Mourning a true Mercury gentleman

Family, friends and members of the Illawarra business community are mourning the death of former Illawarra Mercury general manager Ian Fell who died yesterday at the age of 83.

Mr Fell - who worked at the Mercury from 1967 to 1984 - died peacefully in his sleep at Chesalon Care Woonona.

His wife of 57 years, Val, and four children - Catriona, Alex, Rowan and Gordon - came together yesterday to mourn the devoted husband and father who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease six years ago.

Despite the diagnosis he never forgot an old friend, according to former Mercury editor Peter Newell, who is now ClubsNSW and Illawarra Steelers chairman.

"We had a Mercury reunion a couple of years back and the minute he saw me he said 'G'day Pete'," Mr Newell said.

"He was a good man, a gentleman and one of the old-style newspapermen. He was a member of the then Wollongong Club, a businessmen's club, and he was well respected by many in the community."

Mr Fell worked his way up the ranks, starting as a copy boy at the former Sydney Sun newspaper and moving to the then Newcastle Sun before coming to the Mercury.

"Ian started the weekend that Australia's former Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared on the Sunday while swimming on a Victorian beach," Mr Newell said.

"That was in the days of hot metal newspaper production and Ian put together three pages on Holt's disappearance that Sunday night.

"... And that was how he greeted Wollongong."

That same work ethic was evident during many historic events, including the Appin mine disaster of 1979, when the Mercury brought out morning and afternoon editions, and throughout a number of industrial upheavals.

"There was a long journalists' strike in 1982, and the reporters went out for four to six weeks," Mr Newell said.

"Ian put a couple of papers out a week virtually single-handed."

Mrs Fell yesterday said after his family and friends, newspapers were her husband's great passion.

"He spent 40 years in newspapers," she said. "In the early days he covered big court stories such as the Royal Commission into the Petrov affair in 1954, 55."

"When he retired he decided he wanted to do something different and he taught himself carpentry, leatherwork and stained glass work.

"But he still wanted his daily newspaper, and loved doing the word games up 'til the end."

Daughter Catriona shared a close bond with her father and also worked for many years at the Mercury.

"My father was always described to me by everyone who met him as a true gentleman. One who, in his role as the general manager of Illawarra Newspapers, was a fair and just leader.

"But to me, he was my dad, my mentor, the reason I went into newspapers and the person who loved me unconditionally.

"The biggest compliment I have ever received is from a former Mercury long-timer, who told me often that 'You are just like your father'," she said.

Illawarra businesswoman and journalist Janine Cullen met Mr Fell in the early '70s when she started her career as a cadet journalist at the Mercury and said he would be greatly missed.

"Ian was always a thorough gentleman and as general manager he provided great common sense to many situations as well as providing a balance for the flamboyant and brilliant editor, the late John Richardson," she said.

The funeral notice will be in tomorrow's Mercury.

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