Alan Renouf (1919 - 2008) was perhaps best known publicly as the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Australian ambassador to Washington, but he was also a scholar, soldier, lawyer, author, sportsman and bridge player.
Throughout his distinguished international career, Renouf was realistic enough to accept the limits on Australia's ability to influence world events but patriotic enough to want to maximize that influence.
He was forthright and had a very Australian style, which was not always the case for Australians of his generation. He had his admirers and detractors, but nobody ever accused him of being boring.
He was always his own man and would stand up to politicians he worked for when he felt it necessary. This occasionally got him into trouble with those who did not like being questioned. He admired H.V. Evatt and Paul Hasluck, and some colleagues believe these were the only two he had unstinting admiration for. Evatt was clearly a strong intellectual influence on the young Renouf.
Renouf was not the stereotype of the retiring public servant but was, in his way, more of a public intellectual who liked to stimulate debate and encourage younger officers to come up with ideas. He opened up the Department of Foreign Affairs to women, both officers and spouses, in a way that had not been done before. His style was stimulating and decisive. While leaning towards the Labor Party, he served both sides of politics with equal professionalism.
Renouf was the first of the old diplomatic cadets to become department secretary. He saw active service in New Guinea and learned of his acceptance as a cadet while recovering in hospital from a sniper wound. In typical style, he is reported to have indicated in colorful language that this looked like a much better deal than where he had just come from.
Alan Philip Renouf was born in Sydney, the son of P.N. Renouf and his wife, Elsie Stevens. He went to Sydney Boys High School and Sydney University, where he completed two law degrees and later a PhD in political history. He served with the Australian Imperial Force from 1939-42 and joined the then Department of External Affairs in 1942.
From 1945 to 1949 he was involved in the birth of the United Nations - first on its preparatory commission, then as a member of the Australian delegation to the UN and then as legal counselor in the UN Secretariat.
In 1948 he married Emilia Mira Campins in Buenos Aires, and in 1949 resumed his diplomatic career in Canberra. Renouf served in Cairo, Washington, Paris and Brussels before becoming high commissioner to Nigeria and later minister at the Australian embassy in Washington.
After service in Canberra, he was ambassador to Yugoslavia and then to France. He was recalled to Canberra in 1974 to become secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs until he was appointed ambassador to the US in 1978.
As secretary, Renouf was forthright, sometimes to the chagrin of colleagues who had incurred his wrath. But he was always professional and this was very evident when he was ambassador in Washington, where he had an extensive range of contacts which he used to great effect. His incisive mind and the breadth of his knowledge were always used to good effect.
Among his many achievements was playing of a key role in the negotiations for Australia's recognition of China. This was done quietly but, as always, very effectively.
In 1979 he published The Frightened Country, which was critical of Australians' fear of the outside world. He also wrote The Champagne Trail (1980), Let Justice Be Done: The Foreign Policy Of Dr H.V. Evatt (1984) and Malcolm Fraser & Australian Foreign Policy (1986).
In retirement Renouf was active in writing and speaking; the word "retirement" was hardly right. Only in his last weeks did disease slow him down. His forthrightness came to the fore again when he gave evidence last year at the coroner's inquest in Sydney into the death of one of five journalists at Balibo in 1975. Renouf said he assumed immediately that they had been killed deliberately.
He was a visiting fellow at Sydney University where he completed his doctorate in 1981. He was also a consultant to a major law firm and a member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal but he still found time to indulge his passion for bridge.
Renouf had a regular television spot in retirement, and lectured actively at the University of the Third Age alongside his work at Sydney University. He loved surfing, skiing, rugby league and golf in his youth.
He donated his body to Sydney University.