Glebe values equity, diversity, humility, commitment, generosity, getting on with things and a fair go. It is an impressive array and very rarely – perhaps once in a generation – do you meet someone who has most of those qualities. Well, we met, knew and loved Robyn Kemmis, who had all of those qualities and exemplified all of those values. We have been enriched by the experience and saddened by the loss.
Robyn lived in Glebe for 35 years as a committed citizen, member of the Glebe Society and more recently Councillor and Deputy Lord Mayor for the City of Sydney. Her professional achievements as a senior public servant and university deputy vice chancellor have been well recognised. Her tireless work for the proper development of talent based on capability – not institutional habits of power – rewired those circuits of power and established new career paths. Robyn was appointed to the NSW Public Service at a time of significant change and she contributed significantly to that change. This same spirit released the University of Technology from its CAE cringe and taught it strategic vision.
The Lord Mayor, Councillors and executive of the City of Sydney have each told warm and powerful stories of her contributions to the City. She understood strategy to be not only what gets written but what gets done. She was a non-politician in a political role, valued by her colleagues for her honesty, humour, frankness and intellect. For many, admiration and respect grew to collegiate friendship. For some it grew to personal insights. How you wrap all that remarkably complex vivacity into simply Robyn is to notice she had neither pomposity nor self-interest.
Complexity underlaid her honest grin. In her view she was not special; she did these things in the expectation that everyone could. We wish it were so.
We can each remember a community project that she initiated, sorted out, enthused about. Each of us knows that without Robyn these projects would not have been done so effectively nor in some cases would they have been done at all. Projects were large and small; civic and personal: fighting for proper respect and service for the Glebe Estate and its people; reminding government agencies to listen carefully when Glebe spoke; liaising with government agencies to achieve acceptable outcomes; sorting out community issues; working with all the community.
Robyn had a strength that we will miss. She had kindness, humility and energy that made her so memorable and her loss so great.