May 16 (UPI) -- Former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, the country's longest-serving Labor Party leader, died Thursday at his home in Sydney. He was 89.
Hawke led Australia from 1983 to 1991 and continued to stay active in politics. This week, he wrote an open letter to opposition leader Bill Shorten wishing him luck in Saturday's election against incumbent Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Shorten said he was a "leader of conviction" and a "builder of consensus" who inspired him to go into politics.
"In Australian politics, there will always be B.H. and A.H.: Before Hawke and After Hawke," Shorten said. "After Hawke, we were a different country. A kinder, better, bigger and bolder country."
Hawke is remembered as a charismatic politician who loved beer and cricket and could often be seen downing a beer in one gulp well into his 80s. He joined the Labor Party at age 18 in 1947 and won a Rhodes Scholarship to the University of Oxford in 1953. It was then he knew he would lead Australia under a socialist banner. He had a reputation as a playboy during his college years in Britain and went on to become president of the powerful Australian Council of Trade Unions. There, he earned the nickname "the Mediator," UPI reported in 1987 -- a moniker that served him well in politics as he built consensus.
He won a seat in parliament in 1980 and was elected Australia's 23rd prime minister in 1983, after which he became known as the "working man's prime minister." He is often remembered for a tearful news conference he gave a year later upon discovering his daughter Rosslyn had a drug addiction. He told reporters public servants are still fathers and husbands, and dismissed accusations he aided drug dealers. Today, he's considered by some the greatest leader in Australian history.
"The thing that really hit the spot with him was the suggestion, the implication, that he would defend people who peddled this abomination, which brought tragedy and suffering and that was the link that he found so offensive and so absolutely repugnant," his then-wife, Hazel, said at the time.
"Bob possessed a moral framework for his important public life, both representing the workers of Australia and more broadly, the country at large," said Paul Keating, who was treasurer under Hawke and succeeded him as prime minister in 1991. "Bob, of course, was hoping for a Labor victory this weekend. His friends, too, were hoping he would see this."
Hawke will be buried in a private service attended by his family and a memorial service will be held in Sydney in a few weeks. He is survived by wife Blanche d'Alpuget and three children -- Susan, Stephen and Rosslyn.
"Bob Hawke and Paul Keating and their governments modernized the Australian economy, paving the way for an unprecedented period of recession-free economic growth and job creation," d'Alpuget said. "Today we lost Bob Hawke, a great Australian -- many would say the greatest Australian of the post-war era."