Prominent Jewish Aussie dies in freak accident

  • Sir Z HOME
Ben Cowen (pictured), a Melbourne entrepreneur, community leader and the son of former famous governor-general Sir Zelman Cowen, tragically died on Sunday after suffering fatal injuries from a freak paragliding accident.
by ANT KATZ | Jan 10, 2017

Died at the scene

The incident occurred in Fairhaven on the Victorian Surf Coast, where 50-year-old Ben Cowen had been holidaying with his wife and their 14-year-old son and twin 12-year-old daughters.

Many residents and holiday-makers witnessed the horrific scene, after Cowen’s paraglider was caught in strong winds close to the shoreline and smashed him into cliffs. Paramedics were unable to save Cowen who died at the scene from critical head and leg injuries.

Shocked friends and family members described Ben Cowen as a kind, optimistic and generous family man. His brother, Rabbi Shimon Cowen, said “he had a very bold spirit… he was an outdoorsman, who took his family camping, planning very elaborate trips.”

Cowen had a highly successful career as a lawyer, investment banker and business magnate. He founded the camping megastore chain Anaconda in 2003, and subsequently founded Edison Partners, an advisory firm.

Sir ZbHowever, he always lived in the shadow of his late father, Sir Zelman Cowen, one of the most famous Australian Jews who was knighted in 1976 and shortly afterwards become Australia’s second Jewish Governor-General. He died in 2011.

RIGHT: Sir Zelman Cowen

In addition to his professional and business pursuits, Ben Cowen made noteworthy contributions to the Jewish community. He was actively involved with the King David School, United Israel Appeal, and the Community Security Group.

President Anton Block and executive director Peter Wertheim of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry wrote to Rabbi Cowen, expressing their sincere condolences. “On behalf of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, our executive councillors, life members and staff, and personally, we write to convey our deepest sympathy to you on the tragic passing of your beloved brother, Ben… May the Almighty comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem, and may you be blessed with long life.”

Ben Cowen is survived by his wife, Lahra Carey, and daughters Alex and Charley, and his son Mitch.

Cowen’s late father, Sir Zelman Cowen – was often referred to as “the genius Governor-General” and so famous is his legacy in Australia, that media ran headlines last week such as: “Sir Zelman’s son dies in paragliding accident.”

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Sir Zd

This image is believed to be the last picture taken of the paragliding Ben Cowen before he was smashed into the cliffs at Fairhaven on Sunday


Who was Sir Zelman Cowen?

Sir Zelman Cowen, described as the healer of the Australian nation, sometimes spoke of his success in life as being down to good luck.

But, as tributes flowed for Sir Zelman, mourners at the former Australian governor-general's state funeral in 2011 were told, it was not luck but pure genius.

Mourners at his funeral told how Sir Zelman had regularly referred to himself as "fortunate" to have had a life "beyond the scope of my dreams."

Sir ZcBut Rabbi Dr John Levi said the man credited with restoring Australians' faith in the office of governor-general, and thus in the Australian political system, did not succeed through good fortune.

LEFT: Then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard speaks with Ben Cowen at his father's 2011 state funeral

"As we all know, it was never luck," Rabbi Levi said at the 2011 funeral. "It was pure genius, it was the ability to make friends, it was loyalty to the law and to the state, it was charm, it was profound dignity, it was solid hard work and it was always intellectual integrity."

Sir Zelman died at the age of 92 at his Toorak home in Melbourne after suffering from Parkinson’s disease for many years. His wife, Lady Anna, his sisters, three of his children, Shimon, Kate and Ben, and many of his 16 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren attended the funeral, while his son Yousef was in Jerusalem at the time.

VIP attendees at the funeral of Sir Zelman included Governor-General Quentin Bryce, Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu. Numerous other dignitaries such as federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott were there too; as were three former prime ministers: John Howard, Bob Hawke and Malcolm Fraser, all sitting in a row beside each other.

Sir Za

A who's who of Australian politics and Jewry attended Sir Zelman's 2011 funeral 

On their way out of the shul service, an intrepid reporter encountered the three former prime ministers in quick succession and asked for their thoughts on Sir Zelman Here is what they said:

BOB HAWKE: ''When you think of the history, of the three great Jewish figures: Isaac Isaacs, General Monash and Zelman Cowen. All fantastic.''

JOHN HOWARD: ''I saw a lot of him when I was treasurer and he was governor-general. I tell you what, if a poor innocent junior minister or parliamentarian hadn't done their homework, he'd give them a bit of a flick.''

MALCOLM FRASER: ''When I asked him [to be governor-general], he kept saying 'why me?'. I said he was better than anyone else I could think of. It had to be someone who was not a personal friend, who was not involved in politics … who was distinguished, whose name was known and recognised.''

Fraser had appointed Sir Zelman as governor-general in 1977 following Sir John Kerr's resignation from what was then a troubled post, given Sir John had divided the nation by using the powers of the office to sack prime minister Gough Whitlam.

Sir Zelman healed the nation by serving a distinguished and popular four-and-a-half-year term from December 1977 to July 1982.

"None of us who lived through those years could ever forget the dignity and the healing Sir Zelman brought to the office of governor-general," Rabbi Levi said.


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