Vale Mr. Bill Gonis OAM

08 September, 2022

The Hon. J.S. LEE (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (15:27): I move:

That this council—

1. Expresses its condolences and deepest sympathies to the family, friends, Greek community and the wider community of South Australia on the sad and sudden passing of the late Mr Bill Gonis OAM on Tuesday 3 May 2022;

2. Recognises Mr Gonis's longstanding service and contributions to the South Australian Greek community through his role as President of the Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia from 2015-2022;

3. Acknowledges Mr Gonis's significant contributions to the taxi and transport industry in South Australia, for which he was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 2006;

4. Pays tribute to Mr Gonis's legacy of selfless community service through volunteering at organisations such as the Julia Farr Centre and other not-for-profit organisations; and

5. Acknowledges Mr Gonis's passion for Hellenic accomplishments and significant contributions to foster an inclusive multicultural South Australia.

It is with great sadness that I rise today to move the motion standing in my name to convey my deepest condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of the late Mr Bill Gonis OAM. For those who have had the pleasure of knowing Bill, and to work with him, they will have many fond memories of Bill. Bill was a dear friend and respected community leader, and I know the sudden and heartbreaking news of his passing in early May 2022 shocked and saddened all of us.

Bill passed away suddenly on 3 May 2022 from complications following his heart surgery. He departed this world at only 63 years old, far too young and so unexpectedly. It is a tragic loss to his beloved family, friends from all walks of life, the Greek community, not-for-profit organisations that he served so passionately, and the South Australian community.

I was very honoured to attend Bill's funeral at the Cathedral of Archangels Michael and Gabriel on 12 May 2022. The cathedral was filled with the heavy hearts of family, friends, religious and community leaders, colleagues and politicians from all persuasions, and other dignitaries who gathered to pay their respects and tributes to Bill's life and achievements.

Looking around at the vast assembly, it was abundantly clear that Bill had made a difference and touched hundreds of lives throughout his professional and community life. It was a moving and heartbreaking memorial service that acknowledged the late Bill Gonis's lifelong dedication to the community and his devotion, intense pride and love for his family.

Flowers were everywhere, as were messages of sympathy and support delivered from all corners of South Australia, from other parts of Australia, and the world. The eulogies and tributes to Bill were touching and heart-wrenching. It was very difficult for many of us to hold back tears, as we felt our hearts ache as we expressed our deepest condolences to Bill's family. Special tributes and words were repeatedly heard at the funeral to describe Bill. These words included generous, authentic, humble, kind, compassionate, and the importance of family and community.

The late Bill Gonis exemplified a successful migrant story of hard work and resilience. After migrating with his family from Greece, Bill managed a KFC franchise at Glenelg and a Hungry Jack's on Pulteney Street, before becoming a taxi driver in the 1980s. By all accounts, Bill was the friendliest and most knowledgeable cabbie, who always had the cleanest car. Bill worked across the taxi industry, from driver to cab operator to radio dispatcher, and was one of the driving forces behind the launch of the revolutionary Adelaide Independent Taxis in 1991.

One of Bill's greatest achievements within the transport industry was successfully advocating for and managing the accessible wheelchair service and ensuring that this served the community and its users with ease and comfort every step of the way. Bill was a member of the Australian National Taxi Regulators Group from 2005 to 2015 and a member of the International Association of Transportation Regulators (IATR) from 2011. The President of IATR, Matthew Daus, said the following:

“It is with great sadness that the world has lost a great public servant and wonderful human being in Bill Gonis.

Bill has been a friend of mine and of the IATR for over 10 years, having served as co-chair of IATR's Australian Regulators' Group for many years.

Bill was our key liaison to the National Transport Regulators' Group in Australia, and he was always there to help IATR to share best practices and knowledge.

We plan to honour his memory and accomplishments at our upcoming Memphis conference in September, and virtually, and offer our sincere condolences, thoughts and prayers to his family and friends. Bill left us way too soon, but may he rest in peace, and let's celebrate a life well lived.”

In addition to his professional work and volunteering work at the Julia Farr Centre, Bill was the longest serving president of the Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia and was described as a humble man and an exemplary leader. Bill devoted his life to everyone and everything he held close and dear to his heart: his family, his church, his community and the industry he worked in. Bill was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2006 for his service to the taxi and transport industry and for his unconditional support to the Greek community.

Profound affection and respect for Bill were felt by all who had the privilege, the pleasure and the honour to have known Bill and be a part of his incredible life journey. I became very emotional at Bill's funeral, particularly when his daughter, Betty, was paying tribute to her dad. I reflected back on the difficult time when I suffered the loss of my wonderful father suddenly and unexpectedly in November 2020.

The deep sorrow associated with losing a father was something I experienced firsthand. It was really hard to explain in words the devastating loss of someone so significant until it happened. It was as if the world had collapsed. When my dad passed away, it was really difficult to come to terms with the fact that I was no longer able to have my dad around to talk to, as a big shoulder to lean on, to laugh with, to enjoy a meal with and to share the highs and lows of life in general.

When I heard the sad news of Bill's passing, I felt personally connected to the deep sorrow Bill's family must be going through at the time. After Bill's funeral service, I reached out to his family to offer my heartfelt condolences and support and asked them if there was anything I could do for them during this difficult time of sadness and loss. Bill's beautiful wife, Chrissy, daughter, Betty, and son, Peter, responded, saying it would be most comforting if friends could share stories of or tributes to their beloved dad, Bill, and keep his memory and legacy alive in whatever way or form they felt comfortable doing.

The Gonis family appreciated the outpouring of tributes for Bill flowing through on Facebook, the Greek Herald news, InDaily news and other media platforms. With their permissions and blessings, it is truly my honour today to move this motion in Parliament House and provide a small glimpse into Bill's cherished life and share the devotion he had for his family, his achievements and contributions to South Australia.

Bill's wife, Chrissy, and his children, Betty and Peter, have provided valuable information about Bill and I thank them sincerely for their generosity to share their personal stories and meaningful tributes, which greatly assisted me in my preparation for today's contribution. I would like to take this moment to quote a few paragraphs from Bill's children and put their fond reflections and memories about their father, their hero, permanently on the public record. In Bill's daughter's moving words, Betty spoke from the heart, saying, and I quote:

“I want to share my reflections of the man that was my dad, my baba, Mr Bill Gonis.

Humble, kind, patient, understanding, hardworking, generous and compassionate. These are the words that best describe my dad. My dad was an earth angel and helped everyone whenever and wherever he could. He helped people with authenticity. There were no strings attached. It was out of the goodness of his heart, and it was a big heart.

My dad loved his family and family meant everything to him. He loved us all but all in different ways. With my brother he bonded over their classic cars, with my mum, it was going out to eat at pubs, with my uncle, it was their trips to Yannis Yiros and the markets, with my sister-in-law—well she was just his golden daughter in law, and with myself it was our bond over the garden, renovations, cooking and our love for music.

Dad's happiest moment I think was when he joined me in my neighbourhood and became my neighbour. We have the best adventures and very funny times; I also share the wacky immature sense of humour my dad had. From watering the lawns together, to walking food over, to driving past fifty thousand times a day always beeping, to our walks to keep fit whilst inspecting all the neighbours gardens and fences. My dad was one of a kind, so passionate, so helpful and so caring. He was an inspiration, a true leader.

If we can learn anything from my dad it would be to practise gratitude, kindness and authenticity. To live for the now and appreciate life and the people in it. To never take anybody for granted and to spend time with people and tell them you love them whilst they are alive and healthy.”

I will also take a few moments to read a few reflections from Peter, Bill's son, and I quote:

“With the pending arrival of dad's grandson, Vasili Gonis. Dad had surgery scheduled around the same time as Baby Vasili's due date—my dad kept pestering us. When will he be here? Does Teri have a due date yet?

In early March we finally locked down a date for Vasili's birth—17 March. Now I still don't know whether it was by chance, or Dad actually had something to do with it, but all of a sudden, his surgery was put back a week—so he was with us for the birth and got to hold his grandson before going in for surgery only days later.

My dad was so excited and so proud—I only wish he was afforded more time to watch his grandson grow up. But that was not to be.

Dad, I promise you, our little Billy will never go a day without being told how wonderful his Pappou was and how loved and respected he was by us all here today.

Dad and I had so much in common. We had the same sense of humour, only his jokes were a bit tamer than mine. We both shared a love for our communities and enjoyed giving back to those communities. That is something that will stick with me for the rest of my life—the importance of giving back to your community. Dad was a master at it. He was perfect in every way.

Baba, Billy, Dad, Bill, Mate. I am going to miss you. Rest in Peace.”

Thank you to Chrissy, Betty and Peter for letting me share their stories. As a member of parliament who has had a special interest and portfolio duties in multicultural affairs for more than a decade, I knew Bill best through his remarkable work within our multicultural community. Bill was one of the longest serving presidents of the Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia. From 2015 until his passing, Bill provided strong and stable leadership with outstanding vision and passion for promoting Hellenic culture and accomplishment throughout South Australia.

I have so many fond memories of working alongside Bill on so many rewarding community programs, attending Greek community events that Bill and his committee had organised over the years. It is impossible to recount them all. Bill has been a positive influencer with great determination. I have always been impressed by Bill's dedication to helping others.

I remember the incredible work he did to establish a community relief fund to help those impacted by the tragic fires in Greece in 2018. He organised many fundraisers with his committee, worked extremely hard and utilised his capacity and network to work with the Marshall Liberal Government at the time, and worked with many community organisations and the private sector to raise much-needed funds for the Greece fire appeal.

Bill was always there for everyone in good times and in difficult times, including helping seniors and vulnerable families to stay safe and healthy during the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic. Bill worked selflessly and compassionately and contributed significantly to the Greek community as well as our diverse multicultural society in our state. He leaves a legacy of profound community service, and we owe him a debt of gratitude for everything he has done for South Australia.

On behalf of my family and the Liberal Party of South Australia, it is a great honour to recognise the late Bill Gonis' longstanding service and contributions to our state. We collectively convey our deepest sympathies and thoughts to his family and loved ones. He has left this world way too soon.

We will always remember Bill as the kindest friend and most generous community leader, and we will miss him dearly. Bill will continue to be the guiding light for us all. May his eternal legacy and loving memories stay in the hearts and minds of his friends and loved ones forever. Vale Bill Gonis OAM.