Many in the Riverina are in mourning following the tragic passing of Roger Lee Penrith.
A proud Wiradjuri man, he was highly regarded across the Riverina and lived a life of empathy and served as a mentor to many. Roger, 48, died in Wollongong on Saturday after attending a surf life saving course.
Born in 1972 in Tumut to Richard and Marlene, Roger is survived by his wife Lisa, daughter Madison, nine brothers and sisters and the O'Hara family. Growing up he was known to be mischievous and forthright.
Roger attended school in Tumut, Cootamundra and Tamworth, where he still has strong connections.
He moved to Griffith in 1990 taking up a job with Bartter Enterprises, then the NSW Department and Lands and then De Bortoli Wines.
Roger was a lifelong fan of the Rabbitohs and the passion he had for rugby league helped ingrain him in the Griffith community.
Jack Draskovic coached and played with Roger in the Griffith Black and Whites reserves team between 1993 and 1998.
"He was an amazing bloke," Mr Draskovic said.
Mr Draskovic said Roger had passion for the game and the talent to play at five-eighth in first grade, but he focused on reserves so he could play with his friends and family.
Roger came to the Black and Whites from Darlington Point and Mr Draskovic said he became a mentor for some of the players, and supported the team on and off the field.
"He would be the first to sell raffle tickets or work in the canteen," he said.
"He was a complete team player, and very humble man. I can't speak highly enough of him."
Griffith Community Centre coordinator Peta Dummett has a long history with Roger, and originally hired him to be an Aboriginal Liaison Officer at Griffith City Council around 10 years ago. "He was a man of huge knowledge and he was proud of his culture and community," Ms Dummett said.
She said Roger was keen to promote Aboriginal and Wiradjuri culture is a positive way in his community development role, and in his own life.
He was instrumental in a number of projects including the development of council's Aboriginal employment strategy, creating and including an Aboriginal citrus sculpture for Griffith Spring Fest and brought Midnight Basketball to Griffith.
He was also one of the founding members of Griffith Carevan and worked with the city's RSL sub-branch to ensure indigenous servicemen and women were recognised for their service.
He wanted to make sure young people had a great life to look forward to, and he would make sure they had access to all the opportunities they needed.- Peta Dummett
Ms Dummett described Roger as a man with compassion, understanding and discretion, someone who cared deeply, and had a real talent being able to engage everyone from politicians to teenagers.
"As a community development person he could identify the people in need and supporter that need very privately, discretely."
"He didn't do anything for accolades. He was an amazing role model for the students he worked with.
"He wanted to make sure young people had a great life to look forward to, and he would make sure they had access to all the opportunities they needed. He was there for his family as much as he was there for everyone else.
"It's a massive loss not just for the Aboriginal community, but for the community of Griffith."
In 2016, Roger left Griffith City Council to focus on helping improve and mould the lives of First Nation's young men with the Clontarf Academy. He would often encourage people to "stand up and be counted" when it mattered. For Roger, being a Clontarf coordinator was never a 9am to 3pm job and he would go above and beyond for the students.
"Roger was highly respected both professionally and personally by anyone who knew him," a Murrumbidgee Regional High School spokesman said.
"He had a profound effect on the success of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in his past five years at Murrumbidgee Regional High School.
"Roger's enthusiasm, professionalism and caring nature endeared him to students, staff and parents.
"Roger's support and advocacy for culture was profound, matched only by his unassuming and modest demeanour. He will be deeply missed."
Roger's family would like to thank everyone who's expressed their condolences
"We have appreciated and enjoyed reading how Roger has impacted so many people's lives for the better," the Penrith family said.
"He leaves a giant hole in the hearts of his family and friends and his absence has been felt across many communities."
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