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Grey-Smith, Sir Ross (1901–1973)

by Andrew Lemon

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

Sir Ross Grey-Smith (1901-1973), solicitor and racing administrator, was born on 22 July 1901 at St Kilda, Melbourne, fourth child of Victorian-born parents Francis Grey Smith, solicitor, and his wife Sybella Ann, née Ross. Francis was the third son of Francis Grey Smith. From 1911 Ross spent ten years at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, not leaving until the age of 20 because of his value as an oarsman—he was captain of boats in 1920-21. He completed the articled clerks' course at the University of Melbourne, was admitted to the Bar on 1 June 1926 and joined his father as a solicitor in Frank Grey Smith & Son.

As a student, Ross had found time to excel in sport. He was a member of the Commonwealth Golf Club's pennant team in 1922, and was accomplished at tennis and shooting. Later he took to more expensive hobbies, including aviation, and was a committee-member (1931-32) of the Royal Victorian Aero Club. This interest was soon displaced by hunting: he joined the Melbourne Hunt Club and by 1932 belonged to the committee of the Oaklands Hunt Club. At Christ Church, South Yarra, on 14 January that year he married with Anglican rites Bettine Alberta, daughter of Charles Fairbairn. She, too, was an enthusiastic and competent rider. In 1935 they won a steeplechase at Flemington with their hunter, Blue Boy.

The hunt clubs were enmeshed in the network which dominated the administration of horse-racing in Melbourne, and in 1935 Grey Smith was invited to join the committee of the Moonee Valley Racing Club. Three years later he resigned to contest a vacancy on the committee of the ruling Victoria Racing Club. Against two older candidates, he won by one vote, his prestige boosted by the timely win of his colt, Tactical, in the 1938 Ascot Vale Stakes. He raced his horses in partnership with his wife Betty, her brother James Valentine Fairbairn and Fairbairn's wife Peggy.

Commissioned on 2 July 1940 in the Administrative and Special Services Branch of the Royal Australian Air Force, Grey-Smith—as he had styled himself from about 1936—was chief instructor at the School of Administration, Laverton. He served at bases in New Guinea, the Netherlands East Indies and Borneo, rose to temporary squadron leader and was demobilized on 30 October 1945. During World War II he remained a nominal member of the V.R.C. committee and in 1942 High Road, which he owned with his wife, had won the V.R.C. St Leger Stakes.

After the war Grey-Smith took an interest in several charitable organizations, among them the Old Colonists' Association (president 1948-49), the (Royal) Children's Hospital and the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind; his wife was treasurer of the Queen Victoria Hospital, vice-president of the Isabel Henderson Free Kindergarten and a committee-member of the Royal Academy of Dancing. Although he resumed his legal practice, became vice-chairman of the jewellers, William Drummond & Co. Ltd, and presided over the Society of Notaries in 1960-62, his main interest remained the V.R.C. He was vice-chairman in 1959 and succeeded Sir Chester Manifold as chairman in 1962. Throughout his seven years in the chair, Grey-Smith devoted time and energy to staunching the decline in racecourse attendances that stemmed from the introduction of legal off-course betting. In 1960 he had chaired a promotions sub-committee which successfully organized the centenary celebration of the Melbourne Cup and which saw the beginnings of commercially sponsored races in Australia. He also lobbied effectively for the establishment of the Racecourses Development Fund; it channelled money from the Totalisator Agency Board into the provision of improved facilities at racecourses. In 1966 he was knighted.

Sir Ross remained a committee-member of the V.R.C. until his death. A tall and stately man, carefully groomed, he looked well in morning dress on opening days of the annual spring carnival. In some quarters he had a reputation for abruptness, but Keith Dunstan fairly said: 'He had the marvellous ability of being able to maintain firm control, yet get on with people—indeed, everybody he met'. Grey-Smith and his wife had no children and lived quietly at South Yarra in the company of their beloved dogs. Survived by his wife, he died on 14 July 1973 in Melbourne and was cremated. A portrait by Harold Freedman is included in the History of Racing mural at Flemington Racecourse.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. Grant, 500 Victorians (Melb, 1934)
  • Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Liber Melburniensis (Melb, 1965)
  • D. L. Bernstein, First Tuesday in November (Melb, 1969)
  • J. Pacini, A Century Galloped By (Melb, 1988)
  • Age (Melbourne), 14, 17 May 1938, 28 Aug 1962, 23 July 1969, 16 July 1973
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne),16 July 1973.

Citation details

Andrew Lemon, 'Grey-Smith, Sir Ross (1901–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/grey-smith-sir-ross-10366/text18361, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 28 July 2017.

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

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