Max Kingston, one of the industry’s true gentlemen

BRUCE PIPER pays tribute to the travel industry legend.

THE sad death of the legendary Max Kingston this week has generated a huge outpouring of tributes and reminiscences, with Kingston’s truly lifelong career in travel touching the lives of hundreds of people over the years. Since updating the industry on his demise in Travel Daily we have been contacted by scores of readers paying tribute to his generosity, character, good spirit and irrepressible energy, with everyone taken by surprise at his sudden death despite being “88 years and five months young”.

After suffering a fall last week, Kingston died surrounded by his family at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital, completing a rich life which saw him smiling to the end.

Max Kingston in 2016 with Judith O’Neill, Penny Spencer and Peter Egglestone.

Everyone, it seems, has a Max Kingston story. Indeed I spoke to him just a few months ago, when he managed to get through the switchboard at travelBulletin HQ for a quick chat. “Bruce, I’m wondering if you can do me a favour,” he said. Having ended a long association with Budget Car Rental in Sydney, he was now between jobs. “Can you let me know if you hear of any vacancies in the industry? I’ll do anything, I’m pretty handy as you know,” he asked – with this conversation coming eight years after we reported on the milestone of his 80th birthday!!

Max Kingston at a 2019 farewell for Tim Harrowell from Emirates (centre) with Joe Brown from The Journey Masters.

Having attempted to quickly piece together his many and varied career roles it seems Max has worked pretty much everywhere. He started in the former Bank of New South Wales Travel Service in 1956, an organisation which ultimately became Westpac Travel. However that was just the start, with his career taking him to postings in London, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane. He also worked at sea aboard Orient Line cruise ships, according to a precis published by Skal International Sydney on his 80th birthday back in 2014. “I think he was my Ansett rep,” one travelBulletin reader mused, while others recalled him spruiking various hotels, airlines or other industry suppliers and products.

This photo from 2013 – when Max was just a spring chicken of 79 – shows him with Russell and Diane Butler as well as Peter Smith.

Skal International was also a huge part of his life, with Kingston a leading light in the industry networking organisation where he became World President in 1992. He maintained his links with Skal to the end, as a regular attendee at events around the globe where he was always quick with a quip and a friendly handshake. Skal International Australia released a statement noting that “Max is known and loved by his many friends around the world…he lived and breathed the friendship that Skal International was built on”.

A famous photo of Skal International Sydney’s Past Presidents, taken in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

One of the touching tributes this week came from UK-based Barrington Carpenter, who told travelBulletin he had first met Max in 1983 in the early years of his own time in the travel industry. “He was a guiding influence for me, as well as a client. That continued through many more meetings and many more years. In truth, his example, his courtesy and decency have been central to my life in travel – a life of 40 years and counting,” Carpenter said.

As for Max’s late-stage job search – yes of course it was successful. Right up to his fall last week he was working in his new role as the Commissionaire at Sydney’s Fullerton Hotel, greeting guests with his characteristic flourish and flair when they emerged from their limousines as they arrived at the door. Another travelBulletin reader noted that some of those arrivals were long-forgotten politicians or celebrities from some years ago – but Max’s seemingly unjaded memory saw him instantly recall them and greet them by name.

Max Kingston with Melinda Brown from SkillsIQ.

Max, you’ll be sorely missed, and industry events just won’t be the same without your friendly face. Another tribute from an industry friend recalled how recently he was describing his new role at the Fullerton, “and we said ‘for Gods sake Max, take a break’, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He said it kept him young”.

That same friend said it well of Max Kingston: “Words cannot express what an incredible man, gentleman and true legend he was. They don’t make them like that any more.”

A funeral will be held for Max Kingston at 2.00pm Thursday 13 October 2022, Macquarie Park crematorium, Magnolia Chapel.

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