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Groom, Sir Thomas Reginald (1906–1987)

by John Laverty

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Sir Thomas Reginald Groom (1906-1987), accountant, businessman and lord mayor, was born on 30 December 1906 at Teneriffe, Brisbane, second child of Victorian-born Roy Graeme Groom, accountant and auditor, and his Brisbane-born wife May Augusta, née Bourne. Reginald was educated at Brisbane Grammar School and the University of Queensland (BA, 1928; B.Com., 1932). An outstanding oarsman, he won a university Blue in 1925. He was president of the University of Queensland Union in 1928. Excelling at his accountancy studies, he won the Murphy memorial prize for the best pass in Queensland in both the intermediate and final examinations in accountancy and auditing. Admitted as an associate-member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia in 1931, he became a fellow in 1939. On 7 January 1932 at Ann Street Presbyterian Church, Brisbane, he married Jessie Mary Grace Butcher. That year he joined his father’s accountancy firm, R. G. Groom & Co., and was soon a senior partner. He was managing director (1938-58) of Unit Trusts Ltd and a board-member (1948-56) of General Rubber Co. Ltd.

An interest in community affairs, and knowledge of the operations of the Brisbane City Council gained while auditing its accounts, prompted Groom to contest the Ithaca ward, representing the Citizens’ Municipal Organization, in the municipal elections of 1943. He won what had been an Australian Labor Party stronghold; however, when he stood in the 1944 State election, in the same constituency, as the candidate for (Sir) John Chandler’s newly formed Queensland People’s Party, he failed to unseat Labor’s Ned Hanlon. After his father died, in 1946, he temporarily retired from municipal politics to concentrate on his business activities. He won the Sherwood ward for the CMO in 1952; elected Opposition leader in council, he was subsequently selected as the CMO’s candidate for the lord mayoralty. In 1955 the organisation won fourteen of the twenty-four seats, partly due to the `training school’ for CMO candidates that he had set up in 1953 and partly because of a split in the municipal Labor ranks.

Groom was elected lord mayor. In his campaign he had promised to bring efficiency and business management to the city administration and to implement a program of `balanced development’. In a city where the population was expanding rapidly and sub-division of land on its fringes was continuing unabated, this was a tall order, especially as experience since World War II had shown that the council lacked the financial resources to meet the challenges such growth presented. The administration was hamstrung from the beginning by a Commonwealth credit `squeeze’ that severely restricted the availability of loan funds. The bulk of the capital raised was used to continue construction of the Tennyson powerhouse; to develop water supply facilities at Mount Crosby, ring-water-mains and service reservoirs; and to duplicate and extend sewerage mains. Mounting public transport losses also continued to eat into council revenues, despite the implementation of cost-saving measures.

During Groom’s second term (1958-61) the imposition of more stringent requirements on land developers released funds for electricity, water supply and sewerage purposes, but a serious backlog in road development occurred. He took steps to develop a new town plan. The council’s continued financial impotence provided the State government with the opportunity to take over the council’s electricity undertaking and to create a regional water authority. Although Groom was a careful and astute businessman, as lord mayor he was unable to deal effectively with the city’s financial and developmental problems. Influenced by his wife and dominated by the town clerk, J. C. Slaughter, he sometimes ignored the sound advice of his fellow aldermen and departmental officers. At the 1961 election Clem Jones and his Labor team comprehensively defeated him and the CMO. Jones’s subsequent success as lord mayor, however, was partly based on completing civic works initiated during Groom’s term.

Knighted in 1961, Groom became the senior partner in the chartered accounting firm Groom Sanderson & Co. and later, on amalgamation in the mid-1970s, a partner in Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. His six years as lord mayor had given him a public profile and managerial experience that were to stand him in good stead for his future career: he was a member (1961-75) of the Australian National Airlines Commission (operating as Trans-Australia Airlines) and a councillor (1963-79) of the Australian Administrative Staff College, Mount Eliza, Victoria. He was chairman of Brolite Industries Ltd (1959-72), a director of Fire Fighting Enterprises Ltd (1961-71), Mount Isa Mines Ltd (from 1970 M.I.M. Holdings Ltd) in 1962-77, Besser Vibrapac Masonry (Qld) Ltd (1963-71), the Commonwealth Banking Corporation (1964-74), Consolidated Rutile Ltd (1966-77) and P & O Australia Ltd (1973-77). He was also on the boards of several unlisted companies.

Groom was president (1943) of the local Rostrum club, a member of the Brisbane and South Coast Hospitals Board, a councillor of the Presbyterian and Methodist Schools Association, a governor (1977-78) of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, a member (1977-79) of the Queensland Local Government Grants Commission, and chairman (1978) of the golden jubilee committee of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia (Queensland section). He was also a member of the Johnsonian (Brisbane), Athenaeum (Melbourne) and Union (Sydney) clubs.

Standing just over six feet (183 cm) tall and weighing fifteen stone (95 kg), Sir Reginald was an imposing, courteous and dignified man, not given to indulging in personalities or aggrandisement. Both associates and opponents considered him a gentleman. He retired from his accountancy practice in 1978 and from professional life altogether after he suffered a stroke the following year. A tennis player in his younger days, he later preferred surfing, fishing and golf. Survived by his wife and their two sons and two adopted daughters, he died on 28 June 1987 at the property of his elder son at Guyra, New South Wales, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Greenwood and J. Laverty, Brisbane 1859-1959 (1959)
  • J. R. Laverty, `Greater Brisbane in Retrospect’, Brisbane Retrospect (1978)
  • J. R. Cole, Shaping a City (1984)
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 23 Feb 1944, p 3, 18 Apr 1961, p 2, 30 June 1987, p 9
  • Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 29 July 1973, p 20
  • Brisbane City Council minutes, 1955-61 (Brisbane City Council Archives).

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Citation details

John Laverty, 'Groom, Sir Thomas Reginald (1906–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/groom-sir-thomas-reginald-12569/text22631, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 23 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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