Address delivered by Rabbi Raymond Apple at the funeral of Alderman Leo Port MBE, Lord Mayor of Sydney, on Monday, 28 August, 1978.
It is almost impossible to believe that this is the funeral of Leo Port. That a man of such vitality and drive should no longer be amongst us, filling his environment with inventive ideas and powerful personality – it is hardly credible. That such a many-sided creative career should be cut short in such untimely fashion – it is nothing short of a tragedy. That Leo’s remarkable capacities, his strong character, resourceful mind, generous heart, broad vision, quick imagination, and tireless industry should all be so suddenly stilled – it is an immense loss to his wife and family, to his community, to his city, and to his citizens.
The events of his life are probably common knowledge. A full assessment of his career is for another occasion. The extent of his contribution to Sydney and to Australia is for the historian to evaluate.
But for today, for this moment as we assemble in this place to pay him
a loving tribute in an intimate atmosphere sanctified by Jewish tradition, it is in order and appropriate to reflect on a teaching of the Jewish tradition.
For our sages say something significant about the Hebrew month of Ellul, that month which leads to Rosh HaShanah and which was solemnly proclaimed in the synagogues on the Sabbath day on which Leo’s soul departed this world.
Ellul is spelt with the letters that make up the verse, Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li, “I belong to my Beloved and my Beloved belongs to me”. Ellul is the month which emphasises the belongingness between Israel and its God in Heaven.
He belonged to his family. No man was blessed with a finer family background. No man was privileged to be married to a finer wife. No man had the joy of being surrounded by finer children. When I remarked to Edith that he was not a private person but a public person she replied, “To us he was a private person”. He had the ability to be a public person and yet to find so many times and so many ways to be with his family, building up a rich, united and Jewish home life.
He belonged to his profession. He toiled hard and he made his way and indeed he made original contributions to his chosen field. Yet in addition to the calls of a busy professional life he was prepared to sacrifice much in order to share his ideas with the man in the street and to share his energies with the cause of civic and community advancement.
He belonged to his people. He was what one might call a visible Jew. The world knew he was a Jew, and the world, with hardly an exception, respected him for it. His conduct as a Jewish Lord Mayor was a kiddush HaShem. When he led a party of civic dignitaries to a service in the synagogue, walking in procession from the Town Hall wearing kippot embroidered with the City’s coat of arms, he was at that moment a great Jew and great as a Jew.
Above all he belonged to his city. He had ideas and he had ambition. He rose rapidly. He succeeded, with the support of colleagues and the enthusiastic approval of the people, in putting heart and soul into Sydney. High office proved no sinecure. It meant strenuous days and sometimes troubled nights. Sometimes there was controversy. But no-one could deny that he loved his city and he served it with responsibility and led it with distinction. Today Sydney is truly Leo Port’s city.
Leo loved people. He earned his popularity. He deserved the Royal honour that was bestowed upon him. He will be missed by kings and queens, by archbishops and chief rabbis, by businessmen, sportsmen, artists, politicians – the list is endless, because it includes so many people whom he never knew but who were proud to know that Leo was their Lord Mayor.
More than anyone else he will be missed by Edith and by the children and the family. Comfort them, O Lord, give them strength, bless them with years, and grant that Leo be their eternal inspiration.
Leo, lech beshalom, go in peace. May your rest be sweet.
See also: Memorial address for Alderman Leo Port.