DR Lionel Gilbert OAM
THE death of Lionel Gilbert OAM at Armidale early this month marked the closing of a ceremonial chapter in the history of the city.
Dr Gilbert, 90, was the last surviving recipient of the honorary title Freeman of the City of Armidale and a celebration of his life was held at St Peter's Cathedral on February 4.
Born at Burwood in December 1924, Lionel Arthur James Gilbert was an outstanding student.
After completing the leaving certificate at the prestigious Fort Street High School, he studied at Sydney Teachers' College.
Like so many young men, he enlisted for service in the Second World War and was stationed in Darwin as a radar operator.
After his discharge in 1946 he became a teacher at Nabiac on the Mid North Coast and was very actively involved in that community, for which he retained a lifelong affection.
He was deputy headmaster at Wauchope Primary School from 1955-1960, and also undertook studies at the University of New England, duly completing an outstanding bachelor of arts with honours and later, a PhD in botanical history.
Following a year at Rocky River School near Uralla, Lionel and his wife Margaret moved to Armidale, where they settled.
After a stint with the university, he accepted a position at the teachers' college (later the College of Advanced Education).
He specialised in teaching applied history, to the delight and great benefit of his students.
Generations of young men and women were taught by Dr Gilbert.
He opened and expanded museums and established a historical resources centre at the college where students could see and feel duplicates of historical records relating to many issues taught in school.
Dr Gilbert had a long association with the college as a teacher and head of department and was its acting deputy principal when he retired in 1984.
He was very prominent in the Royal Australian Historical Society, the Armidale and District Historical Society and Armidale Folk Museum, and until his death, generously assisted a vast number of people who sought his guidance on historical projects.
A prolific writer with a list of publications itself almost a monograph, his books include several on the history of Armidale, and they remain the most significant histories of the city.
His outstanding contributions were acknowledged by many awards, including an OAM, an honorary doctorate from the university, and many fellowships and life memberships, but he never boasted about any of them.
A devout Anglican, he was an active member of the cathedral parish and worshipped each Sunday. He and Margaret made hospitality a special care, which became legendary. He was a remarkably generous man and was noted for his dry wit.
When receiving the rare honour of Freeman of the City of Armidale, he said it gave no reduction in his rates, but entitled him to sell fish without a licence in the main street.
Dr Gilbert had a lifelong interest in epitaphs and had published a book containing hundreds of them. This was one of his favourite epitaphs:
Remember man, as you walk by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so shall you be,
Remember this and follow me.
To which someone replied by writing on the tombstone:
To follow you I'll not consent,
Until I know which way you went.
Dr Gilbert died at Armidale on January 28 and is survived by his wife Margaret, daughter Anne, son-in-law Tony Bennett, and grandson Alexei.
With his passing, the community has lost a stalwart, historian, scholar, teacher and, above all, truly a gentleman of the old school. He will be sadly missed by all who knew him.