Vic premier John Cain honoured at memorial

Benita Kolovos
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A memorial service was held in Melbourne to honour Victoria's 41st premier, who died on December 23

Labor's longest-serving Victorian premier John Cain has been remembered in a state memorial service as a principled leader who modernised the state.

Thousands attended the service at St Paul's Cathedral on Monday to honour Victoria's 41st premier, who died on December 23 after suffering a stroke. He was 88.

The crowd, which spilled out of the church and onto Flinders Street, included all of Victoria's living premiers, former prime minister Julia Gillard and Labor leader Anthony Albanese, as well as state and federal MPs from across the political spectrum.

Premier Daniel Andrews was the first to pay tribute to Mr Cain, describing him as one of Labor's greatest reformers and thinkers, "relentless in his pursuit for change".

He shared a story of his favourite moment with the former premier, on the eve of the 2014 election.

"With tears in his eyes and a powerful emotion in his voice, John told me we were going to win. And I'll never forget the advice he gave me that day," Mr Andrews said.

"(He said) celebrate it, enjoy it but then get to work because people are relying on you and you can't let them down.

"He leaned into me a little closer and said you cannot, you must not, waste your opportunity."

The premier praised Mr Cain's resolve in moving the Australian Open from Kooyong to the Melbourne Park precinct, then known as the National Tennis Centre, ensuring the tournament remained in the state.

"The Australian Open would have become the Asia-Pacific Grand Slam, played not in Melbourne, but in Shanghai or Singapore," Mr Andrews said.

"Instead, because of John, Melbourne Park is a pocket of our city devoted to the enjoyment of its people - a part of which will soon be dedicated to John's name."

The state government earlier announced Melbourne Arena will be renamed John Cain Arena.

Mr Cain established the Victorian Women's Trust, now run by Mary Crooks, who teared up as she spoke about his commitment to gender equality.

"He made the world fairer for women," she said.

Judge John Cain Jr spoke of his father's work as a suburban lawyer, focusing on basic legal services for the largely working-class families in Preston, prior to entering politics.

"John's work ethic remained clear from the start," he said.

"On his wedding day to Nancye he was able to fit in a couple of pleas down at the South Melbourne court before heading off to be married."

He said it was hardly surprising his father went on to establish an independent department of public prosecutions, the Transport Accident Commission, new property laws, freedom of information laws and workers' compensation laws.

James Cain shared his father's best advice.

"Be honest and don't cheat the system. Read books. Don't trust banks. The Internet is full of crap," he recited.

"Study hard and go to university, because they can never take your education away from you. Take care of your partner, because you might find most of what you achieve in life is because of their support.

"Finally, if it's a choice between the hard way and the easy way, pick the right way, whether it's easy or hard."

Mr Cain's daughter Joanne Crothers gave a reading during the Anglican service, led by Archbishop of Melbourne Philip Freier.