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‘The greatest never’: Former Nationals MP and country footy legend dies

Ron Best during his days playing for Golden Square. 

Ron Best during his days playing for Golden Square. 

A successful businessman who owned a motel, a hotel and a frozen food company, Mr Best was first recruited by the National Party to contest the federal seat of Bendigo at the 1987 election.

He gained a 13 per cent swing against the incumbent, future Victorian premier John Brumby, and finished less than 2000 votes behind the second-placed Liberal candidate John Radford.

The following year he was elected to the Victorian Legislative Council for North Western Province where he served in various shadow portfolios for the Nationals, including housing, construction and small business.

He met his future wife, then Liberal upper house MP Louise Asher, when she was first elected in 1992 and the pair married in Melbourne’s parliamentary gardens in 2001.

“We were in the chamber when he asked me out the first time,” Ms Asher, a former deputy Liberal leader, told The Age in 2000.

“He asked me for dinner at Florentino’s. I thought, ‘This guy’s all right’.”

Nationals leader Peter Walsh said on Thursday that regional Victoria had lost a “true champion” with Mr Best’s passing.

“Whether it be his achievements on the sporting field or as the member for North West Province, Ron was always there helping make Victoria a better place,” Mr Walsh said.

“Our prayers and love go to Louise Asher on a tragic loss of a husband taken too soon in his life.”

Following the Kennett government’s defeat in 1999, he was promoted to the frontbench as shadow minister for housing, and retired at the 2002 election.

Born in Ivanhoe in 1949, Best played his junior football at West Heidelberg YCW and was tied to Collingwood as a youngster.

Ron Best and Louise Asher on their wedding day.

Ron Best and Louise Asher on their wedding day.Credit:Simon Schluter

He once said that as a Fitzroy supporter, joining the Magpies did not appeal so he instead joined Golden Square in the Bendigo league, where his uncle was on the club’s committee.

Best played in five premierships, including coaching Bendigo league powerhouse club Sandhurst to its drought-breaking 1973 flag as a 23-year-old, while also tasting success with Golden Square, Boort and Northern United in the North Central league. A medal is struck in his honour for the leading goalkicker in the Bendigo league.

He said that his father had told him football would “never get me anywhere” and impressed on him the need to have regular, well-paying jobs.

“VFL or league footy was not for me,” he said. “Staying home in the bush gave me not only financial security, but also a profile which later enabled me to enter politics.”

“I saw football as being an opportunity to not only complement businesses I went into but a vehicle to make a success of my life.”

Despite his dominance in the bush, he accepted just one invitation to train with a VFL club and played a practice match with Geelong in 1974, kicking four goals.

The Cats offered him $5000 to sign on but he decided to follow his business interests and remained in Bendigo.

“The money being offered in those days was nothing like the money offered to the young players of today. I was hungry to get established,” he told journalist Ken Piesse’s in his 2011 book Football Legends of the Bush: Local Heroes and Big Leaguers.

“[Geelong’s recruiting officer] Bill McMaster put in a lot of time on me. It just wasn’t to be.”

He hit the headlines on a handful of occasions during his political career

He once fell from a toboggan at a fun park near Bairnsdale during a National Party conference in Bairnsdale and spent the night in hospital with three cracked ribs.

In retirement he was a consultant for various privately owned companies in the food services industry, was a board member of the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation and retired as a director of Mayne Pharma in November last year.

“People ask me if I regret not playing in the VFL, but my answer would be no,” Best said in a 1996 interview.

“I suppose there are times when you can get tired of being called the best player never to play in the VFL, but in other ways it’s a real compliment.”

He is survived by his children from his first marriage, Chris and Elizabeth, and two grandchildren, Ari and Eden.

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