Those who loved and respected him noted more than once at his State funeral this morning that Ernest Francis Bridge had an extraordinary ability to make friends and keep them.
Few observing the eclectic group of up to 1000 mourners packing Arena Joondalup – including three former premiers, a supermodel, a former AFL footballer and elders from the far north Warmun community – would disagree.
Governor Malcolm McCusker led the official tributes to the former Kimberley MP and cabinet minister known as Ernie, who died on Easter Sunday aged 76 from mesothelioma.
Mr McCusker said he found Mr Bridge’s warmth and friendliness disarming and charming when he first met him.
“This was a man of boundless energy,” he said.
“We have lost a man of great vision and charm. Now he has joined the wedge tailed eagle in the sky.”
A visibly emotional former premier Peter Dowding gave the eulogy while his predecessors Carmen Lawrence and Richard Court looked on from the front row.
“Even when he left the ALP (to become independent in 1996) he did it in a generous, calm and compassionate way, without rancour, and I honour him for that,” Mr Dowding said.
Deputy premier Kim Hames – representing Colin Barnett, who is in Canberra – said he was honoured to have been in the Legislative Assembly in 2001 when Mr Bridge delivered his final speech and played a song on his beloved guitar.
“It’s a relationship I will treasure all of my life,” Dr Hames said, describing Mr Bridge as one of the most outstanding individuals he had ever met.
Dr Hames joked that Mr Bridge, Kimberley MP from 1980 to 2001, would have attended the opening of a water fountain if it meant he would get the opportunity to break into song.
Former ABC regional broadcaster Gerry Gannon, who was MC, confirmed there were 172 plaques across Western Australia fastened to things Mr Bridge had officially opened during his career.
Indigenous model Emily Cattermole, a granddaughter of Mr Bridge, read a poem “The Measure of Man”, the MP’s sons Noel and Kim sang and performed on stage and his daughters Cheryl Bridge and Beverley Thomson also addressed mourners.
Ms Bridge recalled her father as a “soft touch” who was not much of a disciplinarian.
One day when she and her siblings came home late from school, her mother Mavis decided “it was time for a strapping”, which Mr Bridge was to deliver, Ms Bridge said.
“Dad took us into a room and said he would not hit us hard but told us to cry hard so mum would believe it,” she said.
With former West Coast Eagle David Wirrpanda, WA Labor Leader Mark McGowan, WA Nationals Leader Brendon Grylls and Defence Minister Stephen Smith looking on, Gidja elders from the Warmun community led a cultural tribute.
Long time Kimberley Catholic Bishop Christopher Saunders then blessed water which the elders then sprinkled on Mr Bridge’s flag-draped coffin using gum leaves.
Mr Bridge, Australia’s first ever minister of the crown, will be laid to rest at Pinnaroo Cemetary.