Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Findlay, Reta Mildred (1893–1954)

by Roger Leong

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Reta Mildred Findlay (1893-1954), businesswoman, was born on 11 July 1893 at Waterloo, Sydney, youngest of four children of native-born parents William James Carrad, bookbinder, and his wife Mary Elizabeth Jane, née Sinclair. Educated at Fort Street Model School, Reta had a passion for the theatre, spent considerable time painting and sketching, read widely in her father's extensive library and designed clothes which she persuaded others to make. On 19 May 1923 she married George Lanark Findlay at St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point. Prompted by the needs of his import business, the couple moved to Melbourne about 1930. Through 'force of circumstances', Reta began work as a commercial artist for a colour-printing and advertising firm, and rapidly rose to publicity manager.

In 1937 she became advertising manager for Georges Ltd, a department store in Collins Street. That year she travelled to Europe to attend fashion showings in London and Paris, and to find new ideas and merchandise. After her return, the store concentrated on retailing the most up-to-date women's fashions, promoting the work of leading European and American designers. The public face of Georges also changed under her direction. The store's logo was redesigned by the sculptor Clifford Last; window displays became elegantly sparse and dramatic; Georges' print advertisements were distinguished by their bold and economic use of artists' sketches and cleverly written copy; and mannequin parades were introduced.

Dissuaded by her employer from leaving Australia permanently, Findlay was sent in 1939 to the United States of America to survey the retail trade. She came back to Melbourne shortly after the outbreak of World War II, organized fund-raising benefits for the Australian Red Cross Society and established a women officers' club at Georges. A committed worker for charity, she was a life governor of the Queen Victoria and (Royal) Children's hospitals.

When, in January 1946, Findlay was appointed associate-director of Georges, she was one of the few female board-members of an Australian public company. During her travels through Europe and the U.S.A. that year, Georges' advertisements featured her 'Air Mail Diary' on a range of topics, including fashion and culture. This novel approach was typical of her talent for creating subtle and effective publicity. In 1949 she acted as general manager of Georges and in September 1950 was made a full director. Next year she left Australia, intending to settle elsewhere; by 1952, however, she had returned to assist with Georges' preparations for the impending royal tour. Her coronation windows drew large crowds of admirers.

Neat and slimly built, Reta was, by her own description, a 'plain' woman. Yet, always impeccably groomed and dressed in the latest fashion, she set the trend for fashion-conscious Melburnians and her outfits often caused a sensation. Her staff knew her as Miss Findlay; her business manner was described as calm and serene. She was, none the less, one who set and achieved her objectives. Blessed with a fertile imagination and a vivacious personality, she could get on with anyone, regardless of background, sex or position. Her flair for fashion promotion, publicity, display and for fostering talent transformed Georges.

Reta Findlay died of atherosclerotic cardiorenal failure on 14 June 1954 in East Melbourne. On 17 June Georges was closed until 1 p.m. while almost all its staff attended her funeral service at St Paul's Cathedral. She was cremated. Her husband survived her; they had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Dunstan, The Store on the Hill (Melb, 1979)
  • People (Sydney), 12 Aug 1953
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 26 June 1946, 15, 18 June 1954, 7 Sept 1956
  • Herald (Melbourne), 29 Apr 1947, 17 Apr, 15, 17 June 1954
  • Argus (Melbourne), 6 Sept 1950, 15 June 1954
  • Age (Melbourne), 15, 16 June 1954
  • private information.

Citation details

Roger Leong, 'Findlay, Reta Mildred (1893–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/findlay-reta-mildred-10181/text17989, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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