Geoff Torney has been remembered by grandson John Wystan Harris as a man who counted his family not by blood but by the breadth of his community.
The horse racing identity and solicitor was a state figure in law, racing, tertiary education and the Catholic Church.
The former partner of Byrne Jones Torney Legal died on Wednesday.
He was a mentor and a sounding board and problem solver “to the girls from the front desk upward”, colleague and friend Michael Dunne said.
Mr Torney was a practicing solicitor for 40 years, a member of the original Legal Practices Board and Law Institute of Victoria council member.
The Ballarat Turf Club life member served two terms as club president and was Moonee Valley Racing Club chairman and a founding director of Racing Victoria. The Geoff Torney Cup event at Moonee Valley Racecourse is named in his honour.
He assisted in establishing the Australian Catholic University and was a founding member of Aquinas College, now the university’s Ballarat campus. In 2011 he was awarded the university’s highest honour, Doctor of the University.
He has has also been knighted by the Vatican for services to Catholic Church.
Former Ballarat Turf Club president Michael Dunne was hired by Mr Torney in December 1970. The two worked together for more than 30 years.
“I came here from Melbourne for an interview with my pregnant wife and he forever said he employed me because of my wife not because of me,” Mr Dunne said.
“He was a mentor for so many people who went on and did great things in the law, there’s judges and Queen’s Counsel who either worked with him directly in the firm or were briefed by him in their younger days as barristers in Ballarat and a whole lot of every day lawyers like me.”
Mr Torney’s “number one characteristic” was his integrity.
“One thing he was very strong about was that you didn’t turn people because they can’t afford your work,” Mr Dunne said.
“We did what’s now called pro-bono without expecting credit for it.”
Mrs Torney remembered her husband as a “great leader in so many fields”.
“Geoff was a good, honourable man always striving to do the right thing. He had a deep sense of humility, he didn't like the spotlight.
“He was the love of my life and I feel so lucky to have made a wonderful life and family with him in Ballarat.”
Mr Torney was born at Ballarat Hospital in 1935. He was raised at Waubra with his sister Noreen until the the of 11. When the family moved to Ballarat they knew only his mother Mary’s bridesmaid.
He attended St Patrick’s College, a place which instilled his enduring faith, grandson John Wystan Harris said.
“He later confessed that he took to the idea largely due to the religious education teacher appealing to his inner punter – prayer today may pay significant dividends tomorrow,” Mr Wystan wrote in his grandfather’s obituary.
Mr Wystan Harris said his grandfather was a man who “drew in all who met him”.
“Unlike most, his family will not be counted by his blood but by his breadth of the community he loved.
His proudest day was his wedding day at St Patrick’s Cathedral, January 3, 1959, Mr Wystan Harris said.
Janet and Geoff met in 1953 at the University of Melbourne’s Newman College where they were both law students.
“He considered how their initial meeting could have gone very differently had Janet declined his bold offer of only attending a university ball with her if she paid.
“She did and he perhaps paid ever after.”
Mr Torney, together with Janet, joined the Byrne family firm in the 1960s, along with Janet’s three brothers Murray, Tim and Peter. He was a solicitor in Ballarat for 40 years.
“Geoff counted himself rich in the experiences that brought him closer to others. He could have never have known how rich we counted ourselves for having him share his with us,” Mr Wystan Harris said.
Unlike most, his family will not be counted by his blood but by his breadth of the community he loved. To know Geoff Torney was to become his family.Grandson John Wystan Harris
Former Byrne Jones Torney Legal employee Tash McCarty said Mr Torney’s professional encouragement and guidance “helped me become the person I am today”.
“I remember as a ‘message girl’ walking down Chancery Lane when my umbrella turned inside out just as he drove past and we both laughed,” Ms McCarty wrote on The Courier’s tribute wall.
“Later that afternoon he called me into his office and handed me money to go and buy the ‘best windproof umbrella I could find’. He constantly showed such generosity and kindness.”
ACU Vice Chancellor Greg Craven said Mr Torney was an extraordinary man of faith.
“He will always be revered for his commitment not only to ACU but to the broader church and to the region.”
Law Institute of Victoria president Belinda Wilson said Mr Torney had a long history with the Institute.
“Geoff enjoyed a distinguished career in the law and has given so much to the profession and the community,” she said.
“He was a respected member of the Ballarat community and despite his busy career he was a tireless supporter of the Victorian racing industry.”
In 2005 Mr Torney received the Order of Australia for contributions to racing, the legal profession and the Ballarat community.
He was a Ballarat Sportsmen’s Club for 49 years. Club honorary secretary Bruce Valpied said Mr Torney was “a truly remarkable gentlemen”.
“He was loved and respected by all who knew him,” Mr Valpied said.
“Geoff has been a personal friend of mine since way back in the Ballarat Apex Club days and is also my son Tim’s father-in-law. A great bloke all round and he will be sadly missed by so many.”
Racing Victoria chief executive Giles Thompson said the industry would be forever grateful to Mr Torney.
“We owe Geoff a great debt of gratitude for his commitment to, and passion for, thoroughbred racing in this state,” Mr Thompson said.
“Whether in his various roles at Ballarat and Moonee Valley or as a keen racegoer, Geoff was a popular fixture at racetracks across Victoria and he will be fondly remembered by many people within the industry.”
Country Racing Victoria chief executive Scott Whiteman said Mr Torney was enthusiastic supporter of country racing.
“Geoff was a wonderful leader and a terrific person who made a tremendous contribution to country racing over many years,” Mr Whiteman said.
“He will be sadly missed by the country racing community whom he supported passionately, particularly in Ballarat where he provided amazing service.”
Mr Torney was Foundation Director with the Victorian Securities Corporation and served on the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. He was awarded the Australian Sports Medal in 2000, and a Ballarat award for sports administration. He was also chair of The Courier Charity Fund, Ballarat Regional Industries and the Ballarat Special School Council.
- Geoff Torney’s funeral will be held at 11am on Tuesday, June 20 at St Patrick’s Cathedral followed by a celebration of his life at Craig’s Royal Hotel. All are welcome.