Known affectionately as “Hawkie,” Hawke was Australia’s Prime Minister from 1983 to 1991, winning four elections and becoming the country’s third longest-serving leader.
His wife, Blanche D’Alpuget, released a statement on Thursday describing her husband as “the greatest Australian of the post-war era.”
“Bob Hawke and Paul Keating and their governments modernised the Australian economy, paving the way for an unprecedented period of recession-free economic growth and job creation,” her statement said.
A Rhodes scholar who graduated from Oxford University in 1956, Hawke quickly rose through the ranks of Australia’s trade union movement to become the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions in 1970, according to the Museum of Australian Democracy.
In 1983, after serving in parliament for just three years, he became Australia’s Prime Minister in a landslide election victory.
That success revived Hawke’s Labor Party, ushering in a sustained period of rule that lasted until 1996.
Hawke served as Prime Minister for almost nine of those 13 years, winning three more polls in the process and cementing his legacy as the party’s longest-serving and most electorally successful leader.
In a political landscape that sees regular elections and frequent leadership contests, Hawke’s longevity can be matched only by Liberal Prime Ministers Robert Menzies and John Howard.
But Hawke was as famous for his colorful character as his political achievements, his bouffant hair and cheeky sense of humor ensuring that he has endured in the country’s affections long after his career came to a close.
He reportedly held the world record for skulling a yard of beer in the quickest time when he was a student at Oxford.
And when an Australian yacht won the America’s Cup in September 1983, Hawke famously declared, “Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum” — a comment that has forever been affectionately associated with the leader.
“Bob Hawke was a great Australian who led and served our country with passion, courage, and an intellectual horsepower that made our country stronger,” the country’s current Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
“He was true to his beliefs in the Labor tradition and defined the politics of his generation and beyond,” Morrison added. “He had a unique ability to speak to all Australians and will be greatly missed.”
Hawke was a major economic reformer who, alongside his then-treasurer Paul Keating, liberalized the Australian economy and made the landmark decision to float the Australian dollar.
He also brought in universal healthcare for all Australian citizens, establishing the Medicare system in 1984.
Hawke placed an emphasis on Aboriginal affairs during his years in office, and briefly re-entered the political fray in 2008 to witness a long-awaited apology to the Aboriginal community, made by then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, for years of mistreatment.
Keating, Hawke’s right-hand man through nine years of economic reform, ultimately took his job as leader of the Labor Party in a 1991 coup.
But Hawke remained one of Australia’s most popular Prime Ministers. He was regularly invited to quickly drink beers at major sporting events by attendees, invariably to huge cheers and applause.
In a statement, current opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten — gearing up to contest an election on Saturday — said that “the Australian people loved Bob Hawke because they knew Bob loved them.”
“In Australian history, in Australian politics, there will always be B.H. and A.H: Before Hawke and After Hawke. After Hawke, we were a different country. A kinder, better, bigger and bolder country,” he said.