Owen Wilmott Lawry (1929-2006)

A Career from Airworthiness Surveyor to Regional Director

Left: Owen Lawry, photographed in October 1985 (Photo: Owen Lawry collection)

Owen Willmott Lawry was born in Port Pirie, South Australia, on 24th March 1929. He was educated at Thebarton Technical School. He then undertook an apprenticeship as a Fitter and Turner with Perry Engineering, a large engineering firm in Adelaide. His main sporting interests were hockey, swimming and the local Life Saving Club. It was at the Life Saving Club he met Betty Butler, who was to become his wife.

After completing his apprenticeship - upgraded as a Journeyman 'Marker Off' - Owen intended to seek a career in marine engineering. He completed the first exam in Marine Engineering and was duly offered the position of Fourth Engineer on the then Strathnaver. However this changed when he and Betty became engaged to marry and instead he commenced a career in aviation, travelling to Alice Springs. In 1951 he took a job with Connellan Airways (later Connair), a small outback airline. The company had good workshop facilities and conducted practically all of its own maintenance and overhaul tasks. In 1952 Betty and Owen were married. Whilst living in Alice Springs they had three daughters: Sandra; Bronwyn; and Felicity.

Shortly after commencing work in Alice Springs Owen was encouraged by the then Chief Engineer, who was widely experienced in aircraft maintenance and an excellent role model, to study for the Aircraft Maintenance Engineer Licenses issued by the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA). He progressively obtained full License qualification for all the aircraft types operated by the company. This was a remarkable achievement as living and working conditions at Alice Springs were difficult. With family responsibilities and work commitments in long periods of extreme heat, studying required great determination.

When Owen joined Connellan Airways, the Company's fleet consisted of only wood and fabric aircraft such as the De Havilland DH89 Rapide and DH90 Dragonfly. The company operated mail services to cattle stations, mines and missions throughout the North. In addition, the company also operated the flying services of the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Alice Springs. The harsh conditions and nature of the airways operation in remote areas demanded high maintenance standards and the safely record and reliability of the airline was very good. Gradually the composition of the fleet changed, commencing with the introduction of metal aircraft such as the Beech 18, Beech B50, Beech Baron, Beech Travelair and Cessna 180/182. This was a challenge for the maintenance staff as the airways expanded with increased charter and tourist flights. Owen's energy and high achievement efforts were recognized and he became Chief Engineer of the company

In 1960 he was recruited by DCA to a position as an Airworthiness Surveyor, based in Adelaide. Next followed a promotion to a position in DCA Central Office in Melbourne where he was engaged in a technical policy area in aircraft maintenance standards. The next move for Owen and family was to the Papua & New Guinea (PNG) Region of DCA where he was appointed Supervising Airworthiness Surveyor. His skills and knowledge served him well in introducing new and modem technical standards for PNG. Once again, his efforts were recognised and he was then promoted to the position of Superintendent, Operations, which included the responsibility for supervision of Flying Operations, Airworthiness and also for Air Traffic Control, Flight Service and the airport Fire Services.

In 1979 Owen was transferred to the Queensland Region of the Department of Transport, to a similar position. The Queensland Region was much larger with much greater operational activity and with different challenges. Owen had, during the course of his career, displayed well developed management skills and good staff relationships. Following the retirement of the Regional Director, who had been in that position for many years, Owen Lawry was selected as Regional Director. He served in this position during the remainder of his service until 1988, when the Government initiated changed organizational arrangements in respect of aviation regulation and safety services.


Above: Owen Lawry, Regional Director Queensland, Brian Lee, Brisbane Airport Director, and Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Queensland's long-serving Premier, surveying the site of the new Brisbane International Airport circa the early 1980s. (Photo: Owen Lawry collection)

In retirement Owen was engaged as a consultant in aviation reviews and he continued to be very involved with Rotary Club International activities. In the retirement village to which he and Betty had moved, he was active in community affairs. He was constantly the winner of the annual 'Best Garden' award and, with his many skills, was always in demand for advice and assistance in home improvements and repairs. In recent years he suffered ill health which limited his activities and it was extremely frustrating for an active person who was no longer able to do those things in the home, garden and with his family which he had always delighted in. He died peacefully at his home with Betty by his side, as she had been for 54 years, on 1st January 2006.

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