Timor President Honorary Doctor
JOSÊ RAMOS-HORTA might have had trouble finding Lismore on a map until a few days ago, but he’ll remember it now as a city full of friends.
The Timor-Leste President and Nobel Laureate was in town yesterday at the invitation of friend and former adviser, now Federal Page MP Janelle Saffin, to receive an Award of Honorary Doctor of Southern Cross University.
It was believed to be the first official visit to Lismore by a foreign head of state – although Dr Ramos-Horta said he had been to the city years ago.
Ms Saffin and Dr Ramos-Horta are old allies, but during the visit he met another old friend, SCU Vice-Chancellor John Dowd who had been campaigning Timor-Leste’s independence since the 1970s and who was in the country with Ms Saffin for the 1999 independence vote.
The vice-chancellor told a gathering at the university he met Dr Ramos-Horta back in 1979, on a trip to the United Nations aimed at making sure the independence of the small nation remained a priority for the international body.
“We are greatly honoured by your presence,” Chancellor Dowd told the president.
Dr Ramos-Horta’s reception on the streets of Lismore was just as enthusiastic.
The President was stopped several times during a brisk walk from Ms Saffin’s office to Caddies cafe by supporters wanting to say hello.
“I can’t pronounce his name, but I know who he is,” said one.
The support at the university went beyond past efforts to bring independence to Timor-Leste, with Dr David Lloyd from the School of Environmental Science and Management outlining efforts to help the nation maximise profits from its coffee harvest, which it depends on heavily, and develop new crops.
Dr Ramos-Horta appeared comfortable with the crowd, even teasing his host.
“I told Janelle I couldn’t locate Lismore on the map and she responded very defensively and said Lismore is a very important city in Australia,” he quipped.
Dr Ramos-Horta also said he was grateful for the efforts of the university to help his country.
“I’m very proud and humbled that this great university has decided to honour me,” he said.