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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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McConnell, John Verran (1911–1971)

by I. R. Hancock

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

John Verran McConnell (1911-1971), Liberal Party official, was born on 23 October 1911 at Footscray, Melbourne, son of Victorian-born parents Herbert John McConnell, machinist, and his wife Ethel Lois, née Martin. After a Methodist upbringing and attendance at various state schools, John enrolled at Stott's Business College and then at the University of Queensland. He joined G. J. Coles & Co. Ltd as an accountant in 1933.

At Wesley Chapel, Melbourne, on 19 January 1939 McConnell married Gwendolyn Ruth Hewett. On 15 July 1940 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He was commissioned lieutenant (1941), and served in New Guinea (1943-44) and New Britain (1945) with the 14th-32nd Battalion. Demobilized on Friday 10 August 1945, the former Young Nationalist began work on the following Monday as general secretary of the Victorian division of the new Liberal Party of Australia, a post he held until his death.

McConnell's shrewdness, knowledge of voting patterns, and detailed planning helped the Victorian Liberals to exploit the Labor split of 1954-55, thus launching twenty-seven years of State rule. His post-election analyses—measured and comprehensive—became the architect's drawings for the next Federal or State campaign as 'Mac' committed himself to the 'continuous campaigning' which became the Liberal byword from 1957-58. His was the sharpest mind on the federal staff planning committee; his assessments were invariably incorporated in the advice forwarded by the officials to the federal executive; and (Sir) Robert Menzies as well as (Sir) Henry Bolte, the Victorian premier, relied heavily on his counsel.

Ever the professional, in September 1959 McConnell undertook a study tour of Britain, Europe and the United States of America, returning with fresh ideas on organization and the use of television. Better at identifying problems than implementing solutions, McConnell was ahead of his time in developing strategies for marginal and rural seats, and in using in-house polling to gauge voter preferences and formulate policies. He saw, before anyone else in Victoria, that the Liberals would soon be threatened electorally in the outer Melbourne suburbs where they had been so dominant in the 1950s.

Of middle height, grey and plain-featured, with a clipped moustache, Mac was seemingly self-contained, but his immediate associates were devoted to him, respecting both his integrity and political cunning. He was fond of a drink, and was once warned by a State party president against imbibing during office hours. Although children arrived late, he became a dedicated family man who enjoyed golfing, reading and visiting art galleries.

McConnell served on the Eltham Shire Council for eight years and was president in 1967-69; he was also a justice of the peace and president of the Eltham sub-branch of the Returned Services League of Australia. In 1969 he was appointed O.B.E. He stood twice—unsuccessfully—for Liberal pre-selection: in 1953 for the State seat of Malvern and in 1968 for the Senate vacancy caused by (Sir) John Gorton's move to the Lower House. The second rejection hurt. His friends on the State executive were expected to nominate their faithful and hard-working servant. Despite his disappointment, he remained steadfast while becoming slightly less guarded.

On 12 August 1971 McConnell collapsed at Princes Bridge railway station and died of myocardial fibrosis. Survived by his wife and three sons, he was cremated with Anglican rites. His estate was sworn for probate at $82,777.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Aimer, Politics, Power and Persuasion (Syd, 1974)
  • Age (Melbourne), 14 Aug 1945, 16 Feb 1968, 14 Aug 1971
  • Liberal Party of Australia papers (National Library of Australia and University of Melbourne Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

I. R. Hancock, 'McConnell, John Verran (1911–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 21 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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