Strong: A life lived at full throttle

It was five-time motorcycle champion Mick Doohan who summed up best his friend James Strong, one of Australia's leading business figures.

It was five-time motorcycle champion Mick Doohan who summed up best his friend James Strong, one of Australia's leading business figures.

"He lived life at full throttle - and he's the only bow-tie bikie I know," he told a memorial service for the former Qantas boss in Sydney on Monday. "If he was a motorcyclist, he would be the world champion. And he was obviously a world champion in the business arena."

More than 1000 mourners from across Australia's business, arts and sporting fraternities gathered to pay tribute at Sydney's City Recital Hall to the man known for his signature bow ties.

Earlier in the afternoon, as a salute to the former chief executive of both Qantas and Australian Airlines, a Qantas A380 superjumbo flew low over Sydney's CBD from north to south. It was a fitting farewell for a man who played a key role in shaping the country's aviation industry.

Attendees at the memorial service included federal government ministers Simon Crean and Peter Garrett, former Liberal senator Helen Coonan, former Reserve Bank governor Ian Macfarlane and NSW Governor Marie Bashir.

Other senior figures were Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce and his predecessor Geoff Dixon, Woolworths boss Grant O'Brien, Telstra director Geoffrey Cousins, former NSW premier Nick Greiner and Fairfax chairman Roger Corbett.

Mr Joyce told the service that Mr Strong made the flag carrier "ready for the future, uniting the tribes into one cohesive whole ... and leading Qantas through its successful rebirth as a public company".

"He was a true gentleman but also a fighter; an opera buff and a revhead, a mountain climber and a bookworm; a businessman and a dreamer," Mr Joyce said.

"James will be remembered forever as a giant of Australian aviation and of Qantas history."

Future Fund chairman David Gonski remembered meeting Mr Strong than 20 years ago at a function where he was easy to spot because he was the only person wearing a bow tie, and the "only person with a scrum of people around him".

"He was famous - I was not," Mr Gonski said.

Yet he recalled Mr Strong welcoming him warmly and giving of his time despite the demands as a high-profile businessman.

Mr Gonski met him for the last time for lunch in November, when Mr Strong talked about finishing up many of his commitments and focusing on new pursuits.

"Our community and our country have been robbed of a third chapter, and perhaps even more chapters, of the efforts of an enormously talented man," he said. "Whenever I spy a bow tie across a crowded room, or even in a street, my mind will remember a gentleman ... who contributed enormously to Australia generally."

Mr Strong, 68, died in Sydney just over a week ago of lung complications from surgery. He leaves behind his wife, Jeanne-Claude, and his sons Nick and Sam.

Sam Strong told the service one of his father's enduring qualities was his generosity in giving advice, and he had lost count of the number of people he had mentored. "No one gave advice like dad," he said.

Likewise, his father had a willingness to listen. "When you spoke to Dad, you felt like you were the only person in the world."

Other attendees included former world motorcycle champion Casey Stoner, Sydney celebrity chief Neil Perry, former director of the Art Gallery of NSW Edmund Capon, Leightons chief financial officer Peter Gregg, UGL chairman Trevor Rowe and Business Council of Australia president Tony Shepherd.

Known as "Mr Bow Tie", Mr Strong had a near five-decade career that spanned multiple industries including aviation, law, retail and insurance. Apart from his role as Qantas CEO, his senior positions included chairman of Woolworths, IAG, Rip Curl and more recently Kathmandu.

He shot to prominence running Australian Airlines in the 1980s.

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