Sir Eric Neal turns 100

  • 5 mins

In a remarkable milestone that few achieve, we are thrilled to introduce a truly special HenderCare client, Sir Eric Neal, who celebrated his 100th birthday on June 3rd.

Born in the roaring twenties, Sir Eric has witnessed a century of immense change and progress, from the evolution of technology to shifts in global politics and culture.

From being a married man with a family, to the Governor of South Australia, join us as we explore the life and times of a remarkable man who has lived through a century of extraordinary moments.

Please introduce yourself.

Sir Eric: I’m Eric Neal, and on the 3rd of June, I’ll be 100 years of age, God willing. 

So, you don’t refer to yourself as Sir Eric? 

Sir Eric: No, formally, I’m Sir Eric because when you’re knighted, your name is changed.  

Looking back at the last 100 years, do you have a personal highlight from your life? 

Sir Eric: First highlight of mine was one day leaving the Melbourne Club, where I was staying overnight, walked down Collins Street to the offices of BHP to attend my first board meeting as the director of BHP, and I thought, “here’s a boy from Largs Bay school who started working as a trade apprentice at 16 and now is joining the board today of BHP”.

That was a highlight of mine.

What was it like receiving a knighthood? 

Sir Eric: It was really good. It was recommended by Malcolm Fraser’s government. I was knighted in Canberra by Sir Ninian Stephen, and he touched me on the shoulder with a sword and said, “Arise, Sir Eric”, and I was knighted.

I was knighted on the same day that Dame Roma Mitchell, was made a Dame. I didn’t know her then, but I met her that day and that night we both had dinner at the Governor General’s House.
What was it like in that moment? Being knighted, how did that make you feel? 

Sir Eric: Very much like the boy from Largs Bay joining the board of BHP. Very special. Alan Coates was the head of the AMP, and he rang up to congratulate me, he said:

“You realise, of course, there’s two implications of being knighted”. And I said, “What’s that, Alan?” He said, “That your wife will pay a little bit more for meat at the local butcher, and you’ll get seats quicker in a restaurant”.

What are some of the most significant changes you’ve seen in the world during your lifetime? 

Sir Eric: Technology. Technology has been a big change.

You are about to turn 100. What’s your secret to your long life? 

Sir Eric: Being married, I was married for 75 years. My wife was always more of a family person; in other words, she devoted a lot of her time to the family, whilst I was busy with work and my career, and we were very happy. That took a lot of stress off me!

How many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren do you have? 

Sir Eric: I have two boys, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, many of whom live in Adelaide these days.

How many Monarchs have you seen in your lifetime, and how many have you met? 

Sir Eric: Well, I’ve certainly met the Queen, the former Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles, who is now the King, and Queen Camilla. We also met various monarchs. I was acting under the Lord Mayor of Sydney during the bicentennial year, and Australia was visited by a whole lot of visiting monarchs from overseas at that time.

So, I met a number of monarchs other than just British royalty and a number of presidents, and I’ve had some very nice memories of meetings with the American Presidents, the White House, going to the White House for lunch on two occasions with the President.

[I have a] letter from George Bush handwritten as he left Australia to fly back to the USA on Air Force One. He wrote me a note saying how much you enjoyed meeting me, which I’ve still got handwritten. So, I’ve been very lucky in meeting people.

Tell me about your time as the Governor of South Australia.

Sir Eric: Well, I was the Governor of South Australia for five and a half years, which I enjoyed very much. I enjoyed being the Governor.

What have you seen change in South Australia since being Governor? 

Sir Eric: The City of Adelaide has changed tremendously. I think the rules governing bodies are changing. These days, they’re seeing a lot of rules go out.

What do you imagine Australia’s going to look like in the next 100 years? 

Sir Eric: That’s a big, big prediction to ask anybody to make. There’s going to be obviously a lot of changes in technology because technology doesn’t stand still. So, what we’re seeing that happening now with television and mobile phones, cameras, there’s going to be a lot of changes in that area.

Do you have any advice for the younger generation? 

Sir Eric: The only advice I could give to the younger generation is to do the best at the job you’ve got to do right now, and promotion will undoubtedly follow. So, don’t worry too much about the next step.

We thank Sir Eric for his time and congratulate him on his huge personal milestone!

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