|Obituary from the Age newspaper: A life in the law, politics and the church Date January 6, 2014
by Tony Coady
DAVID McKENNA Lawyer and humanitarian 18-9-1937 — 10-11-2013
David McKenna, who died on November 10 aged 76, was an outstanding solicitor in the Melbourne firm of Lynch and Window for much of his career and made significant contributions to many areas of public life. David grew up in the Perth suburb of Dalkeith, but when he was 12 the family moved to Melbourne where he was educated by the Jesuits at Xavier College. People who knew him from schooldays at Xavier recall a lover of talk, a leader in debating, and the winner of prizes for history and religious education. At Melbourne University, he was president of the Newman College students' society and an important figure in the university Newman Society that sponsored the somewhat grandly titled "Intellectual Apostolate". This movement, begun in Australia in the early 1950s, made an important contribution to the attempted renewal of the Catholic Church that took place at Vatican Council II. David saw his faith as enjoining activity in the wider community to the betterment of life, especially for those who were disadvantaged or oppressed. The law was, for him, a vocation not merely a job. He saw the rule of law less as a way of keeping order, important as that can be, than as a way of respecting and upholding rights. He spent many years as an active member of Amnesty International, and when he formally retired from his law practice he took up a position for a number of years with Legal Aid in Ringwood. Advertisement Politics, especially Labor politics, fascinated David, and he was an active reformist player in some major episodes in Victorian ALP history. He was a founding member of the Participants, a Labor Party group that in the 1960s opposed the regime of the leftist Victorian Executive of the ALP and played a role in its demise under Federal intervention prior to Gough Whitlam's victory in 1972. Some of the group later had distinguished careers in public life, notably John Cain as Premier, Dick McGarvie as Governor and Barry Jones, Michael Duffy and Barney Cooney as outstanding members of an ALP federal government. David was for some years chair of the Labor Party's Disputes Tribunal in Victoria, a position to which he brought such judicial impartiality as to make enemies in all factions in the party. Unknown to friends and family, David was gay and his efforts to come to grips with this made a great deal of his life a silent misery. His genial sociability concealedprivate suffering and spiritual confusion, and when in 1993 he decided to go public with his sexual orientation, he wrote letters to his friends on the advice of his psychiatrist. The letter was beautifully written telling of painful efforts to "overcome" his inclinations because of society and church attitudes to gay sexuality. His coming out not only startled people that he respected but caused a nervous breakdown that had him hospitalised for some time. It took more painful years for him to adjust fully but he added many gay friends and took a prominent part in the public activities of the gay community. His attitude to the Church became naturally somewhat ambiguous, but he maintained a Christian spirituality. David's personality displayed a delightful version of one typical Australian attitude to life: witty and dry with a sardonic take on the passing parade. Family members from Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria attended the funeral service as did well over a hundred of his friends.