Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Leonard, Jack Graham (1929–1995)

by Chris Clark

This article was published online in 2019

Jack Graham Leonard (1929–1995), air force chaplain, was born on 27 May 1929 at Bexley, Sydney, son of New South Wales-born parents, Jack Hardy, commercial traveller, and his wife Sylvia Monica, née Deane. Young Jack attended Bexley Public School. In 1939 his parents divorced and the next year his mother married Cuthbert Charles Leonard, a postal officer. They moved to Brisbane where Jack and his sister went to Windsor State School, and in 1943 to Newcastle, New South Wales. He left school and became an assistant to a professional photographer. Recognising a call to the church, at seventeen he joined the Wesley Central Mission, Sydney, from which he matriculated.

Two years later Leonard entered Leigh College, Enfield, a Methodist theological training centre, and subsequently went as a probationary minister to Tamworth. Experiencing doubts about a career in the church, he resigned and took a job as a local salesman for Commonwealth Oil Refineries Ltd; at the same time he became a breakfast announcer on radio station 2TM, and also sold radio advertising. On 27 September 1952 at the Crown Street Methodist Church, Wollongong, he married Patricia Joan Robens, a receptionist. She was the daughter of Rev. Alfred A. T. Robens, Methodist minister at Tamworth.

After four years Leonard decided to return to the ministry. He was sent to North Sydney to complete his training and was ordained there in 1959 by his father-in-law, then president of the Methodist Conference. Earlier he had taken up ventriloquism as a hobby, and at North Sydney had begun using a ventriloquist puppet named ‘David’ in services for children. During his first ministry in the Canberra-Queanbeyan area from 1960, he used a puppet called ‘Cedric’ in a television show, Children’s Television Corner; both puppets became household names. His sermons were enlivened with humour and a sense of the ridiculous.

Late in 1965, after two years working as a part-time chaplain at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base, Fairbairn, Australian Capital Territory (ACT), Leonard was appointed to full-time duty. Over the next seventeen years he provided pastoral care to RAAF personnel on bases at Fairbairn; Williamtown and Richmond, New South Wales; Pearce, Western Australia; and Butterworth, Malaysia.

When the Uniting Church was formed in 1977, Leonard disagreed with the decision of the Methodist and Presbyterian churches to amalgamate. Believing that the Church of England was his true home, he became an Anglican minister; in this capacity he completed his last decade with the RAAF. Promoted to the rank equivalent to wing commander in the following year, he was appointed AM in June 1979. In January 1983 he became secretary of the RAAF’s principal chaplains committee and a year later accepted the post of Anglican principal air chaplain, with rank equivalent to air commodore. He was proud of his association with the RAAF, and demonstrated his attachment by his attention to appearance and bearing, and an insistence that chaplains under him match those standards. Following the death of his wife in 1984, on 16 February 1985 at St John the Baptist Anglican Church, Reid, ACT, he married Noelle Veronica Buckley, a senior RAAF nurse.

In mid-1988 Leonard retired from full-time RAAF duty and took up residence on a rural block of sixteen hectares at Jeir, outside Canberra, where he grazed a small herd of Murray Grey cattle. He continued to minister to the ACT community, from 1990 serving as senior assistant priest and administrator of St John’s parish. ‘Charming and hospitable’ (Coulthard-Clark 1995, 15), he had a ‘rich, resonant voice’ that ‘was every inch a personal hallmark, as was his huge love of life’ (Canberra Times 1995, 19).  On the night of 5 October 1995, he was driving to a parish meeting when he was killed in a car accident on the Barton Highway at Hall, ACT. Survived by his wife, and the one son and two daughters from his first marriage, he was buried with full air force honours in St John’s cemetery. His funeral service at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, was attended by a thousand mourners including the administrator of the Commonwealth, in the governor-general’s absence abroad. Throughout his clerical career, both as chaplain and priest, he was held in the highest esteem for his dedication, commitment and ability.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Canberra Times. ‘Chaplain Had Zest for Life.’ 11 October 1995, 19
  • Coulthard-Clark, Chris. ‘RAAF Chaplain Piloted Changes.’ Australian, 24 October 1995, 15
  • Davidson, Peter A. Sky Pilot: A History of Chaplaincy in the RAAF, 1926 to 1990. Canberra: Principal Air Chaplains Committee, 1990
  • Leonard, Andrew. Personal communication
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Sermon by Ventriloquism.’ 10 August 1959, 3

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Chris Clark, 'Leonard, Jack Graham (1929–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/leonard-jack-graham-27709/text35390, published online 2019, accessed online 23 July 2019.

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