Tributes have been flowing in for the late Ron McLean – one of the greatest newspaper men to ever sit in front of a typewriter – a Master Editor, twice winner of the prestigious Sir Harry Budd Memorial Award and countless other citations for editorials, stories and overall journalism.

Rocky, as he was affectionately known by all, came to Gunnedah from Narrabri in the late 1970s, as editor of the Namoi Valley Independent and from that time on until his retirement in 2007, the newspaper dominated the Country Press Awards, not just for journalism but also for display and content.

Awarded the inaugural Country Press Master Editor’s Citation for Leadership, Example, Professionalism, Consistency and Pursuit of Excellence in Editorial Service in October, 2001, Rock took the Independent to great heights as the top bi-weekly in the state.

The citation read in part: “A feature of his talent is his analytical brain giving birth to clear, insightful, and helpful expression in a fluency of the written word.

“Not only has he got the talent to get to the nub of an issue, but he infuses feeling and emotion into his subject. At all times, he allows nothing to stand in the way of accuracy, and sensitivity is a hallmark of his style.

“Service and access to people are the keynotes of his editorial policy and he accompanies his editorial prowess with a lifetime involvement in the community”.

Recognised by his peers at the highest level, Rock was also loved and respected by his work colleagues, with his great friend and fellow journalist from his Narrabri days Ian Dunnet saddened by his passing.

“Ron was held in great respect and affection by many in the community and in the newspaper industry would be remembered for his professionalism and his generous and valued support for generations of young journalists,” Ian said.

“Ron always had time, sound advice and encouragement for the many journalists who worked under him. Ron’s mentoring of journalists was so helpful in setting them on their career pathways.

“He was recognised throughout the NSW country newspaper industry as the best, and the many industry awards he received over the decades are a testament to the high standards he set.

“Although Ron won industry accolades, he was genuinely modest and self-effacing when offered compliments on his journalism and editorship.

“His aim was always to cover the news, human interest stories and sports for the community in the most effective and comprehensive way, a goal he set and achieved.

“Ron was an accomplished sportsman locally and regionally in tennis, cricket and bowls and his sports reporting reflected his keen interest in sport and its important role in community life.

“He was a key participant in the launch and success of the Gunnedah Times and immediately pledged his full support when the newspaper was proposed. He stressed the importance of the role of a local newspaper and need for the paper to have authority as a community voice.

“But above all, Ron McLean was first and foremost a family man. He was devoted to Judy and immensely proud of his children and their families.”

Tributes have appeared on all forms of social media in admiration and regret, with gratitude from former colleagues, budding journalists and friends.

From former NVI journalist Julie Hartigan: “RIP Rock. My first editor. My best editor. So much more to say but today I will leave it there. My thoughts are with his first loves – his family who he loved and supported to the end of the earth.”

From former NVI journalist Josh Leeson: “I’m so sad to hear of Rock’s passing. He was absolutely the biggest influence on my career as a journalist. He was a first-class editor, who deeply cared. He taught me so much about reporting and writing and why community news is so vital. But most importantly, he was an amazing person. My thoughts are with Rock’s many family and friends. He will be dearly missed.”

From a former St Mary’s College work experience student Shannon Hobson (now Ramadge): “I’m so saddened by this news. He had a huge impact on me after I did my high school work experience at the paper. Made me want to be a journo. I learned so much from him and he was always willing to help and provide advice throughout my uni course and beyond.”

Other social media comments included: “This is really sad, he truly was a gem of Gunnedah. This town was so lucky to have him, he’s left behind a wonderful legacy of his legendary status. Condolences and thoughts to his family and friends.”

“Great man. So grounded and community focused. I learnt more about the English language from him than I did my teachers.”

“Dear Ron. He has left such a wonderful legacy. Such a gifted journalist but such a great human being. He will be sorely missed as one of Gunnedah’s best.”

“Always such a pleasure to chat with Ron. Such an astute mind, a deep care for his family and community and its history. I miss our neighbourly chats out the front, as you dashed back and forth from the paper. Rest gently Ron.”

Gunnedah Times and former NVI journalist Marie Hobson regarded Ron as both a mentor and friend.

“I am a journalist today because of him,” she said. “We both shared a mutual interest in history and it was a privilege to work with him to produce the Gunnedah Sesquicentenary book The Way We Were and others. His love and passion for writing and his community were only exceeded by his love for his family – he was always immensely proud of them and was always grateful for the support of his wife Judy. Thanks for the memories, Rock, for your patience and support, your guidance and craftsmanship – there was no one equal to you as a journalist and that is why you were a Master Editor and a great friend to all.

“The many memorable stories when you ‘just had to get that photo’, the grass fire on the side of Porky, the Best Care explosion when you hobbled straight into the smoking building, camera dangling; the lost cameras, the computers that befuddled you, the ladders, hills and fences I climbed at your direction … to get that essential photo!

“The ‘flummeries’ and “stuff a stoker” on production day, your infinite patience with contributors who left it to the last minute and the two-finger bashing on the keyboard, the infamous red towelling hat, the dents in the work car, the lost glasses and pub lunch at the back bench on production day.

“The ‘big bots’ after the paper hit the street – oh the memories. You were one-of-a-kind Rock, and you will be missed.”

The Gunnedah Times will publish Ron’s obituary at a later date.

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