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Former top-ranking public servant Sir Lenox Hewitt celebrates 100th birthday

He may just be the last of the great Canberra mandarins, and Sir Lenox Hewitt was apparently in fine form as he celebrated last weekend in Sydney his 100th birthday.

The former secretary of the Prime Minister's Department under John Gorton and one-time Qantas chairman was joined by guests including former prime minister Paul Keating, retired Liberal MP Philip Ruddock, former National Party leader Ian Sinclair and retired justice of the High Court Michael Kirby for the party at the Union, Universities and Schools Club.

He received messages of support from the Queen to mining magnate Gina Rinehart, who described Sir Lenox as "such an exceptional gentleman".

Sir Lenox's family was also there, including daughter Patricia Hewitt, a former Canberra Grammar Girls School student who went on to be health minister in the Blair Government in England.

Born in St Kilda on May 7, 1917, Sir Lenox told the crowd: "I'm overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude."

And he did not miss a chance to comment on a long-time passion - his opposition to Australia "selling off the farm" or divesting too many of our assets to overseas interests.

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"We mustn't lose the country," he said.

Sir Lenox also spoke passionately about the integrity of the public service and how, in his day, a public servant could serve governments of all stripes and not risk losing their job the day after a change of government.

Patricia spoke fondly of family holidays to Caloundra in Queensland to escape the Canberra winter. And that her father had "the wicked-est sense of humour".

"We are the proud family of a great Australian," she said.

Michael Kirby said Sir Lenox had "lived an amazing life", serving the Commonwealth for over 40 years.

"He is still as sharp as a tack. Well-educated. Bit of a traditionalist; bit of a rebel," Kirby said, adding he was "a man for all seasons and a man ahead of his time".

Keating, who we hear was feted almost as much as Sir Lenox, said the centenarian was "independent of mind".

"You were an outsider on the inside of the public service," Keating told Sir Lenox. "You had a keen mind and a keen eye."

And he couldn't resist a classic bit of Keating-ese.

"Len, you've outlived all the ones who had it in for you," Keating told the great man.