Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fitzgerald, Sir Adolf Alexander (1890–1969)

by G. H. Burrows and L. Goldberg

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

This is a shared entry with Garrett Fitzgerald

Sir Adolf Alexander Fitzgerald (1890-1969) and Garrett Ernest Fitzgerald (1894-1970), accountants and educators, were born on 26 October 1890 and 30 June 1894 at Collingwood, Melbourne, third and fourth children of Victorian-born parents Michael Fitzgerald, hatter, and his wife Mary Ann, née Cravino.

Alex (he eschewed his first Christian name early in life) showed intellectual promise, winning a scholarship to Box Hill Grammar School where he was captain and dux in 1905. While employed as a clerk in a hardware merchant's firm, he studied accounting, then joined the public accountants Oxlade & Mackie (from 1923 Fitzgerald & Tompson), becoming a partner in 1915. At St Peter's Anglican Church, Eastern Hill, Melbourne, on 18 October 1916 he married Ivy Alice Brunstein. In 1927 Fitzgerald became a councillor of the Commonwealth Institute of Accountants (State president, 1928-30, 1935-37; general councillor, 1936; president, 1940-41). As editor (1936-54) of the Australian Accountant, the official journal of the institute and its successor, the Australian Society of Accountants, he raised the standard of writing and publication.

Fitzgerald had represented his profession in discussions in 1924 with Professor (Sir) Douglas Copland on the proposed introduction of a degree in commerce at the University of Melbourne. When the course began in 1925, he enrolled as one of its foundation students, simultaneously beginning his academic career as an assistant-lecturer in accounting. Graduating among the university's first bachelors of commerce in 1927, he continued to lecture in and direct the accounting courses part time until 1954. He was then appointed Gordon L. Wood professor of accounting, a post he filled with distinction until 1958. His books, Statistical Methods as Applied to Accounting Reports (1940), Analysis and Interpretation of Financial and Operating Statements (1947), Classification in Accounting (with L. A. Schumer 1952) and Form and Contents of Published Financial Statements (with his brother Garrett, 1948) were pioneering efforts in Australian accountancy, while the textbook which he edited, Intermediate Accounting (1948), influenced teachers and students for over twenty years.

In 1936-37 Fitzgerald was a member of the royal commission on water supply in Victoria and in 1939 financial adviser to the State's economic committee of inquiry into the Victorian Railways. In 1941-45 he was a councillor for the City of Box Hill. During World War II he was a member of the Army Accountancy Advisory Panel (1942-43) and of the Capital Issues Advisory Committee (1942-46). After the war he chaired (1945-60) the Commonwealth Grants Commission. His influence—exerted through direct discussions with government officers, through comments in the commission's annual reports, through public addresses which drew attention to advances in accounting generally and existing deficiencies in government accounts, and through the influence of his own teaching—produced considerable improvements in governmental financial reports at both State and Federal levels.

In addition, Fitzgerald was chairman (1953-59) of the Dairy Industry Cost Investigation Committee and a member (1955-69) of the State Electricity Commission; in 1953-55 he was also a member of the Defence Business Board and business adviser to the Department of the Army. In 1959-60 he chaired an inquiry into Post Office accounts and in 1962-65 served on (Sir) Leslie Martin's committee on the future of tertiary education in Australia. Appointed to the Decimal Currency Council in 1957, Fitzgerald was its chairman from 1960. He was a director of numerous companies, and held such varied posts as chairman (1962-65) of the Business Archives Council, Victorian division, member (1960-64) of the Fulbright scholarship advisory committee, and president (1961-65) of the University of Melbourne's Graduate Union.

An able administrator, Fitzgerald delegated tasks to, and inspired loyalty in, those working with him. His personal and professional strengths were punctuality, precision with answers, clarity with staff directions, and careful time-management. Despite his achievements, he was modest and courteous in manner, except when he was involved in barracking for his favourite team—Essendon—in the Victorian Football League. His writing, like his lectures, displayed a clarity and organization of thought and language which had a great appeal and carried conviction to his audience. He was about 5 ft 7 ins (170 cm) tall and slimly built; a portrait painted in 1959 by Jack Carington Smith and held by the University of Melbourne makes him appear more dour than he really was. Fitzgerald was appointed O.B.E. in 1953 and knighted in 1955.

Sir Alexander was the outstanding figure of his time in Australian accounting. He was welcomed as a lecturer throughout Australasia by practitioners as well as academics, to whose notice he brought the latest overseas developments. While most of his contemporaries still looked to England for professional guidance and example, he was aware of more progressive developments in North America. In 1966 he retired from the accountancy firms Fitzgerald, Gunn & Partners and Fitzgerald, Gunn & Solomon. Next year the Australian Institute of Management awarded him its (Sir) John Storey medal. Predeceased by his wife (d.1964) and survived by their three daughters, he died on 22 August 1969 at Box Hill and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at $141,631.

Alexander's younger brother Garrett left school at 14 to work as a clerk in an insurance company. On 8 October 1915 he married Flossy Heather Maddick with Presbyterian forms at Collingwood; they were to have one child before being divorced in 1930. Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 3 March 1916, he served (from November) with the 38th Battalion on the Western Front. He was commissioned in May 1917, wounded in action that month and invalided to England; promoted lieutenant in September, he rejoined the battalion three months later. In March 1918, near the Somme, he led a patrol which killed or captured more than thirty enemy soldiers without the loss of any of his men. His A.I.F. commission terminated in Australia on 23 December.

After the war Garrett Fitzgerald worked in the Taxation Department while studying accounting. He became an employee in his brother's firm in the early 1920s and a partner in 1930. Having graduated from the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1926; B.Com., 1927), he tutored and then lectured in accounting at the university from 1927 to 1947. With A. E. Speck, he co-authored Accounts of Holding Companies (1946). At St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Box Hill, on 19 March 1931 he had married Maude de Pelsenaire, a clerk. He was a councillor for the City of Heidelberg in 1938-48 and in 1950-52 (mayor, 1945-46). Mobilized in the Militia in 1939, he served until 1942, rose to temporary lieutenant colonel and was assistant director, ordnance services, 4th Division.

In 1942 Fitzgerald was elected to the Victorian council of the Commonwealth Institute of Accountants (State president, 1946-47). As a member (from 1950) and president (1951-52) of the general council, he was instrumental in the merger with other professional bodies to form the Australian Society of Accountants (now the Australian Society of Certified Practising Accountants); he was president (1955 and 1956) of the A.S.A.'s general council and State president (1964). He spent much time and energy in trying to achieve a co-ordinated accountancy profession and to establish its statutory recognition.

Federal, State and municipal governments also benefited from his services: he was commissioner (1945-48) of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, a member of committees of inquiry into salaries and allowances of State (1954, 1964) and Federal (1955, 1959) parliamentarians, chairman (1956) of a committee of inquiry into the Victorian Housing Commission and auditor (1958-60) of the City of Melbourne.

Five ft 4 ins (163 cm) tall and solidly built, Fitzgerald was good-humoured, and fond of telling jokes and stories. He was a devotee of the performing arts, an opera-lover and a patron of the National Theatre movement. If somewhat more outgoing than his brother, he was no less modest about his own achievements. Tolerant of different views, and patient and understanding with his clients, he was not always punctual and sometimes worked intermittently, but he completed most assignments on time. He was appointed C.M.G. in 1965 and retired in the following year. Survived by his wife, their son and daughter, and by the son of his first marriage, he died on 5 October 1970 in East Melbourne and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • R. J. Chambers, L. Goldberg and R. L. Matthews (eds), The Accounting Frontier (Melb, 1965)
  • G. H. Burrows, 'Glimpses of A. A. Fitzgerald', in J. St G. Kerr and R. C. Clift (eds), Essays in Honour of Louis Goldberg (Melb, 1989)
  • Australian Accountant, 39, Oct 1969, p 453, 40, Nov 1970, p 61
  • University of Melbourne Gazette, Nov 1969
  • Herald (Melbourne), 10 Feb 1955, 26 July 1960, 13 July 1966, 1 Aug 1968, 22 Aug 1969
  • Age (Melbourne), 27 Aug 1960, 25 May 1967, 22 Mar 1968, 23 Aug 1969
  • private information.

Citation details

G. H. Burrows and L. Goldberg, 'Fitzgerald, Sir Adolf Alexander (1890–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fitzgerald-sir-adolf-alexander-10191/text18007, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 24 October 2014.

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

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