TOGETHER: Vince Lester with his wife Mary.
TOGETHER: Vince Lester with his wife Mary. Contributed

Community tribute to a Clermont icon

FROM rural baker to Queensland Parliament's longest-serving member in recent history, with an unbeaten track record of 30 years, former state MP Vince Lester has this week been presented with a Distinguished Service Award for his dedicated community service, including more than 50 years with Rotary International.

Mr Lester said he was "gobsmacked” to receive the award, announced at Parliament House by the independent chair of the Awards Committee of the Former Member's Association of Queensland, David Muir, and honoured to have "done his best” in various political and community roles.

Famously known as the "minister for walking backwards” after doing just that for charity, Mr Lester said he was "forever grateful” for the support he has been given.

"I think you've always got to have a go in life,” he said. "I was a baker in Duaringa for two years and in Clermont for 10 years. Then one day somebody asked me if I would run for parliament, and I thought 'Why not'.”

Mr Lester was also presented with a Downlands College Past Students Outstanding Achievement Award this month.

"I won a race back in 1956 against all the other schools and ended up breaking the record.

"It was Darling Downs all Schools 880 championship in 1956. That record was 2 minutes and 2.2 seconds and it was never broken - it's 800 metres today.”

Mr Lester, who now has a bridge in Emerald and a walking track in Rockhampton named after him, said one of his proudest achievements had been the successful negotiations for a TAFE for Emerald in the early 1980s.

He said he had always been passionate about education, especially for rural areas.

"If you don't have education you're not competing with the rest of the world. We're keeping up now but we still could do better.”

He said that, over the years, mining in Clermont had provided "enormous” benefits and "I”m very delighted to see that it's starting to kick in again”.

A distinct memory from his 54 years with Rotary was the discovery and rebuilding of an old traction engine that had been used to literally haul the town of Clermont to higher ground after the devastating flood in 1916 in which more than 60 people died.

"We rebuilt the engine and that was a major, major accomplishment for the town,” he said. "There are photos of it pulling the Leo Hotel and the Commercial Hotel to higher ground.”

Mr Lester, who retired in 2004 after three decades in Parliament, has been married to Mary for 54 years and, while they now live in Brisbane, he said they would always "love the people of the Central Highlands”.

Mr Lester served as a member for the electorates of Belyando, Peak Downs, and Keppel, also served as Minister for Employment, Training and Industrial Affairs; Minister for Small Business; Minister for Employment and Industrial Affairs; and Minister for Employment and Labour Relations.

Among other roles in the Central Highlands, he was president of the Clermont Football Club/Rugby League and vice-president of the Central Highlands Rugby League, chairman of the Clermont Chamber of Commerce and a member of Rotary for 54 years.

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