28 January 2014

Vale Bill Pritchett 1921-2014

I was very sorry to learn of the death overnight of one of my predecessors, W.D. (Bill) Pritchett, who was Secretary to the Department of Defence from August 1979 until his retirement in February 1984.

I barely knew him at the time he was Secretary as I was working in the Department of Trade and Resources/Trade during those years but I suspect I met him a couple of times in the early 1970s when he would have been a Deputy Secretary and I was working in the National Assessments Staff (forerunner of the Office of National Assessments) under Garry Woodard.

After I left the public service, however, Garry arranged for us to meet. I enjoyed a couple of very pleasant and interesting lunches with him during some of my visits to Canberra, and we corresponded from time to time.

He also had a special place in my heart as a direct link with my mother, who died in 1973, a few weeks before her 51st birthday. As Bill and I were getting to know one another on the first occasion, it emerged that he had done an Arts Degree at Sydney University just before the war, and I commented that my mother had done the same. On ascertaining who she was, he exclaimed, “I remember Shirley Egan! I used to sit behind her in Psychology class!”

Fortunately for posterity Garry Woodard interviewed Bill in 2002 and 2003, for the National Library’s audio archives, an audio file of which there is a 308 page typescript.

The short bio for Bill on the webpage for the item reads:

William Pritchett, retired diplomat & career public servant was born in Sydney, N.S.W. and graduated from University of Sydney with an Arts Degree specialising in history and anthropology. After service in WWII he was appointed as a diplomatic cadet in the then Dept. of External Affairs in 1945. As well as service from time to time at the Dept.'s head office in Canberra, Pritchett served at posts in Jakarta, Berlin, Boon, New Delhi, Singapore and London. He joined the Dept. of Defence, located in Canberra, A.C.T. in March 1973. Pritchett was appointed a Deputy Secretary in 1978 and in Aug.1979 Head of the Dept. on the retirement of Sir Arthur Tange. William Pritchett retired from the position in Jan. 1984 at age 63.

Rest in peace, Bill, it was an honour to have known you.

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