘‘He had the hands-on experience and people just loved him,’’ Neil said.

Neil has many fond childhood memories of his father; camping at Mount Martha, fishing and duck shooting at Colbinabbin.

‘‘He was a real outdoors person. He was really good at sport and also played cricket and golf,’’ he said.

It was Jack’s health problems later in life that inspired Neil to front the public campaign to raise money to help fit out Echuca Regional Health’s new hospital.

Neil praised ERH, as well as Dr Rifat Baseem Rifat, for the excellent care they provided Jack, as well as Dr Stuart Gough for his help during Jack’s earlier illnesses.

‘‘Seven years ago after dad had three strokes and was diagnosed with cancer, Dr Gough said to plan the funeral as he wouldn’t see the week out. Dad proved him wrong,’’ Neil said.

Neil said he had been overwhelmed by the number of phone calls and kind messages he had received since his father’s death.

‘‘I’d like to thank the beautiful country people of Echuca and extended police family for all their love and support,’’ he said.

A funeral with full police honours will be held for Jack at 1pm on Thursday at St Mary’s Church in Echuca.

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