Sir Eric Archibald Willis

15 Jan 1922
10 May 1999
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Sir Eric Archibald Willis KBE, CMG (15 January 1922 – 10 May 1999) was an Australian politician, Cabinet Minister and the 34th Premier of New South Wales, serving from 23 January 1976 to 14 May 1976. Born in Murwillumbah in 1922, Willis was educated at Murwillumbah High School and the University of Sydney, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts with double honours. Enlisting during the Second World War, Willis served on the homefront and later served in New Guinea and the Philippines. He continued to serve the Citizen Military Forces until 1958.

After serving a period as a geographer, Willis was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly as the Liberal member for Earlwood in 1950. He rose to become a long-serving Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party from 1959 to 1975 under Robert Askin. When the Coalition won the 1965 election, Willis was made a Minister of the Crown as Chief Secretary, Minister for Labour and Industry, Tourism and Sport but rose to prominence in his role as Minister for Education from 1972 to 1976. When Askin retired in 1975, Willis failed in his attempts to succeed him.

Following the ousting of Askin’s successor, Tom Lewis, by the party, Willis was elected as the Parliamentary Leader of the Liberal Party and subsequently became Premier. However, after only four months in office, his Liberal/National Country Party Coalition was defeated at the 1976 election by the Labor Party under Neville Wran. Continuing as Leader of the Opposition, Willis resigned in 1977 and retired from politics a year later. Thereafter he served in various organisations and directorships until his death in May 1999.

On his retirement, he was permitted by Queen Elizabeth II, on the Governor’s recommendation, to continue to use the title “The Honourable” for life. After retiring from politics Willis held positions with the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists and the Arthritis Foundation, of which he was Executive Director from 1984 to 1991. Willis also spent time as Vice-President of the Red Cross (NSW Branch) and was a Fellow of the Royal Society of St George, a Member of the Australian Institute of Political Science and the Australian Institute of International Affairs.Willis left his residence in Bardwell Park and moved to Neutral Bay, where his marriage collapsed.

He divorced his first wife, Norma, and remarried to Lynn. He died in Sydney on 10 May 1999.

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