50 years ago today, Richmond’s two-time Premiership President Ray Dunn died in office, aged 61.
His tenure from 1964-1971 included the 1967 and 1969 flags, and his most significant contribution – negotiating Richmond’s move of its home games from the Punt Road Oval to the larger MCG.
In total, his Tigerland contribution spanned four decades:
General Committee: 1940-46
Vice President: 1940-1942, 1944-1963
Honorary Club Solicitor: 1946-1971
Life Member: 1946
Hall of Fame member: 2002
Dunn was also a towering figure in legal circles as a defence lawyer, and lectured on prosecution and criminal law.
To mark the 50th anniversary of his passing, I have dug deep into the club’s archive to unlock the minute book from the committee meeting held after his death.
For the first time, released to the public, is this entry from August 31st 1971.
Obituary: RAYMOND HUDSON DUNN, Died 26 August, 1971.
That this special committee of the Club extends to the sorrowing family of our late esteemed and respected President, Mr Ray Dunn, the most profound sympathy of the Committee, Players and Staff and Members in their sad bereavement, and places on record in these minutes their deep appreciation of his life-long association with the Richmond Football Club, his inspiring leadership, his dedication to the Club, his generosity, his assistance to all who required help or advice, his charitable efforts, his outstanding courageous work for the future of our Club.
We have lost a great sportsman and gentleman. VALE! RAY DUNN – A great President and Man.
At the same meeting suggestions were canvassed how to recognise his legacy.
The club’s Scholarship Squad was renamed the R. H. Dunn Memorial Scholarship, and Geelong (where Ray was born) and Richmond agreed to play for a perpetual shield in his name.
Later that meeting, Al Boord was elected unopposed to the vacant Presidency.
Dunn’s death was quite sudden. He had chaired the previous Committee meeting a fortnight earlier. No-one at the club was old enough to remember the only other time a Tiger President died in office - George Henry Bennett in September 1908.
Ray’s death made the front page of The Age (next to photos of Apollo 15 moon walk), as well as page 2, and in a piece written by Percy Beames on the back page titled “A big man in every way.”
Ray Dunn's death is announced on the far right on the front page of The Age
Part of the story on Page 2 of The Age
Percy Beames' reflections on Ray Dunn on the back page of The Age
Two days later, Richmond hosted Geelong at the MCG in the last Round of 1971 – a fitting tribute to Ray who was born in Geelong.
Before the game, the MCC secretary Ian Johnson asked for a minute silence from the crowd of 36,423. “Mr Dunn was a great man; he helped people in every section of the community,” he told them. Players from both teams lined up in the centre of the ground and stood in silence.
Ray Dunn’s son Michael was 18 years of age at the time of his death.
He spoke to me last week to reflect on his father’s influential career in football and the legal circles.
His father’s funeral was held on Aug 30 1971, the same day that Ian Stewart won the Brownlow Medal for Richmond.
“For his funeral they had a service at Tobin Brothers, then the funeral procession went along Brunton Avenue and stopped for a minute at the Punt Road Oval. There was a policeman at the intersections stopping traffic, because of his association with the police force.”
Ray’s legal office was located at 178 Queens St, Melbourne.
“He had 13 secretaries working for him. And this is the day before computers. He had 3 main areas, crime, common law (ie: workplace accidents), and divorce, the latter which he had a lot of personal experience in, having been married and divorced twice.”
As a child Ray suffered a hand injury in 1918 when playing with detonators in a Geelong quarry.
“The thumb, index and middle finger of his left hand had the top halves missing. He would use this hand to great effect in court intimidating witnesses, waving these strange looking stumps around.”
And if you visited Ray’s house at 9 Jessamine Ave, Windsor back in the 60s and 70s – there was no doubt of his allegiance to Richmond.
“Did we have the roller door on our garage painted in yellow and black stripes? Yes.
The bar in the house had a yellow and black ceiling, and yellow and black bar stools. We had a yellow and black sofa. We had a boat called “The Tiger” at Metung, and that had Tiger heads painted on the stern, and had yellow and black upholstery, and we had yellow and black beach umbrellas, and towels.”
Ray possessed a powerful personality, and was a shrewd organiser and negotiator in the football and legal world.
“I think he operated on that old saying, “never write down if you can say it, never say it if you can whisper it, never whisper it if you can blink”.
In other words, the best weapons are the ones that can be used very infrequently.”
Calling him a master negotiator wouldn’t be too far from the facts.”
And he had to have been, to be able to convince the MCC Trust to allow Richmond to move their home games across from the 1965 season onwards. A deal that no doubt helped propel the Tigers to the 1967 and 1969 premierships.
The MCG had not had co-tenants since the now-defunct University in 1914.
Alf Batchelder’s outstanding book about the MCC, Pavilions in the Park, gives a fascinating insight into the MCC’s side of the agreement.
“Ian Johnson (MCC secretary) feared that the famous solicitor might prove a difficult negotiator, but financial details and entry rights were quickly arranged. Incredibly, the MCC secretary claimed that, in his time, ‘We didn’t have any written agreement at all – it was purely a handshake.”
After just 4 home games at their new home, Richmond had already surpassed their previous season’s gross takings. For the entire 1965 season the club’s attendance increased by 146,000 spectators.
Johnson would later describe Richmond’s move to the MCG as “a momentous occasion” for the arena.
Batchelder would write that “under an award from the Minister for Lands, money from Richmond home games was spent on the Ground’s public areas… the club (MCC) felt that the overall good achieved made the arrangement well worthwhile.”
Dunn also served as a legal liaison officer for American soldiers stationed in Australia during WWII. The position no doubt came about from his work as special adviser, assistant, and civilian solicitor to WW1 and WW2 General Sir Thomas Blamey.
“One of our family sayings was ‘these little things are sent to try us”, Michael Dunn told me. “That’s what Thomas Blamey said when he showed Ray Dunn a letter from the Premier dismissing him from the Police Force in 1936. Three years later he is in charge of the Australian Army and stays there for the rest of the war”.
A further piece of Ray Dunn trivia occurred in 1969. A Tiger skin that hung in the Richmond training room at the MCG, was slashed during the Tiger’s Preliminary Final win against Collingwood.
Dunn donated a Tiger skin from Malaya that he had been gifted the year before from Hungarian-born restaurateur Tom Lazar. It was kept in Charlie Callander’s possession until Grand Final day.
To end our interview, I asked Michael to reflect on what he misses the most of a father who guided him for his first 18 years.
“The thing I miss most about him, apart from the fact he’s not around for me to say ‘sorry you were right’ so often, which I think we all have with our old man don’t we, is that he was the best conversationalist I’ve ever known.”
“You could have a chat with him hours and hours talking about this and that and never running out of things to say. No one has ever been as interesting. He knew how to get things out of you but at the same time give back.
When you think of what he did with what he had, it wasn’t a bad effort.”
But the last word should go to Ray Dunn himself.
After the 1967 premiership, radio stations captured him in the room urging the cheering Richmond players, officials and supporters to donate money towards a gift for Tom Hafey.
That audio is below.