Peter Swannell with his wife Janice when he was awarded an AM in 2005.
Peter Swannell with his wife Janice when he was awarded an AM in 2005.

Tributes flow for passing of Toowoomba community icon

TOOWOOMBA icon Emeritus Professor Peter Swannell AM will be remembered as a "generous, unbelievably intelligent" man who loved his community.

Peter was born on January 27, 1939, described by his daughter Cathy as a "child of the Second World War".

"He and his parents were bombed out during the war, so that's given him a certain sort of resilience and a will to be adventurous in his life," she said.

He acquired his civil engineering degree from the University of Bristol and worked as a consultant for Dorman Long in Yorkshire.

It was here he met his future wife Janice.

Peter Swannell at his home in 2007. Photo: Scott Fletcher.
Peter Swannell at his home in 2007. Photo: Scott Fletcher.

Peter and Janice married in March 1963 and later moved to Birmingham, where he became one of the youngest lecturers ever at the University of Birmingham.

The family then moved to London, where Peter worked for iconic English firm WS Atkins.

The Swannell family made the decision to move to Australia in the early 1970s.

"It was about making a better life. Dad didn't feel he could get where he wanted to go with his career in England," Cathy said.

"He was the first person in his family to leave England. He wasn't afraid of making big decisions like that."

Peter was appointed a senior lecturer at the University of Queensland, and then Dean of Engineering at the University of Southern Queensland in the early '90s.

He was named Vice-Chancellor of the university in 1996.

"He took over as Vice-Chancellor at a pretty crucial time for the university," Cathy said.

"One of the things he'd be proudest of is improving and developing the university's distance education."

USQ Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Swannell meets the rats from the
USQ Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Swannell meets the rats from the "Pied Piper" in his office in 2003. Photo: Nev Madsen

Peter retired from the position in 2003, but his heavy involvement in the Toowoomba community did not end there.

Peter notably served as the board of directors chair for the Empire Theatres from 1999 until 2017.

"He's always been interested in theatre and public speaking," Cathy said.

"He and mum actually met in Yorkshire doing amateur dramatics when they were in their mid-20s."

"Theatre's always been a part of his life and it's always been a big love. That was the connection there."

Peter Swannell (left) and Kerry Saul at the Empire Theatre in 2009. Photo: Dave Noonan
Peter Swannell (left) and Kerry Saul at the Empire Theatre in 2009. Photo: Dave Noonan

Peter was also well known for his weekly columns in The Chronicle, which he wrote for more than a decade.

"He loved having that platform and he always tried to use it as widely as he could," she said.

Cathy said her father, who died on Wednesday night at the age of 80, was a "huge advocate for Toowoomba".

"He was a generous man, unbelievable intelligent and a lovely father," she said.

"He was completely devoted to and adoring of mum. Their marriage has been a role model to me for decades.

"He was a good man, it was as simple as that."

Peter is survived by his adored wife Janice and daughter Cathy, his twin brother John and sister-in-law Ann, and daughter-in-law Nicole.

Funeral details will be confirmed at a later date.


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