Tributes flow for former Woolworths chairman Sir Eric McClintock

Sir Eric McClintock, who passed away on Tuesday
Sir Eric McClintock, who passed away on Tuesday

LEADING political and business figures have paid tribute to Sir Eric McClintock, a prominent businessman and public servant, who died in Sydney on Tuesday at the age of 99.

The older brother of the late Muswellbrook Chronicle and Hunter Valley News editor Bernie McClintock was a senior adviser to Prime Minister Sir John McEwen and, as Assistant Trade Commissioner in the late 1940s and First Assistant Secretary for the Department of Trade in the 1950s, played an instrumental role in Australia's trade and commerce policy, including tariff protection.

After leaving the public service, Sir Eric became an influential businessman, chairing Woolworths for seven years in the 1980s, establishing O'Connell Street Associates and helping to establish the Australian Industry Development Corp (AIDC) and the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA).

Sir Eric was knighted in the 1981 New Year's honours for service to exports and industry and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in the 2009 Queen's Birthday honours.

His brother Bernie, who passed away at age 89 in 2012, lived in Muswellbrook for 85 years and worked with the newspapers for more than four decades.

Colleen and Bernie McClintock

Colleen and Bernie McClintock

"Sir Eric’s great achievement was to achieve the double of eminence and great influence and respect in both the public sector and the private sector," said former Prime Minister John Howard, who knew him well.

"People sometimes have a very distinguished career in one of those spheres and they top it off with a turn in the other sphere but ... Eric was someone who got to high levels of achievement and competence in both spheres.

"He was part of a very influential group of people who advised Sir John McEwen way back in the late 1950s ... this was at a time when the argument was developing over levels of tariff protection. I don't think Eric agreed entirely with the commitment to high tariffs, but it was de rigueur in those days.

"Then he transitioned to the private sector in the early '60s and had a very successful business career. He lived a remarkably long life and he was seen as a person of great business skill and was highly ethical."

Woolworths Group chief executive Brad Banducci said Sir Eric would be fondly remembered by his former colleagues.

"We are saddened to hear of the passing of Sir Eric McClintock," said Mr Banducci.

"Sir Eric was chairman in the 1980s at a time of strong sales growth for the business. He was also instrumental in the expansion of our network of stores by overseeing the acquisition of the Safeway Group, which at the time was the leading supermarket chain in the Victorian market," he said

Sir Eric was born in Gulgong in central western NSW in September 1918 to a newspaper proprietor and was educated at De La Salle College in Armidale and at Sydney University.

He leaves behind three children – Paul, the former chairman of Myer and Medibank Private; Leigh, who followed his father into the Department of Trade and worked for Alcoa in North Asia; and Marg, an architect.

His wife, Lady Eve, died five years ago after 70 years of marriage.

Paul McClintock, who like his father had a successful career in business and the public sector (serving as principal private secretary to Mr Howard during the Fraser administration and as Secretary to Cabinet and Head of Cabinet Policy during the Howard era) described his father as a trailblazer.

"He's been an extraordinarily consistent contributor to Australian life over such a long period of time," Mr McClintock said.

"He was hugely respected and liked ... he was one of the very early successful transfers from the public service to business life, he was one of the real trailblazers in that area."

Sir Eric's funeral will be held at St Francis Xavier church in Lavender Bay in Sydney at 10am on Friday, April 6.