Tributes have flowed in for Lady Flo Bjelke-Petersen. Picture: Lachie Millard
Tributes have flowed in for Lady Flo Bjelke-Petersen. Picture: Lachie Millard

Lady Flo: Tributes flow for Queensland’s mother figure

QUEENSLAND has lost "a mother figure to the state" with the death of Lady Flo Bjelke-Petersen.

The devoted widow of Queensland's longest-serving leader Sir Joh - and a senator for 12 years - died yesterday afternoon, surrounded by loved ones, at an aged care home in Kingaroy.

Former Labor premier Peter Beattie said her passing marked the end of an era for Queensland.

As tributes flowed for the 97-year-old last night, Federal MP Bob Katter - a close friend and former Bjelke-Petersen government minister - called for her to be given a state funeral.

"She was a grand lady. It would be churlish to deny her that honour,'' he said.

Former National Party leader Rob Borbidge described Lady Flo as "a mother figure to the state'' and an "extraordinary Queenslander".

Lady Flo Bjelke-Petersen was a mother figure to the state. Picture: Russell Shakespeare
Lady Flo Bjelke-Petersen was a mother figure to the state. Picture: Russell Shakespeare

"She contributed so much to her local community, to her state and to Australia. She was a mother figure to the state," he said.

Lady Flo would be remembered by many for "her wonderful homely manner'', Mr Borbidge said. "Flo could relate to people from all walks of life even in the most difficult circumstances."

He recalled an incident during a miner's strike at Ipswich "with tensions running high'' when Lady Flo arrived at the picket line with some of her famous pumpkin scones.

Former Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen & wife Lady Flo at their
Former Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen & wife Lady Flo at their "Bethany" farm house in Kingaroy in 1999.

She was an underestimated politician in her own right. "There was a feeling among some of the old political hands when she went to Canberra (in 1981) that she would not handle it. But she handled them."

Mr Beattie, a long-term political adversary who gave Sir Joh a state funeral in 2005, said: "This is certainly the final chapter in a period of Queensland politics. There's no doubt this is the end of a significant era in Queensland's history.

"She supported Sir Joh through all those years and without Lady Flo, there would have been no Sir Joh.

"We obviously had our political differences but she represented a constituency and she did so passionately. She was a lovely person. She was a decent person who believed in what she did."

Lady Flo’s domestic prowess was notorious.
Lady Flo’s domestic prowess was notorious.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk expressed sorrow on behalf of all Queenslanders.

Lady Flo had brought her passions for cooking, family and faith to the fore during Sir Joh's 40 years as an MP, including 19 as premier, Ms Palaszczuk said. "They were a loving couple and a formidable political pairing."

LNP Leader Deb Frecklington said: "She led a very full and successful life and was so loved for her kindness, her genuine concern and care for others, her common sense and down-to-earth approach to life.

"Rest-in-peace Lady Flo. You were a rock of our community and will be sadly missed and lovingly remembered. I will always cherish your support and guidance."

However, a tweet by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull paying tribute to the couple who dominated politics in the Sunshine State for two decades drew fire last night, with followers questioning whether he had forgotten the Fitzgerald Inquiry into corruption during the Bjelke-Petersen era.

"Joh and Flo devoted their lives to Queensland and its success and dynamism owes so much to their vision and leadership,'' the PM posted.

97 year old Lady Flo Bjelke-Petersen in Kingaroy. Photo Lachie Millard
97 year old Lady Flo Bjelke-Petersen in Kingaroy. Photo Lachie Millard

Yvonne Chapman, who served as the first female minister in Sir Joh's government, said: "I'm really sad. Flo was a lady who would help anybody and everybody. She had a great persona where people were just drawn to her.

"She was one of the old-fashioned politicians. She said what she meant and she did what she said. They don't make them like that and more."

Ms Chapman said Lady Flo's pumpkin scones were justifiably renowned.

"She threw it all in a pot and out came these beautiful scones. They were even better than people said, love."

Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Miss Florence (Flo) Gilmour on their wedding day in May 1952.
Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Miss Florence (Flo) Gilmour on their wedding day in May 1952.

Former Brisbane lord mayor Sallyanne Atkinson, who as a journalist did the first interview with Lady Flo and then came to know the couple well as a politician, said: "I had tremendous admiration for her, not only as a public figure but the wife she was to Sir Joh.

"She was a very steady influence and I've often thought that when she went to Canberra, Sir Joh lost that steadying influence.

A statement from Lutheran Services Orana Aged Care Service, where Lady Flo had lived for the past three years, said she continued as a church organist until recently.

Ms Atkinson said Lady Flo's great Christian belief was a strength and comfort throughout her life. "She will have been very confident about where she was going.''



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