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Tribute to former Chancellor Dr Lionel Phelps, AO


Jessica Nelson
5 November 2018

One of the most eminent figures of the Southern Cross University community has passed away.

Dr Lionel Phelps, AO was one of the true pioneers of Southern Cross University.  He played a foundational role in a wide variety of governance and leadership capacities since the establishment of the University and served with distinction as its second Chancellor, from 1998 to 2001. He died on Saturday 3 November. 

Southern Cross University Vice Chancellor Professor Adam Shoemaker paid tribute to Dr Phelps:

“We are all saddened to hear of Lionel’s passing,” Professor Shoemaker said.

“His influence on the University and on the broader northern NSW region was immense.”

“As the Chancellor of Southern Cross University he presided over considerable growth, including his ground-breaking work to establish the Coffs Harbour campus, and the opening of the University’s then Tweed Heads campus.

“Dr Phelps is remembered as being a kind and passionate teacher, as well as one of the leading educationalists in NSW.”

Southern Cross University Chancellor Nick Burton Taylor, AM praised the work of Dr Phelps:

“Southern Cross is still a young institution and Lionel Phelps led it through a crucial, formative period. His legacy is embedded in the University,” Mr Burton Taylor said.

Dr Phelps was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of the University in 2002.

The then Vice Chancellor of Southern Cross, Professor John Rickard, summed up Dr Phelps' contribution to education in the following terms:

“Lionel Phelps was born at Turramurra in Sydney and was educated at Gosford High School and Barker College. After matriculating from secondary school he attended Sydney University and completed a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Education.

“His teaching career covered positions at many schools in New South Wales and he was promoted to the Principal of Batlow Central School and Inspector of Schools for the Nowra Region.

“His career in education culminated in him being appointed as Assistant Director and then Director of Education for the North Coast Region of New South Wales.  Lionel held this position for six years until his retirement in 1988. Prior to his retirement he was awarded a Fulbright Study Award.”

Dr Phelps held many positions throughout his public and community life, including:

  • Member of Council, Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education;
  • Chair, Centre of Professional Development in Education at Southern Cross University (formerly, the University of New England);
  • Deputy Chancellor, the University of New England;
  • Member, Ministerial Steering Committee, Coffs Harbour Education Campus;
  • Chair, Board of Governors, Coffs Harbour Education Campus;
  • Chair, Interim Council, Southern Cross University;
  • Deputy Chancellor, Southern Cross University;
  • Chancellor of Southern Cross University;
  • Active membership of Rotary for 49 years and life member of the Lismore Rotary Club;
  • Secretary of the National Rotary Bowelscan Committee;
  • Life Member and Past President of the Northern Rivers Chapter of First Fleeters;
  • Member of Lismore Council Rainforest and Botanic Gardens Committee.

Dr Phelps was made a Fellow of the Australian College of Education for his work in the field of teacher professional development, and he was given the Paul Harris Fellow Award by Rotary International in recognition of his exemplary contribution to the community. A Doctor of the University was conferred on Lionel by the University of New England in 1993.

He was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his contribution to education and the community in 2000.

Dr Phelps is survived by his wife Lenore and by his daughters Narissa and Renata.