Former Prime Minister Paul Keating eulogises James Warner, a beloved Queanbeyan man

BELOVED: Jimmy Warner died aged 81, pictured with loving wife Kathy. In lieu of flowers, the family asked for donations to the Cancer Support Group. Photo: Supplied.
BELOVED: Jimmy Warner died aged 81, pictured with loving wife Kathy. In lieu of flowers, the family asked for donations to the Cancer Support Group. Photo: Supplied.

One of the greatest thrills for the driver of a former prime minister was speeding at a "relatively high speed" down the highway towards the Snowy Mountains, as their dedicated police detail tried to keep up.

This was just one of the stories told by former prime minister Paul Keating, who delivered the eulogy for his Commonwealth car driver and beloved Queanbeyan resident James Frederick Warner on a sunny Friday afternoon.

Mr Keating was among hundreds of mourners in a sea of black who gathered at St Raphael's Church in Queanbeyan on August 26 to farewell Mr Warner, better known as Jimmy or Chook.

Jimmy had told his family he wanted the day to be a celebration of his life.

In a mass given by the bishop and four priests, Mr Keating said he had known Jimmy for 33 years.

He said Jim had left an indelible mark on those around him.

"What distinguished him, I think, was his kindness, humility and forthrightness.

"A kind of all-knowingness, characterised by irreverence, peppered here and there by skepticism," Mr Keating said.

This drew a laugh from the crowd.

"Jim had come classically from the working class and in a country town, and had seen most of the things that make life tick and which had given him bearings to guide his own.

"I'd like to think that only in Australia we would produce someone like him."

Mr Keating described his friend as a "blend of tolerance, reasonableness, fairness, sharpness and courage" but with a complete contempt for candid conversation.

The former Prime Minister regaled the audience with tales of how Jim had brought his first daughter home from the hospital after she was born – 31 years ago to the day of the funeral – and had taken his children to preschool, school and college.

"Jim was part of our daily life as a family, and he was part of the office."

The heartfelt stories continued, and then came the funny ones.

"He absolutely loved being a bit cheeky," Mr Keating prefaced one story.

He said Jim was perpetually warned not to drive the car to the door of the VIP aircraft at Fairbairn, a warning he always ignored.

"When the authorities finally banned him from coming onto the terminal, he luxuriated in watching me dressing the officer down for stupidity."

As the gathered mourners remembered a great friend, Mr Keating continued to spill the beans on the incredible life Jimmy had lived.

"Jim was nothing if not irreverent," Mr Keating said.

One tale in particular had the crowd crying, but from laughter.

He said Jimmy was a bane in the life of a gentlemen he described as the chef de mission of the Prime Minister's office. One night after Jim eventually gave up waiting for Mr Keating to emerge from his office, he had a drink with staff.

When Mr Keating took up the driver's seat in the car, the "chef de mission" was horrified the prime minister had to drive his driver back to The Lodge.

"The following police were horrified as Jim and I did wheelies up Melbourne Avenue," he said.

Amidst the tall tales there was a sombre mood in the church, as many people farewelled a great friend.

Mr Keating said Jim was "much appreciated and admired" in Queanbeyan, the town where he grew up. But it wasn't because he was associated with the prime minister. 

"His standing was grounded in the wider acknowledgement of his social commitment to the town, and his dealings with everybody," Mr Keating said.

Despite the fun times they had, he said Jimmy carried a certain melancholy about him, particularly after the loss of his daughter, and then his brother around the same time.

James Warner was buried after the service at the Queanbeyan Lawn Cemetery. He was the dearly loved husband of Kathy, brother of Nina, Bill (dec) Jack (dec). Much loved father and father-in-law, and loved poppy.

In lieu of flowers, the family asked for donations to ACT Eden Monaro Cancer Support.

Jimmy, born March 21, 1935, died from cancer aged 81, on August 19, 2016.