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Australia bestows honor on Sembler

By MARY EVERTZ, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 14, 2000

When President George Bush named Mel Sembler to the post of ambassador to Australia, he knew his longtime friend would do an outstanding job. And he did, so much so that Queen Elizabeth II and the Australian government have just honored him with one of the highest awards that country and her majesty bestow -- the Order of Australia.

Sir William Deane, Australia's governor, announced the award last Monday. The Order of Australia was instituted by Queen Elizabeth as an Australian society of honor for the purpose of according recognition to Australian citizens and others for achievement or for meritorious service.

The order is made up of the sovereign, the governor general of Australia, Prince Charles and such members and honorary members as the governor general appoints -- with the queen's approval.

There are several designations within the order, and Sembler has been selected an honorary officer (AO) general division. So when his name is mentioned in an official capacity -- it will be Ambassador Mel Sembler, AO.

As an officer, Sembler will receive an insignia medal designed in the livery colors of the Australian Coat of Arms -- gold and blue. It is a simple but handsome convex golden disc with a rich texture of beads and radiating lines accentuating a ring of blue enamel representing the surrounding sea. The disc is surmounted by an enameled crown signifying the position of the sovereign as head of the order. The gold/blue theme is continued in the ribbon.

While Sembler hasn't heard from the queen, he has received congratulations from his many friends from Down Under, including one from Prime Minister John Howard. "You have made a wonderful contribution to the relationship between Australia and the United States, both as ambassador and in subsequent years . . . this award symbolizes our deep appreciation of it," says Howard.

The award was particularly special this week as Sembler marked his 70th birthday on Wednesday. After breakfast with sons Steve, Brent and Greg Wednesday morning, Sembler and wife Betty flew to Washington. His sons' gift to their dad -- a green Mercedes sports convertible.

Sembler is national finance chairman of the Republican Party.

He is also president of the Sembler Co., which is doing the downtown St. Petersburg revitalization project of movie theaters and a shopping complex, BayWalk.

Sembler, who is in the throes of political fund raising, doesn't yet know when he will be bestowed with his new honor. He will either receive it in Australia or from Australian Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Thawley.

Dwight's night

Former Yankee pitcher Dwight Gooden, who is now taking the mound for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, was back at his old New York haunts Monday night. Gooden pitched the opening of the Rays' three-game series at Yankee Stadium.

After the game, Gooden, who lives in St. Petersburg, caught up with his mentor Ray Negron for dinner at DaTommaso restaurant in Manhattan. Negron, who gets MVP status in Gooden's book, Heat, was employed by Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner as a consultant when Gooden was with the team. Negron followed Gooden to the Cleveland Indians and has stayed with that club, running their substance-abuse program.

Gooden treated his daughters' classmates from Canterbury School and their parents to the Rays-Blue Jays game Saturday at Tropicana Field.

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