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Fond farewell for long-serving public health leader

Graham Burgess retires as Deputy Director of District's Public Health Unit.

Graham Burgess speaking at a lectern.
SydneyConnect Image: Graham Burgess retires as Deputy Director of District's Public Health Unit

Colleagues have described Graham Burgess as a passionate and committed leader who empowered his staff, and was always calm in the face of an emergency, as his long career in public health draws to a close.

Graham has retired as Deputy Director of Sydney Local Health District’s Public Health Unit (PHU) after 25 years of service, with staff and friends from across the District and NSW Health gathering to wish him well.

The state’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Kerry Chant, former Chief Medical Officer Dr Greg Stewart, NSW Health’s Executive Director of Health Protection Dr Jeremy McAnulty, the District’s Chief Executive

Dr Teresa Anderson and the PHU’s Clinical Director Dr Leena Gupta were among those who attended a special farewell afternoon tea at RPA.

“Graham’s dedication to public health and his emphasis on collaboration cannot be overstated. I am so grateful for his years of service and wish him all the best in his retirement," Dr Anderson said.

Dr Chant thanked Graham for his leadership during public health emergencies.

“You’re always very calm, very pragmatic; you always have sound, thoughtful advice and you always put people at the centre of your advice,” she said.

Dr McAnulty said that Graham was the sort of person you’d want by your side in tough times.

“Graham’s always been a senior, sensible voice. He brings new ideas and new, rigorous ways of approaching problems.”

Graham joined the Unit in 1997 as a Senior Environmental Health Officer and became its Deputy Director in 1999.

He was appointed as the Public Health Co-ordinator for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, working to implement public health measures at competition venues.

In his role, Graham also helped to lead the District’s response to numerous public health incidents and emergencies, such as Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks, the H1-N1 outbreak in 2010 and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Graham’s other achievements include developing a graduate trainee program for Environmental Health Officers and traineeships for Aboriginal workers that he helped to establish with local councils.

The PHU’s Clinical Director Dr Leena Gupta, recalled hiring Graham 25 years ago and said his sense of humour helped the team get through stressful times.

“I knew straight away that we’d work as a team. The funny, ridiculous texts, the dad jokes, we’ll miss all of that!”

Graham thanked his colleagues and collaborators for their help and their hard work and reminded them of his motto: “from little things, big things grow.”

His plans for retirement include tending to the gardens at his property on Lake Macquarie, undertaking some home renovations, travelling around Australia and spending time with his family.