9 December 2011

The University of Queensland community is mourning the death this month of former Vice-Chancellor Professor Emeritus Sir Zelman Cowen, aged 92.

After a stellar academic and legal career, Sir Zelman became The University of Queensland’s third full-time Vice-Chancellor from 1970 to 1977, when he was appointed Australia’s 19th Governor-General by then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.

The state funeral for Sir Zelman Cowen (7 October 1919 – 8 December 2011) was held on Tuesday 13 December 2011 at Temple Beth Israel, St Kilda, Melbourne.

Dr Rosamond Siemon (UQ Alumna and author), Mr Steven Skala AO (UQ Arts and Laws alumnus and Vice Chairman Australia and New Zealand, Deutsche Bank AG) and Dr Donald Markwell (UQ Economics alumnus and Warden of Rhodes House, Oxford) were among those who made tributes.

Dr Siemon's tribute can be viewed here

Mr Skala's tribute can be viewed here.

Dr Markwell's tribute can be viewed here.

Born in Melbourne in 1919, Sir Zelman attended Scotch College and Melbourne University, later travelling to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.

Prior to taking up duty at UQ, Sir Zelman was the dean of law at Melbourne University and Vice-Chancellor of the University of New England.

Sir Zelman was considered as one of Australia’s most eminent legal thinkers, particularly in the field of conflict of laws. He was also regarded as a leader in the Jewish community and a unifying symbol for the Australian people.

UQ Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Greenfield said Sir Zelman was one of the leading constitutional lawyers of his era, and had made a deep impact on the University during his tenure.

His deep intellect was a valuable asset in helping position the University strongly for the future, and his humanity was a powerful force in helping heal the nation in his subsequent role as Governor-General.

"Sir Zelman was a strong advocate of free speech and supported the students' rights to protest, during a period of turbulent student unrest in the 1970s related to the 1971 Springbok tour and the actions of the then Bjelke-Petersen government," Professor Greenfield said.

"He will be strongly missed."

During Sir Zelman’s period of office at UQ, 17 new buildings were completed, including the iconic Mayne Hall, now known as the James and Mary Emelia Mayne Centre.

The UQ building housing Music and Architecture is named after Sir Zelman to honour his significant contributions to arts. He oversaw the establishment of a Department of Fine Arts, the provision of a performance room within the then music department, and the development of the Mayne Hall as a concert venue.

Sir Zelman served as Governor-General for four and a half years, and following his term in the position he became provost at Oxford University’s Oriel College.

Upon returning to Australia in the 1990s he was active in the Jewish community and was a patron of the St Kilda Football Club.

He is survived by his wife, Lady Cowen, and four children, 16 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Media: Caroline Bird 07 3365 1931 or Jan King 0413 601 248