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It is with great sadness Surf Life Saving NSW advises the passing of life member Neil Ronald Purcell OAM, a much-loved member of North Steyne SLSC.

Neil was 12 years-old when he lost his father to war. The following year, his mother suggested he join the local surf club. It was 1942 when he gained his Qualifying Certificate, the year before receiving his Bronze Medallion at North Steyne SLSC on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. This was the beginning of a lifetime of love, loyalty and dedication to the movement.

Truly one of a kind, Neil has been described by many SLS leaders, community members and loved ones as someone who above all else was a true gentleman.

Former SLSNSW President and close friend Simon Moriarty echoed the sentiments of many: “You’d be hard pressed to find a fault in Neil Purcell. He was an amazing man in every sense.”

Pivotal to the evolution of Surf Life Saving, his contribution spanned 77 years at club, branch, state and on a national level.

Neil was a doer; humble in his participation and achievements. He enjoyed recognition but never went about seeking it. He was involved in so many facets of the movement.

He was a history buff; he participated in many life membership committees and enjoyed being responsible for researching and fact checking for award nominations, and he held people to account. He believed that history needed to be told well and accurately.

Neil held multiple club positions and contributed where he could in the spare time he had. He fitted in long days on the beach and on committees despite a busy work life studying engineering before taking on a job that would last over 30 years with APD (a division of Amatil).

A valuable part of the famous Dad’s Army work crew at both Sydney Northern Beaches Branch and SLSNSW, Neil spent hundreds of hours maintaining gear and equipment to keep it in top condition for lifesaving and competition use.

He was passionate about R&R competition and spent time handing down his knowledge and experience in the traditional surf sport by developing teams and judging events.

He made such a profound impact on his branch that he was awarded the inaugural Presidents Award in 2010. This was just one of many awards he humbly accepted, including his most worthy Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in 2007 which recognised his service to the community and the many roles he played within Surf Life Saving.

Fellow life member and good friend Richie Lytham said, “Neil was an outstanding person and lifesaver. He was my mentor and I’ve lost a great friend.”

Simon Moriarty said he will miss a great man who was also a mentor to him professionally and on the beach.

“Neil always shared his knowledge and was fun to be around. He was an incredible person, unlike anyone else in humility and thoughtfulness. He was one who didn’t ask a question to ask a question, he was genuinely interested in the answer and had no agenda. He will be sadly missed.”

North Steyne SLSC President Frank Traugott spoke of a club legend who stands out over time as unlike any other.

“The thing that struck me about Neil was he was an incredible man; humble and such a gentleman. I don’t know another person as amazing as him; caring, committed and never spoke a bad word about anyone, he only said positive things.”

Sydney Northern Beaches Branch President Doug Menzies reiterated that he was a delightful man who touched many hundreds of lives in Surf Life Saving.

“He was a highly valued and respected member of North Steyne but also the branch, state and the national sectors of the organisation. He was one of nature’s true gentlemen; engaging, thoughtful and kind. Anyone who dealt with him was touched by his kindness.”

Despite a long list of achievements and awards, there is no definitive or formal record that can truly encapsulate Neil’s lifetime of distinguished service.

Neil will be dearly missed by all and has left a strong and lasting legacy.

Away from the beach Neil was a beloved husband to Ann and father to Anthony and Surf Life Saving NSW sends sincere condolences to the Purcell family on behalf of all volunteers at this sad time.


Neil Purcell OAM
Neil Purcell (far right) with his surf boat crew.


Surf Life Saving Australia

  • National Competition Official, 1960-2005

  • Member, Meritorious Awards Committee

  • Life Membership awarded 2001

Surf Life Saving NSW

  • Grievance Officer, Surf Life Saving New South Wales, 2002-2005

  • Member, R&R Panel, 1980-2005, Secretary, for 5 years

  • Member, Merit Awards Committee, 1998-2005

  • Level 3 Surf Sports Official, 1960-2005

  • Life Membership awarded 1999

Surf Life Saving Sydney Northern Beaches

  • Secretary, Surf Life Saving Sydney Northern Beaches 1995-2001

  • Trustee, 1984-1989

  • Competition Official, 1960-2005

  • Committee Member, since 1959

  • First Member to be awarded President’s Award 2010/11

  • Life Membership 1976

North Steyne SLSC

  • Member, since 1942

  • Vice-President, North Steyne Surf Life Saving Club (5 years)

  • Club Captain (2 years)

  • Secretary (2 years)

  • Assistant Secretary (2 years)

  • Assistant Treasurer (5 years)

  • Life Membership, 1971

Awards/recognition include:

  • Australian Sports Medal, 2000

  • World Life Saving Certificate of Merit

  • Branch President's Award, Surf Life Saving Sydney Northern Beaches, 2010

  • Order of Australia Medal, 2007

Additional Roles:

  • Voluntary roles with Manly Rugby Union Club.

  • Treasurer, Manly Warringah Probus Club (5 years).


Top photo: Manly Daily/Adam Yip

Tuesday 25 June 2019