Man behind the scenes made Canberra better
Chris Peters, chief executive officer of the ACT and Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry and 2012 Canberra citizen of the year. Photo: Stuart Walmsley, March 13, 2012. Photo: Casual CAS
Chris Peters saw Canberra as the greatest place on earth to live, but he knew it wasn't perfect. He knew there was still much work to be done.
Such was his focus on the betterment of Canberra, he found it impossible to say no to a request for assistance or advice from any well-intentioned person or organisation who asked for it.
His business card is a testament to his willingness, energy and expertise. It lists his association with more than 30 organisations – and that doesn't tell the whole story. The list of roles on his website numbers 40.
ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher described Mr Peters as a kind and generous giver who worked quietly behind the scenes to make Canberra a better place.
Chris Peters was perhaps best known as a tireless advocate for the Canberra business community, having represented their interests as chief executive of the ACT Chamber of Commerce since 1997. But his passion and capacity to give didn't end there. He was an active member of more than 20 mostly government boards – among them the ACT Board of Senior Secondary Studies.
He was made a member of the Order of Australia in 2004, awarded the Order of Isabel la Catolica by the King of Spain in 2008 and held an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Canberra.
According to those closest to him, he had "endless time for everyone and never expected anything in return". Even when he was receiving chemotherapy, he advised the hospital about how things might be improved – advice that was apparently heeded.
Born in Adelaide, the son of a local doctor, Mr Peters' leadership potential was recognised and fostered from a young age. By 20, he was serving as the assistant commissioner of the Scout Association of South Australia.
His business career also began early, when as a schoolboy in the late 1960s he began importing waterbeds from the US and selling them by mail order. ?In 1972 he moved on to importing upmarket homewares.
In 1978, Mr Peters joined the Company Directors Association as a volunteer office bearer, moving up to become the national vice-president and then president.
After serving his maximum time in office, he was asked to take up the position of chief executive of the association, which led him and his wife Josephine to relocate to Sydney in 1987.
He described it as a time "of dramatic change in corporate law", with Alan Bond and Christopher Skase highlighting corporate excesses and the need for reform.
Mr Peters was one of the "handful of people" appointed by then attorney-general Lionel Bowen to write the Corporations Act and establish a corporate regulator, now the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
After merging two company director organisations to form the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Mr Peters made the move from Sydney to Canberra in 1991 to be chief executive of the Australian Institute of Architects.
Mr Peters remained in Canberra, taking on many roles. When naming him the Citizen of the Year in 2012, Ms Gallagher described his extraordinary contribution to the community. "He does a lot of work behind the scenes, volunteering his time, that doesn't get recognition."
Among many other things, Mr Peters founded the Indigenous Business Chamber of Australia in 2000, was chairman of public charitable foundation GreaterGood and often spoke of being driven by the ability to make a difference.
"I love the way that we can make a difference, be it in the opportunities and challenges for business, the opportunity to influence government, or the opportunity to contribute to our wider community,” he said last year.
One of his proudest contributions was rallying the business community to assist people in need after the 2003 bushfires.
"Business did remarkable things during those first few days and then over the next six months in helping the recovery process," he said. "I think it's something that gave Canberra heart and it's something that made Canberrans realise what we can do together."