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Charles Benyon Lloyd Jones (1932–2010)

by Mark McGinness

Charles Lloyd Jones had the honour, and misfortune, to be the last member of his family to preside over David Jones, one of Australia's oldest companies and the oldest department store in the world to go on continuously under the same name. From 1838 until 1980, a Jones had led the firm. During his lifetime, Lloyd Jones saw all of Sydney's large family-run stores founder. With John Walton, he was the last of Sydney's department store scions.

Charles Lloyd Jones Senior was a modest, self-deprecating and immensely likeable man. "I am just a simple draper," he would say. When once the butler insisted those ''in trade'' could not use the front door, he countered, "Well, I had better start using the back door then."

He was as much artist as businessman, having trained at Julian Ashton's art school when young. He co-founded the Art in Australia quarterly, became a patron and painted landscapes. Sir William Dobell was a family friend, producing portraits of most of the family, and an early influence on the young Charles.

Charles Benyon Lloyd Jones was the second son of Charles Lloyd Jones and his third wife, Hannah Benyon Jones. Hannah was a force of nature. She was born in Wales, the last of 13 children of a steelmaker, and fell in love with the chairman of David Jones. They married in Chicago in 1929, a week after his divorce in Reno, Nevada.

The year after Charles's birth, in 1932, his parents purchased Rosemont, Woollahra's grandest house, from the family of the poet Dorothea Mackellar. It was Charles's home for 50 years and, throughout Hannah's half-century reign, the centre of the most august social activity in Sydney's history other than Government House. As Valerie Lawson recalls in her fascinating account of the era, Connie Sweetheart, Hannah was ''Lady Bracknell played by Edith Evans''. With eyes closed and arms outstretched, she greeted guests such as the Menzies and the Caseys; Danny Kaye and Cecil Beaton; Pucci and Gucci; Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein.

Charles followed his brother, David, as a boarder at Cranbrook School. They begged mother, when she called, to wait around the corner with her chauffeur in the Rolls, rather than come into the school. Charles studied arts at Sydney University and applied psychology at the University of NSW – failing both, possibly because he was away when exams were on. He did his national service at Ingleburn and Singleton, where he was assigned to stores.

He entered the business in 1952. Years later he took delight in the faded blue employment card from his vacation job in 1951. "Ability, conduct and attendance good. A very promising lad. Keenly interested, would re-engage." He spent a year at Bullock's in Los Angeles ("it was impossible to do any training in a business where your father was God") and on return to Sydney became advertising manager of the Market Street store.

On their father's death in 1958, David became chairman. Charles had become a director the year before. The brothers got on well and met twice weekly for dinner. Then, in March 1961, David, within weeks of being diagnosed with cancer, died aged 30. ''Mr Charles'' was thrust into the chair.

There was an element of Life with Mother about his situation but he had his own set and social life. The '50s were a golden time. Whenever Lloyd Jones entered the nightclub Prince's, Percy Winnick was instructed to play Mr Wonderful. He fell in and out of love with both genders – one of his loves bore the beguiling name of Blythe Falls. There was a beautiful Italian and Zsa Zsa Gabor took a shine to him, but marriage was not in his nature and as David had two sons, there was no dynastic necessity. He remained unwed.

Lloyd Jones was credited with the adoption of the distinctive DJs houndstooth livery (inspired by a bottle of Miss Dior his mother had) but he also left some substantial legacies. While he was chairman, David Jones Properties was established and the David Jones Awards for Fashion Excellence, which led to the present Australian Fashion Awards. David Jones expanded into other states and, with the purchase of Buffums, to the West Coast of America. The David Jones Food Hall was opened in Market Street, changing the gastronomic life of the city. For more than a decade he served as a councillor and sometime president of the Australian Retailers Association.

He also assumed responsibilities outside the firm. He served on the board of Sydney Hospital for 18 years and during the redevelopment of the Sydney Eye Hospital. He was appointed to the first board of the State Pollution Control Committee, serving for four years. He was a member of the Darling Harbour Authority. For seven years he was governor of London House, which provides accommodation for overseas students in Britain.

He was a trustee of the Art Gallery of NSW from 1972 to 1983 and for the last four years he was president when the Bi-centenary wing was planned and the Art Gallery Foundation established. The foundation made him a founding benefactor and he served on its board until 2001.

Like his father, he also promoted the David Jones Art Gallery and did much to raise levels of art appreciation and education in Australia. He was one of the first trustees of the William Dobell Foundation in 1978, and became its chairman in 2002, acquiring art from young students and supporting Art Express, which exhibited the work of HSC students. He was consul- general of Finland from 1972 to 1988 and served in the Italian, French and Finnish chambers of commerce, arranging cultural and consumer exhibitions. He was made an Officer of the Italian Order of Merit and a Commander of the Finnish Order of the Lion; and, in 1978, was appointed CMG in the Queen's Birthday honours.

In 1980, everything had begun to unravel. Adelaide Steamship took control of the company, out of family hands after 140 years. Lloyd Jones remained as (non-executive) chairman for another year before Adsteam foundered. His shares fell from $12 to a few cents. In 1981 Rosemont and some of its fabulous contents were sold. The following year the redoubtable Hannah died. Lloyd Jones spent more time on his farm, Summerlees, in the Yarramalong Valley, where he had bred Murray Greys. In 1992 he sold his Graham Jahn-designed house in Watsons Bay. In time the homestead at Summerlees and much of the land was sold, too, and he moved to a smaller house on 40 hectares. The Rolls and Bentleys, the Dobells and Streetons, Georgian silver, baccarat, Meissen and Staffordshire pottery were all auctioned off.

With his property and most of his possessions gone, Lloyd Jones retained his keen sense of humour, his interest in public life, his prodigious memory, and his legion of friends. His last weeks in a nursing home were grim.

Four of his much-loved father's landscapes hung on the walls around him. He said he had little need for anything else. He was alone when he slipped into unconsciousness and could not be revived.

And yet the abiding image remains of the golden-haired chairman, kindly, courteous, yet rather shy ''Mr Charles'', a flower in his button-hole, immaculately suited and shod, greeting his staff and their customers as they entered ''the most beautiful store in the world''.

His funeral service is on Friday at 12.30pm at All Saints Anglican Church, Woollahra.

Original publication

Citation details

Mark McGinness, 'Lloyd Jones, Charles Benyon (1932–2010)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Jones, Charles Benyon Lloyd

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


2010 (aged ~ 78)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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