FORMER Liberal prime minister John Howard was the guest of honour at an event recognising Joanna Gash’s 17 years of service as Member for Gilmore on Thursday night.
After her work over the years, Cr Gash chose to leave Federal Parliament but remain Mayor, celebrating the decision with 350 guests at the Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre.
Mr Howard greeted Cr Gash on arrival with open arms and said it was a real delight to be in Nowra again to acknowledge the tremendous contribution, effort and hard work Cr Gash put in as Member for Gilmore.
“Joanna and several other people who are here tonight belong to a very special class and that class is the class of ’96,” Mr Howard said.
“Joanna brought special qualities with her to parliament. She is an incredibly energetic and dedicated person to public services and committed to the men and women she represents.”
Mr Howard went on to say Cr Gash was not the kind to give up easily when she wanted something done and she was “very effective, particularly on roads”.
“She has the respect of her colleagues, many of which are here tonight and that is a wonderful tribute to her,” he said.
MP Ann Sudmalis was also invited to speak and said when elected, she was repeatedly told she had big shoes to fill and little chance of doing so.
“I’ve worn my big shoes tonight,” she said.
“I do believe this is the greatest opportunity for me to follow in your footsteps and thank you for that opportunity.”
Many letters and video footage from those who could not attend, recalled colleagues’ favourite moments with Cr Gash.
Her daughters also made a heart-warming speech before Cr Gash approached the stage.
She said she felt rather nervous and wasn’t sure where to start, settling herself with a joke.
“It’s not often I’m lost for words, but I would like to thank everyone for their confidence in my representing the seat of Gilmore,” she said.
“John Howard I admire and respect you, you taught me to trust in myself.
“You were here to celebrate my 10th anniversary and you’re back here again, always true to your word … how different does he look without his glasses.”
Cr Gash went on to thank everyone who helped her throughout her life from her early beginnings on a farm, working in tourism and eventually politics.
“John Howard used to say, ‘listen to others, but believe in yourself’ because you make the ultimate decision,” she said.
“What with the Bum Tree … there are those who try to pull you down, but it only makes you stronger and this is a happy occasion.”
It was much like a session at council as the room rejoiced during key moments exclaiming, “Hear, hear” and the 35 tables rose in a standing ovation as Cr Gash left the stage.