[Article 16884]Vale Ray BERNASCONI


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Ray is a Life Member of Wests.

Ray was the Third Grade Secretary of Wests Third Grade team between 1961-1972.

Assistant Secretary 1978-1979. 

Secretary 1980-1983.

Assistant Secretary 1984-1987.

First Grade Manager 1988.

*The Eulogy below was written and read at Rays Funeral by Rick Wayde.

Ray Bernasconi passed away on Thursday of last week, aged 92.

He came to Sydney, as a young man, from Narrandera, and joined the Railways. Children of Ray’s and my eras were advised by parents to get a “good, secure job…railways, bank, public service…, that sort of thing”.

He seemed to connect with Western Suburbs Club from the start. The story goes that he could take short hand and offered his services to take minutes of the Magpies Committee Meetings.

I’d imagine that was quite a challenge, as the rugby league Committees of the time consisted of 16 members and generally needed a strong Chair to keep them on the Agenda.

Jack Neill was renowned as a strong Chair, however, there were other strong personalities on the Wests executive when Ray arrived…people such as Lou Moses, Bill Beaver and Jack Caffrey. You can bet opinions would have varied and taking Minutes would not have been easy.

The Executive positions, general committee and the positions of all three grade ‘Secretaries’ were by annual ballot, at the AGM.

An indication of the respect and support that Ray enjoyed within Western Suburbs is that he was elected Third Grade Secretary in 1961 and held the position until 1972. Wests won two premierships in the Thirds in that time…1961 and 1967.

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Ray with his winning 1961 Third Grade Team at a Pratten Park Magpies reunion.

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Ray gave up the Thirds Secretary position to his ‘great mate’ George Downie, who was a front rower in the 1961 premiership team that Ray managed. He remained on Wests Committee until being elected Reserve Grade Secretary in 1978, where the club executive was Bill Carson, Garry Russell and Bill Beaver. Ray became Club Secretary in 1980.

It was a very successful period for The Magpies, winning the 1977 Amco Cup and the Under 23’s competition, first grade minor premiers in 1978 and reserve grade premiers in 1981.

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However, it was a tough time for an Honorary Secretary, when your employer criticised the time you were spending on football and perhaps not concentrating on your job. There wasn’t anywhere to hide from that accusation, as Sydney’s two morning newspapers (the SMH and Telegraph) and two afternoon papers (Sun and Mirror) were constantly quoting, “Western Suburbs Secretary, Ray Bernasconi…”.   

Home life was also interrupted, with the sports journos from the Sun and Mirror ringing relentlessly at 7.30 each morning…always looking for “scandal”.

Wests Management Committee meetings would intrude on evenings at ‘3 Lomax Street, Epping’ at least one night a fortnight. I recall Faye and my wife, Heather, getting along very well…and breaking up the boredom of being around a meeting of ‘secret men’s football business’ by having a cuppa and a chat together.

Ray’s predecessor, Garry Russell, had similar problems with his employer, GIO, and had to stand down as Secretary or lose his job.

In Ray’s case, Wests took the initiative in employing the club’s first fulltime Secretary (your truly), in 1983.

Ray had been the first to congratulate me when I was elected to the Committee in 1981 and was a tower of strength as I settled into an office in the Tower of the old red brick leagues club building at Ashfield, 92 steps from the pavement (no lift).

Ray was very much a part of the ‘changing of the guard’ in rugby league. He had been on the NSWRL ‘Executive Committee’…the body that ran the game, …in the early 1980’s, before the League’s incorporation in 1984…

He was honoured with selection as an Australian Team Manager in 1983, when Australia played Tests in Auckland and Brisbane.

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He was a big part of Wests’ history at three home grounds…Pratten Park, Ashfield; Lidcombe Oval and Orana Park Campbelltown.

When ‘politics’ removed myself and coach Steve Ghosn in 1987, Ray was asked to ‘fill the breach’ and returned as Secretary in part of 1987 and ’88.

I mentioned George Downie, one of Wests’ greatest ‘workers’…So often after three grades of demanding football, Players would need to be taken to hospital. The only way they got there was through the dedication of people such as George and Ray. These two would get the injured Player to Emergency, quite often physically carrying them in and out of their cars…wait at hospital until an ‘all clear’ on the patient…often transporting them home…all without any reimbursement and all of this while their fellow committeemen were off celebrating a win or ‘drowning their sorrows’ after a loss.

Another great stalwart of Ray’s is Col Lewis, who captained the Third Grade premiership side in 1967…and he and Ray remained firm friends ever since.

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Col Lewis, Ron Chilcott and Ray Bernasconi.

Col has been a constant visitor of Ray’s during his time in the Bethel Nursing Home in Ashfield…and Ray’s family are deeply grateful for that.

Ray must have laughed at Player payments over recent years. He signed Internationals such as Ted Goodwin, Ian Schubert, Les Boyd and Ray Brown to Wests on amounts that probably helped them a little bit with their mortgages…but they still had to keep their ‘day jobs’.

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Roy Masters and Ray Bernasconi.

Those Players…and many others at Wests…benefitted from Ray’s keen sense of welfare. It was an era when Western Suburbs was a family, with Ray Bernasconi a massive contributor to that feeling of belonging and wellbeing.

Similarly, Ray was right in the middle of the various promotions and fund raisers…annual Fetes at Lidcombe Oval and Burwood Park…the ‘Eureka Rock’ concert that saw nearly 18,000 people on Lidcombe Oval on a sunny day in October 1983.

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That concert made the Magpies financially viable to fight the NSWRL for survival in the Courts through 1983-’85. Ray was ‘in the trenches’ throughout that campaign.

I mentioned that Ray was an active participant in Western Suburbs ’history’ across three venues…so he was an ideal person to contribute his time and energy to the establishment of the Wests Archives, sponsored by Wests Ashfield over twenty years ago, to preserve that history. He was a part of the team that set up the initiative and Ray’s knowledge (most of it, first hand) was invaluable.

His ‘copper plate’ handwriting is still very evident on the Players’ card files and other sources throughout the Archives. He’s written into the DNA, you might say.

Ray was a man of integrity. If he gave his word, that was good enough.            

  It would be impossible to imagine that anyone ever had a bad word to say about Ray Bernasconi.

Catherine has always been the shining light of Ray’s life. Anytime we caught up with Ray, there was a glowing report on what Catherine was doing at the time.

He loved you very much, Catherine!

God Speed, Ray…


Thanks to Neil Bennett from the Wests Archives below is the Order of Service from Rays Funeral.

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 “Think where mans’ glory most begins and ends
And say my glory was I had such friends” – Yeats

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