Leahy was known universally as “Markham Tom” – for his bonds to the soil and people of the Markham Valley in the Morobe district. He was the first European farmer to settle those vast savannah plains soon after arriving from Queensland as a 17-year-old in 1947.
He planted cocoa, copra, rice, sorghum and peanuts and grew cattle on his Maralumie farm and soon became inextricably linked to the people of his new land and home.
He was elected to the first local government council in his area – Huon Gulf – and his 15 years of service gave him a broad understanding and connection that would shape his life and affect many.
Tom Leahy represented Markham in the House of Assembly (of the newly-united PNG) from 1968-72 and his contemporaries included two young men who would play a huge part in the history of their country, Michael Somare and John Guise.
Leahy became leader of government business ensuring passage of bills through parliament and a member of the Constitutional Planning Committee.
In 2000, the 25th anniversary of independence the PNG government honoured him with a citation commending him for his contribution to the country and its people.
Tom Leahy was part of a family ‘dynasty’ whose surname became synonymous with PNG history since the 1930s after four uncles migrated from Queensland to New Guinea in the interwar years. (His uncle, Mick Leahy, was immortalized in the documentary First Contact). He was intensely proud of his clan.
But Tom Leahy’s achievements were distinct and unique – he was the ultimate individual.
The big-hearted Irish-Australian who would passionately add PNG to his DNA – was a beloved character who loved characters. He was both plain speaking and well-spoken, a widely-read raconteur who could turn a riotously funny yarn into a lesson in philosophy. He was fierce in spirit and gentle in nature.
Perhaps that nature was best demonstrated by the mutual respect between him the people with whom he spent so much of his life: the Markhams, the folk of Erap, Chivasing and Gabsonki, the tribesmen of the Wains and Wantoats who also worked Maralumie and the broader communities of PNG he represented.
His immaculate Tok Pisin gave him even more currency, as did his curiosity and respect for their customs, traditions and lore.
He was intrigued with the spirit world and the politics of PNG and these would dominate two fascinating books he later penned, including, of course, Markham Tom.
Many words will be written and tales exchanged about Tom Leahy long after family and friends gather to farewell him on the Darling Downs later this week
But for the moment these lines from his friend Kitty Ginter in her foreword to his second book Tamburan, Others and Me gives a flavour:
One of the first things that impressed us about Tom was the way he moved seamlessly between races and tribes, between town life and village life and also among the bureaucrats, bankers and administrators in PNG; a rare skill in those days of inflexible social barriers.
Tom is survived by his children Peter, Ann and Neil and grandchildren. Family and friends will gather for a graveside ceremony at the Myall Lawn Cemetery at Dalby (near Toowoomba) at 11am this Saturday 4 August.