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Sir Vincent Charles Fairfax (1909–1993)

by Deborah Cameron

from Age

Sir Vincent Charles Fairfax, one of Australia's most generous philanthropists and a former director of several large companies, died in Sydney on Monday night after a long illness.

Beneficiaries of Sir Vincent and his family charity, the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, spoke yesterday of "a lasting indebtedness'' to Sir Vincent.

He backed building projects, research programs, social welfare initiatives as well as organisations such as the Boy Scouts and Outward Bound.

"He put his feelings into action by providing funds,'' a spokesman for the Sydney City Mission, Mr Kenneth Harrison, said. Sir Vincent was an "incredibly humble man who didn't ever want a fuss made about the fact that he had given a lot of money''.

Sir Vincent was also a significant force in some of Australia's largest and most influential companies.

He was a board member of John Fairfax Ltd, publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, and was chairman of AMP and a director of the Bank of New South Wales.

"Apart from his key role in the successful growth of the Fairfax media group, and his many other business and community activities, Sir Vincent served AMP's policy-holders with distinction for 26 years,'' the chairman of the AMP Society, Sir James Balderstone, said.

A former chairman of John Fairfax, Mr James Fairfax, described Sir Vincent as a "much loved cousin and a good friend''.

He said Sir Vincent's role in the newspaper company had perhaps been underestimated but he was "an important figure representing total integrity and a voice for common sense''.

"He gave himself unsparingly and it brought him into the public eye but, in fact, a lot of what he did, he did quietly.'' Sir Vincent, 83, gave away millions, personally and through his family foundation, to organisations such as the University of Western Sydney, the Art Gallery of NSW, the Salvation Army and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Professor Peter Cornish, who holds the Vincent Fairfax Foundation Chair in farming systems at the University of Western Sydney, said that without a $1million donation from the foundation last year his research school would not exist.

During Sir Vincent's 50-year association with the Boy Scout Association, he was instrumental in the organisation becoming independent from its British headquarters.

The Salvation Army division commander for central NSW, Lieutenant-Colonel Neville Brooks, said Sir Vincent's foundation had underwritten the cost of building its Collaroy conference centre, which included the Fairfax Auditorium.

Sir Vincent was a supporter of the personal development organisation Outward Bound, to which his foundation is believed to have given almost $500,000.

He is also believed to have contributed at least $200,000 to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, of which he was a councillor.

Sir Vincent was born into a pastoral family on Marinya, a property in southern Queensland, on 26 December 1909. His father, John Hubert Fraser Fairfax, had moved to the land after working in Sydney and Sir Vincent's mother, Ruth Fairfax, was the daughter of Vincent Dowling, the explorer and pastoralist.

Sir Vincent was educated at Cranbrook, Geelong Grammar and Brasenose College, Oxford, where he graduated in law. After Oxford, he joined the Sydney Morning Herald, becoming advertising manager in 1936 and manager of the London office in 1938.

He served in the AIF during the war and afterwards replaced his father as a director of John Fairfax and Sons.

He left the Fairfax board in 1953 on accepting a directorship with the Bank of NSW, but returned as a director of John Fairfax Ltd, the public company floated in 1956.

Sir Vincent resigned from the Fairfax board in 1987 following Mr Warwick Fairfax's privatisation of the company.

He was created a Knight Bachelor in 1971.

Sir Vincent and his wife, Nancy, married in London in 1939. They had two sons and two daughters. A private cremation ceremony for Sir Vincent will be held in Sydney today and a public thanksgiving service will be held on Monday at St Andrew's Cathedral.

The family has requested that, instead of flowers, donations be sent to the Salvation Army.

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Citation details

Deborah Cameron, 'Fairfax, Sir Vincent Charles (1909–1993)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 July 2024.

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