Bob Hawke, Australia’s longest-serving Labor Party prime minister, whose charisma and powers of persuasion earned him near-folk hero status among many Australians, died on Thursday, his wife said.
He died at the age of 89, the wife added.
The former union leader dedicated much of his political career to trade union issues, and he was widely regarded as a man of his people. He had a down-to-earth attitude, a passion for sports and legendary status among beer lovers — for once drinking himself into the record books.
He won four terms as prime minister, serving from 1983 to 1991 before being ousted by his own center-left party when the economy soured. Only two other prime ministers served Australia longer, and both were members of the conservative Liberal Party.
He had been actively supporting Labor’s campaign for elections on Saturday after six years in opposition. He also said he doubted he would survive to see the Labor victory predicted in opinion polling.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten said Hawke had transformed Australian society and protected the environment, a reference to his government preventing the damming of a wild river in Tasmania state to generate electricity in a major environmental conflict in 1983.
“We have lost a favorite son. Bob Hawke loved Australia and Australia loved Bob Hawke,” Shorten said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Hawke had “defined the politics of his generation and beyond.”
“Bob Hawke was a great Australian who led and served our country with passion, courage, and an intellectual horsepower that made our country stronger,” Morrison said.
Robert James Lee Hawke was born in the agricultural community of Bordertown, South Australia, to a Congregationalist minister father. By the time he entered politics, Hawke had abandoned his religious upbringing and declared himself agnostic.
His lifelong involvement with the labor movement began in 1958, when he joined the Australian Council of Trade Unions, first as a researcher and later as a union advocate. After scoring several high-profile wins before the Arbitration Commission, Hawke rose through the ranks of the ACTU and was elected its president in 1969.
Over the next decade, Hawke developed strong ties with both union representatives and their traditional rivals — employers and government agencies — winning him a reputation as an easy operator. Negotiations over labor disputes were as likely to take place at the bar over copious beers as before the courts.
His reputation as a tippler was cemented during his years as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in England, where he earned a Guinness world record by downing 2 1/2 pints of beer in 11 seconds.