Professor Tom Stannage with the inaugural University Teacher of the Year award he won. Picture: Bill Hatto/The West Australian

Historian Tom Stannage, a brilliant footballer who opted for academia instead of the oval, has died unexpectedly at 68.

Eight days ago he had a heart attack and lapsed into a coma. He died early yesterday in Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital surrounded by family. His death plunged WA's intelligentsia and footy lovers into mourning.

"As a player and football administrator, he's going to be sorely missed," West Coast Eagles chief executive Trevor Nisbett said.

Professor Stannage, a celebrated football veteran, assumed the role of chairman of selectors for the Eagles' first year in the AFL.

"They had a pretty tough task selecting just 35 players when other clubs in Melbourne had 52," Mr Nisbett said. "Yet they did extremely well. They won 11 and lost 11."

Cambridge-educated Professor Stannage made his name in 1979 with a common touch when Perth City Council commissioned him to write a book for its 150th year.

The People of Perth: A Social History of WA's Capital City told stories of ordinary folk, not just grand families, and found wide favour.

He edited the major work A New History of Western Australia (1981), an 836-page reference work published by the University of WA Press. He became a history professor at UWA and a professor and executive dean at Curtin University.

Yet it was on the football field that most remember him as a dashing wingman with a devastating left foot whose small frame did not stop him taking spectacular marks.

Professor Stannage showed exquisite skills with Swan Districts and former coach John Todd said he would have been one of the game's greats had he not chosen academia. "He still chose a path he was very successful at," Todd said.

Professor Stannage's biggest game was the 1965 grand final, when he kicked two goals. Commentator Dennis Cometti said the Swans led by 21 after three-quarters but East Fremantle surged to win.

That year he was fifth in a hotly contested Sandover Medal count and made his State debut.

Professor Stannage's career included interstate games against Victoria but, at 22, he chose study.

Erudite and unassuming, he was an exemplary tutor. As history professor at UWA in 1997, he won the inaugural Prime Minister's Award for Australian University Teacher of the Year.

Laboriously, he wove together the strands of Aboriginal experience into white settlement and formulated ways for WA history to be simplified and taught in schools.

In 2006 he sat on The West Australian's panel of five to select WA's 100 most influential people. In 1997 he became a Member of the Order of Australia for services to the study of history and museum development in Australia.

Charles Thomas Stannage was born in Subiaco in March 1944 to Anglican cleric the Rev. James Eakins-Stannage and his wife Helen, from Northam.

He went to Perth Modern School, UWA and gained a doctorate at Cambridge University.

He married fellow UWA student Maria Fillanich, who later taught English and literature at St Mary's Anglican Girls School. They went to England in 1967 to delve into museums and vaults of antiquity.

He was on the WAFL board when the Eagles joined the AFL and was an informal adviser to his son Chris when he was president of Swan Districts (1996 to 1999).

Professor Stannage leaves his wife, children Chris, a lawyer in Sydney, and Katie, an orthopaedic surgeon, and grandchildren Sylvie, Rohan, Nick and Ben.

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save

Our Picks

Compare & Save

Follow Us

More from The West