Farewell to Blackfriars Board Chair David O’Loughlin

David O’Loughlin might well have former Blackfriars headmaster Father John Neill OP to thank for his leadership career.

It was early 1982, and Mr O’Loughlin had just been, very unexpectedly, elected Blackfriars’ Head Prefect.

“I was really surprised to have been chosen (as Head Prefect) … because I wasn’t at all sporty,” says Mr O’Loughlin, who came to Blackfriars as a Year 6 student in 1976.

“Very often it (the Head Prefect) was head of the First XI, First XVIII. Academically I was pretty good, but I guess my talent was I could talk to anyone and I could move between the social circles.”

David O’Loughlin, with Father Neill, in 1982.

Public speaking, however, was not something of which he had any experience.

He recalls his first assembly speech: “I said, ‘Ummm, great to see you all. I guess, this year, we’ll be doing, ah, really good stuff! And I’ll be looking out for, you know, people doing really good stuff.’”

“Father Neill was a very, very intelligent bloke and he worked out that he’d left me in a hole and he needed to fix it,” Mr O’Loughlin says.

“And, so, he instantly not only developed a public speaking program for senior boys, he recruited someone else. So, when he came to me as I am walking out of the assembly, he’d done those two things – he’d invented it and he’d already got the other student to say yes.

“I felt really comforted by the fact that he’d seen this need, but that he wasn’t singling me out for special treatment. That was a really important thing.

“That was the start, right there in February 1982, of a public profile, which I still have today (and) … where I started community service. That (Head Prefect) role was all about doing what is beyond your core job to make other things happen.”

David O’Loughlin was also the Mayor of Prospect.

More than four decades after he was elected Head Prefect, Mr O’Loughlin will this month retire as Chair of the Blackfriars Board. He will continue to sit on the school’s Capital Works Committee.

After leaving Blackfriars as a student and inspired by his work as Head Prefect, Mr O’Loughlin was keen to continue his community service, establishing a local Young Christian Workers (YCW) group.

Among those who helped him get that group up and running was fellow Blackfriars old scholar Angelo Primavera (BPS’81), who will succeed Mr O’Loughlin as Chair of the school Board.

Mr O’Loughlin continued to be part of a YCW groups for a number of years, including through three years of an ultimately uncompleted Architecture Degree, while working as a labourer, a building contractor and a landscaper, and in Whyalla, where he worked in a management role in his father’s construction business.

David O’Loughlin with Business Manager Gerard Leahy, left, and Principal David Ruggiero.

While living in Whyalla, he also joined the local Lions Club, the parish council and became involved in St Vincent de Paul.

Ultimately, he moved back to Adelaide, talked his way into a UniSA Graduate Diploma of Project Management – “Remember, I didn’t finish Architecture, so I had to convince them … I can be very convincing!” – before working in executive management for a number of local construction companies.

His commitment to community service took a very public step forward when he was elected to Prospect Council in 2003. He went on to serve 16 years as Prospect Mayor (2006-2022) and was also President of the Australian Local Government Association, among many other roles.

He already sat on Blackfriars’ Building Committee (now the Capital Works Committee) when, in 2015, the opportunity came to join to school Board. He went on to become its first lay Chair.

“I think I got asked to do that (become the Chair) at my third or fourth meeting,” he says with a laugh. “Welcome back to Blackfriars. It was a bit like being Head Prefect again!”

David O’Loughlin with 2023 Dux Nico Cacayorin.

During his tenure as Chair, Mr O’Loughlin and the Board have worked tirelessly to overhaul governance standards. He has also overseen the recent multimillion-dollar redevelopment of the campus, the biggest capital works program at the school in decades.

But, perhaps surprisingly, Mr O’Loughlin does not see those new buildings as his proudest achievement.

“The buildings are the tangible evidence that something has changed … but you cannot have a new building without being able to fund it,” he says.

“To be able to fund it, you have to get everything else in place. And if you do that well, you’ll attract people.

“I think that’s the best part; that people really want to be here, parents want their kids here, parents want to be involved … and teachers want to be here, and that’s incredibly important. They’re the best outcomes for me.”

Blackfriars will officially farewell Mr O’Loughlin from his Board role during an assembly in the final week of term.

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