IN THE fortnight that followed Ross Turnbull’s dismissal as NRMA president, he made a point of dressing in his best suit and walking through Martin Place to show his friends – and foes – he wasn’t beaten.The man dubbed Sir Lunchalot, who dined in European castles and mixed with the aristocracy, now distributes food to Sydney’s homeless, who once counted him among their number.The downfall of the former Wallaby was one of the most humiliating in corporate history. He was sacked as NRMA president, dismissed from the board, accused of rorting his corporate credit card, declared bankrupt after amassing debts of more than $1 million, and forced to live in a charity hostel for the homeless.The final indignity came when it was revealed a washbag containing Viagra was impounded when he ran up debts at a Sydney hotel. And yet Mr Turnbull is still smiling, adamant he has become a stronger man.”I never thought ‘woe is me’. Never,” he said. ”I tell anyone who thinks they’re a victim to get out of it. Keep moving. Don’t lie down. People who are negative and act like victims I remove from my sphere. My advice is hang in.”His fall came in 2005 when the NRMA sacked him over ”his failure to follow agreed procedures over several months”. His huge credit card debts were a major factor.Today he is adamant he paid for backing the NRMA patrol staff in their enterprise bargaining dispute.”Fundamentally I did the wrong thing and I have no one to blame but myself,” he said. ”The NRMA took on the patrolmen and I was bound by corporate governance to follow the board. It was what the majority wanted. But the patrolmen? I couldn’t do it. They get our wives home, get our kids home safely when their cars breaks down.”To my knowledge there’d never been a complaint made against a patrolman for improper behaviour in its 85-year history.”I created enemies and I paid the consequences but I’d do it again. It would’ve been better for me personally if I didn’t but I had to be able to live with myself.”Mr Turnbull said he soon learnt who his friends were. ”The rugby people looked me in the eye, the politicians did but some businessmen couldn’t,” he said.”I don’t say this to be boastful but it gave me strength because I realised it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about me – it’s what I think about me that counts.”When he realised the end of his NRMA reign was near, Mr Turnbull went to a Circular Quay pub for a drink to work out his next step.”I realised drinking was not going to solve anything so I decided to go to Paris and think,” he said. ”I had millions of [frequent flyer] points but not much money. I flew to Paris for a week and walked for hours every day, just thinking.”Today the front-rower who went on to play a Test for Australia recalls his attitude to being dropped from his club’s rugby team in Newcastle in the 1960s put him in the right frame to keep moving.”After I was dropped I told the captain, ‘Don’t worry I’ll be dropped from better teams than this’ – and I was,” he laughed.He remembers the kindness of strangers and friends. Jeff Gambin from Just Enough Faith stood by him. A police sergeant saved him from further embarrassment during a fare evasion blitz.”I bought the ticket but lost it,” he said. ”I was told by the ticket collector to go to this big sergeant and he looked at me and said I looked like I had a ‘famous’ face. I could picture the headlines but he said, ‘Go, mate.’ All I could say to him was he was a good man.”Details of his financial affairs made daily fodder in the media as, among others, hotel managers, cafe owners, a wine storage company and limousine company lined up to say he owed them money.”I want to pay back the money I [still] owe [people],” he said.”The [NRMA] credit card business was a lot of fluff. I paid it [back], no one lost any money. That was an issue the media blew up because if I’d done anything wrong I would’ve been thrown out of there [immediately].”As for driving chauffeured limousines? ”How do businessmen get around? Froth and bubble.”
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