Service to people of Geraldton is in the Cooper blood

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Elise Van AkenGeraldton Guardian
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City of Greater Geraldton Honorary Freeman Phil Cooper swearing in his son Steve as a councillor on October 18, 2021.
Camera IconCity of Greater Geraldton Honorary Freeman Phil Cooper swearing in his son Steve as a councillor on October 18, 2021. Credit: Tully Gray/City of Greater Geraldton

A Geraldton stalwart has sworn his son on to the council to which he gave more than three decades of service, passing on a legacy and his passion for the city.

Phil Cooper, 93, is an honorary freeman of the City of Greater Geraldton, a title bestowed on him in recognition of outstanding service to the community.

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Among the formalities the position entails is the swearing in of new councillors, including his son Steve, as he did on Monday night.

Cr Cooper was just five years old when his father joined local government, with Phil’s 32-year career culminating in him serving as the mayor of Geraldton from 1982-1988, and again from 1994-2001.

But Cr Cooper never imagined himself running for the council after seeing how much time and effort his father devoted to the role.

“Dad put a lot of time in community service, being a councillor and mayor, and he enjoyed shaping the town because at that stage there was a lot of infrastructure that needed to be put in place,” he said.

“But I sort of went my own path and I had my own career, which is mainly in and around the public sector.

“I remember saying I wouldn’t do it because I remembered the hours Dad had put in.”

I didn’t have any particular issues (with council)...I wanted to put back into the community and I wasn’t sure what that would be.

- Steve Cooper

Phil agreed, saying Steve had never mentioned any aspirations of being in local government, but knew his active nature would lead him to taking on a new challenge after leaving the workforce.

The 63-year-old former Central Regional TAFE director had a change of heart when he retired recently, saying it was a way he could give back to his beloved home town.

As well as deciding to run for the council, he also began working for not-for-profit organisation Atlas, which seeks to increase access and inclusion for people with disabilities in the community.

“I always knew if I was able to at the end of my working career, I would come back and do some sort of community service,” he said.

“I didn’t have any particular issues (with council)...I wanted to put back into the community and I wasn’t sure what that would be.

“But certainly talking with dad and what he has done with a council before and what they’ve achieved is inspiring, because then it leads to what you can do with the current mayor, council and CEO.”

Then-Geraldton Mayor Phil Cooper with Prince Philip during the royal visit in 1988.
Camera IconThen-Geraldton Mayor Phil Cooper with Prince Philip during the royal visit in 1988. Credit: Geraldton Regional Library

While Phil was on the council, he worked full-time running his own transport business and was a member of community clubs and committees, including the Great Northern Football League.

He said he had been heavily involved in the town when he was approached by an older, existing councillor Frank Lemon, when he was 35 while he was unloading one of his trucks on Marine Terrace, to nominate because they felt more young people were needed on the council.

His time on the council included some formative projects, including the establishment of Geraldton’s library, the building of the Aquarena, and the start of work to remove the old railway line to open up Foreshore Drive.

The two men arrived in local government through different routes, but Cr Cooper admitted after learning more about his dad through the campaign process, he thought they were definitely “cut from the same cloth”.

Phil appeared to have never had ambitions of leadership, but was community minded and when he saw a job that needed doing just got on with it.

Younger Steve enjoyed the fruits of his father’s efforts growing up in the town and likewise has a passion for his community.

You’ve got to integrate yourself into the community without being intrusive. You’ve got to have your own mind but not (be) dogmatic.

- Phil Cooper

“He has had a lasting impact ... It’s good to know that because it’s come from the community,

“He doesn’t blow his own trumpet at home.”

Phil’s advice for his son in his new role was to be himself and stand up for what he believed in, but still respect the office of mayor and the decisions made by the council as a united team.

“You’ve got to integrate yourself into the community without being intrusive,” he said.

“You’ve got to have your own mind but not (be) dogmatic.”

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