HE was gravely ill in hospital last night but his friends and civic leaders were praying the noted historian Warren Newman will be able to accept the highest honour Tamworth can bestow on a person at a special dedication ceremony this morning.
The man who has become the most recent and most dedicated custodian of our history will be made a Freeman of the City at a hospital bedside sitting today in a race against time to honour his services while he is still able to appreciate the fuss and fanfare.
Dr Newman becomes only the 12th person in the city’s history to be honoured with Freeman status but last night there were grave fears he might not survive to be able to see such a formal recognition of something he’s always just called one his great loves.
Dr Newman, 75, was admitted to hospital last week after a diagnosis of the cancer he’d been treated for two years ago had returned – and with a vengeance.
Family friend Euan Coutts said late yesterday Dr Newman was terminally ill but his health deteriorated on Sunday when he developed pneumonia.
There were hopes and prayers from everyone around him that today’s ceremony would put the seal of formality on a career highlight that has been as casual as it has been professional and consuming.
Dr Newman was told only a couple of days ago there had been a recommendation for the council to consider the Freeman honour and “he was quite overwhelmed at that”, Mr Coutts said. “He considers himself a very fortunate man. He’s had three careers; teaching, academia and his history writing. And he says he’s been blessed to have them.”
And told of the Freeman award, Mr Coutts said Dr Newman had quipped “ what a way to go out”.
The race against time to honour Dr Newman was made official when mayor Col Murray called an extraordinary meeting of the council early yesterday to consider bestowing the honour.
The council said Dr Newman had given distinguished and meritorious service to the community and Cr Murray said it was a “fitting acknowledgment” of the contribution he’d made since moving to Tamworth in 1990.
“He is regarded as a leading authority on local history and is known for his encyclopaedic knowledge,” Cr Murray said.
Dr Newman succeeded the pre-eminent Tamworth historian Lyall Green as the writer and authority on all things history in Tamworth. Mr Green served the city for 60 years, amassing an amazing amount of information, recorded on index cards and in his hand-written pages.
His protege now follows Mr Green into the official annals of our history – both have now been made a Freeman of the City.
Mr Green, who will be 98 in December, was accorded the honour about 20 years ago.
The two of them began a wonderful writing partnership in the 1990s and co-authored the publication Tamworth – A Pictorial History in 1998 and then the definitive publication, the four-book Chronological History of Tamworth nine years ago.
An emotional Cr Warren Woodley was one of many councillors who praised Dr Newman’s civic service. “I broke the news to him last week, he was just so excited,” Cr Woodley said. “He said it was ‘a wonderful thing’.”