Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gerard, Kenneth Edward (Ken) (1912–1993)

by David Cornish

This article was published online in 2018

This is a shared entry with William Geoffrey Gerard

Kenneth Edward Gerard (1912–1993), company director and electrical engineer, and William Geoffrey Gerard (1907–1994), company director, were the third and second sons of South Australian-born parents Alfred Edward Gerard, electrical engineer, and his wife Elsie Maria, née Goodman. Ken, born on 24 February 1912 at Prospect, South Australia, was educated at North Adelaide Primary School and Prince Alfred College.

Geoff was born on 6 June 1907 at Salisbury, South Australia, and was educated at Adelaide Technical High School.

Concerned that the family business in North Adelaide would be unable to support four sons, their father split its manufacturing and wholesaling sections between the boys. Hubert and Jack took over the latter, while Geoff and Ken joined the manufacturing division, which in 1931 was reconstituted as Gerard Electrics Manufacturers Ltd (GEM). Geoff became managing director and, on his father’s death in 1950, succeeded him as chairman. Ken continued studying part time; in 1935 he gained a diploma in electrical engineering from the South Australian School of Mines and Industries (SASMI) and was employed as a lecturer the following year. Appointed a director of GEM in 1938, he became factory manager.

On 10 November 1932, Geoff married Elsie Lesetta, née Lowe at Pirie Street Methodist church. In the same church, on 18 December 1935, Ken married Hestia Mary, née Follett; the marriage would be dissolved in 1974. His training and growing expertise in the field of plastics, combined with his brother’s entrepreneurship, led to GEM becoming a national leader in the field of electrical fittings and plastic moulding. In 1936 the company opened new premises at Bowden. The trade name Clipsal described its main product; clip-on electrical fittings which could fit any size of metal conduit. Wartime brought a significant increase in the company’s sales and a growth in staff numbers to 180. Neither brother served in the armed forces as their occupations were classified as reserved. Recognising the potential for expansion, immediately after the war the company increased its capital from £20,000 to £50,000 by creating new shares for sale to family members. Capacity at Bowden expanded and land was purchased, but increased production was slow because of shortages of building materials and labour. In 1951 a new plastic mouldings plant was constructed. Further growth occurred as the company moved into polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics. By the time Geoff retired in 1976, the Bowden plant covered ten thousand square metres and employed six hundred staff.

Regarded as extremely ambitious and tough, but fair, Geoff was prominent in South Australian and national business affairs. He was appointed CMG in 1963. For more than twenty years he served on the executive of the South Australian and Australian Chamber of Manufactures (president, 1953–54), and was president (1954–55) of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures Australia. He was president (1961–64) of the Liberal and Country League in South Australia and president (1952, 1957) of the Metal Industries Association of South Australia. In 1954 he received its Florence M. Taylor Medal for meritorious service. A foundation Federal councillor of the Electrical Manufacturers of Australia, he was appointed to the council of the Standards Association of Australia and the Commonwealth Immigration Planning Council (1957–68).

Sporting a toothbrush moustache, Geoff loved overseas travel, and also took breaks at the family property at Stirling, and caravan trips with his wife and children. He enjoyed the garden of his Medindie mansion, regular social tennis, and without fail enjoyed a cigar and a glass of whisky before dinner. The Australian American Association (founding member; president, 1961–63), the Rotary Club of Prospect (president, 1953), and the Kooyonga Golf Club (captain, 1953–4, 1976–7) were among the organisations he supported. He chaired South Australia’s Coral Sea Week Committee. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he died at Medindie on 21 February 1994 and was buried at Enfield Memorial Park. 

Ken was mild-mannered and friendly, enjoying golf, food and wine. He served as the first president of the South Australian branch of the Plastics Institute and later as its Federal president (1952–53). Active in the Australian Institute of Metals (president, 1950; vice-president, 1954), he was also a member of the Institution of Engineers Australia and, for over thirty years, was the manufacturers’ representative on the electrical approvals standards committee of Standards Australia. He retained his connection with the SASMI (South Australian Institute of Technology from 1960) as inaugural lecturer in plastics (1944–46), served on its council (1963–84), and was awarded an honorary fellowship in 1986. On 23 March 1974 he married Audrey Gabriel Horowitz in a civil ceremony at Burnside. He was appointed MBE in 1982. A Freemason, he was given the rarely conferred honorary title of past grand master of the Grand Lodge of South Australia. Survived by his wife, two sons and daughter, he died at his home at Medindie Gardens on 3 May 1993 and was cremated.

The brothers’ chief philanthropic activity was their support of service organisations, principally Rotary. Although never a student at Prince Alfred College, Geoff helped form its Foundation and served as inaugural chairman (1974). In 1994–95 Geoff’s son Robert persuaded Gerard Industries to donate a million dollars to build the Clipsal Innovation Centre at the school to commemorate the lives of both Geoff and Ken. The college named a theatre after him, and Ken was memorialised with the Ken E. Gerard Workshop.

Research edited by Kylie Carman-Brown

Select Bibliography

  • Aeuckens, Annely. The People’s University: The South Australian School of Mines and Industries and the South Australian Institute of Technology, 1889–1989. Adelaide: South Australian Institute of Technology, 1989
  • Britton, Heather. The Home of the Trade, 80 Years of Gerard and Goodman. Adelaide: Custom Press, 1997
  • Gerard, Robert. Personal communication
  • Gibbs, R. M. A History of Prince Alfred College. Adelaide: Peacock Publications, 2008

Citation details

David Cornish, 'Gerard, Kenneth Edward (Ken) (1912–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gerard-kenneth-edward-ken-19597/text30934, published online 2018, accessed online 23 May 2019.

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