A survivor who will ‘always be regarded as a gentleman’
Gympie lost a “gentleman” and part of the “fabric of the RSL” at the weekend with the death of Vernon Lilley at age 99.
Mr Lilley was born in Pialba, Hervey Bay, the son of Albert Vernon Lilley – the owner well-known A.V. Lilley service station which once crowned the top of Upper Mary St.
Mr Lilley’s son Greg said the family “did a fair bit of travelling” before they settled in Gympie, where Mr Lilley joined the Australian Air Force at the first opportunity.
He was almost immediately shipped out to Sydney, then on to Pearl Harbour barely a year after the bombings that killed more than 2300 American service men and women, and soon after on to Canada.
Then came deployment across the Atlantic to Liverpool, which included a mission escorting the luxury liner converted to prison ship, Ile de France
Next came stints in Morocco and Algiers, then time as part of the 608 Squadron where he split between three Italian bases before a posting with VIP Squadron.
Mr Lilley returned to Australia on board the Mauretania in 1946.
That same year he joined the Gympie RSL, ultimately becoming a lifetime member of the club and serving as treasurer from 1987-2000.
Although the service remained a big part of his life, it was far from the only part. He married his wife Diana in the early 1950s.
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Mr Lilley’s son Greg said he and his father’s brother Neville became apprentice mechanics together, a pairing which led to an unforgettable incident when they underwent their final exam.
Greg said he and his uncle had to build a car; when it was finished, the whole family gathered to celebrate. Unfortunately, “the car rolled down the hill because they forgot to put a handbrake in”.
Mr Lilley managed the A.V. Lilley car yard until it was sold, and then worked in the spare parts department of Tom Madills until he was about 70.
Greg said his father had a passion for photography, too.
“Not that he was any good at it; he just enjoyed doing it,” Greg said.
His commitment to the RSL was a big piece of his life.
Gympie sub-branch president Martin Muller called Mr Lilley “part of the fabric of this sub-branch”, although he was “very private” about his career.
“He didn’t boast about his service,” Mr Muller said.
“It was a different generation … he will always be regarded as a gentleman.”
Former sub-branch president Ivan Friske said Mr Lilley was passionate about the club he was with for 75 years.
Mr Friske said in the past 18 months Mr Lilley had handed over “volumes” of folders with extensive details and records of what Gympie’s RSL had done during his time with it.
And even after he stepped down from a senior position, he was still a fixture.
“Every Friday night he came for a meal, and most Sundays he came in as well for lunch,” Mr Friske said.
Mr Lilley died on Sunday, January 10.
His funeral will be held 10.30am, Tuesday January 19 at Gympie Funerals.