It is with deep sorrow and a heavy heart that we share the news of Dr Peter Cotton’s passing on the 24th of November 2018. Peter has been a mental health expert representative on SuperFriend’s Program Committee since 2011. We express our deepest condolences to Peter’s family, Maryanne, Tilda, Eugene and Val.
In this article, I hope to shine light and love on Peter and his extraordinary work, in particular his influence and enormous contribution to SuperFriend.
It was impossible to meet Peter, or see him present his work at various forums and conferences, and not know that you were in the presence of a humble and gentle genius.
Peter was an extraordinarily busy man and in high demand. There are not many people in Australia who have dual-qualifications, in both clinical and organisational psychology. But Peter’s genius was not only through his qualifications, his sharp mind and intellect, it was as a result of his extensive work that simultaneously spanned research, clinical supervision, strategic and advisory roles across industry and governments and his work at the coal-face as an organisational and clinical practitioner.
In the last few years alone, Peter has provided extensive advice to organisations like Australian Public Service Commission and Comcare in their support of the psychological health and safety of federal workers. He has worked with national organisations like Beyond Blue, SuperFriend, the CSIRO, the Australian Psychological Society, Safe Work Australia and Medibank. Peter has also worked extensively with numerous work health and safety organisations, Victorian Transport and Accident Commission and state and territory regulators and insurers. He has collaborated with individuals, researchers and workplace mental health organisations to develop and deliver programs and to push forward the science, the practice and the evidence.
In recent years, because of his unique skills, extensive knowledge, practical experience and expertise, Peter was called on more and more to formally investigate and provide recommendations for specific industries in relation to significant issues about workplace mental health. This work was exceptionally challenging, as it required Peter to navigate the politics of the day without losing site of, and delivering, specific recommendations for improvements that would benefit all workers and address the issues at hand. Peter undertook independent investigations into mental health within the Victorian Police, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, and Ambulance Victoria, just to name a few. In undertaking these reviews, Peter’s unwavering resolve was getting the very best outcomes for the staff and the broader Australian community. That was Peter’s guiding light in his work, the common thread through everything he did. He cared deeply.
I have reflected on the first time I met Peter. It was almost 9 years ago. SuperFriend was a tiny, three-person organisation with no profile, no ground-breaking work achievements to speak of, yet a bucket of dreams to make a real difference in workplace mental health and wellbeing. On the strong recommendation of Kelly Tapley (Research & Evaluation Manager at SuperFriend), who had identified Peter through his extensive research and various advisory roles as a Leader in workplace mental health and wellbeing, I went to meet with him, to ask him if he would be interested in being a mental health expert representative on SuperFriend’s Program Committee.
Walking into his office, I remember thinking, ‘there is no chance this man will say yes’ – he will be way too busy, he will not have heard of SuperFriend, and that at best, he may recommend someone else I could approach. I was so sure he would say no. But if you knew Peter, saying ‘no’ to a request to help make a difference in workplace mental health was not a word that came easily. I recall we had a wonderfully rich conversation, connecting easily on our shared vision for better mental health outcomes for all Australians. At the end of the conversation, he said to me, enthusiastically, that he would love to be involved and help in any way he could.
Peter was one of the most professionally generous people you could ever hope to meet. For the last 9 years Peter has willingly and generously helped SuperFriend, and many other organisations – in guiding our work, providing expert advice and counsel, collaborating on numerous projects and programs, encouraging the growth and expansion of our sector, mentoring many people, and, connecting us with our work.
Peter’s generosity of time, knowledge and wisdom has guided SuperFriend’s work from that day. As many of you know, SuperFriend is a national organisation, delivering real impact in workplace mental health and wellbeing. We are eternally grateful that Peter has provided guidance, support, encouragement and wisdom over these years. As a team, we are eternally grateful that we got to work so closely with Peter, and that we became friends, not just colleagues. We are better people for it, our organisations are better places to work, and workers all over Australia have benefitted enormously.
Peter dedicated much of his life to making a genuine difference in the lives of working Australians. He was ahead of his time, a trailblazer, a pioneer, a gentle disrupter, and very much a professional gentleman at the forefront in Australia of workplace mental health and wellbeing.
We knew Peter to be kind, considerate, generous and thoughtful. He was always friendly and warm, polite and humble. He loved a giggle, and had a wonderfully sharp sense of humour. He often shared stories, finding ‘the funny’ in quirky things, that life turns up.
However, we also knew him to be thought provoking and incredibly insightful. A passionate advocate, Peter was willing to speak up and lean in on issues, particularly ones that spoke to his values as a humanitarian and crossed into his domain of professional expertise.
Peter was an extraordinary man. Through his work, Dr Peter Cotton has positively impacted hundreds of thousands of lives in Australia.
There is no one else like Peter in Australia. He was highly regarded both here and internationally for his work. Peter will be dearly missed by many.
Peter Andrew Cotton 1958-2018.