Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kennedy, Eric Thomson (1897–1974)

by Stuart Inder

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Eric Thomson Kennedy (1897-1974), journalist and newspaper executive, was born on 1 March 1897 at Albury, New South Wales, elder son of native-born parents James Kennedy, drover, and his wife Charlotte, née Thompson. Educated at country schools and—after his parents separated—in Sydney, Eric was employed as a clerk. On 8 September 1915 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He served on the Western Front with the 5th Field Artillery Brigade (1916-18) and at General Headquarters (1918-19), rose to temporary staff sergeant (1918), was mentioned in dispatches and was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal (1919).

Discharged in Sydney on 18 January 1920, Kennedy joined the Sunday Times as a junior reporter before moving to the Evening News in 1921. At St Paul's Anglican Church, Rose Bay, on 21 January 1922 he married Gwendolen Bartley Hughes. In 1924 he accepted an advertising post in Melbourne with the Evening Sun. He enjoyed combining his journalistic experience with advertising, and when the Evening Sun failed in April 1925 he returned to Sydney as advertising representative and motor editor for Sir Hugh Denison's Sun. In 1934 Sir Keith Murdoch attracted Kennedy back to Melbourne as assistant general manager of the Herald. Appointed advertising-manager of Denison's Associated Newspapers Ltd in 1937, Kennedy was welcomed back to Sydney with a dinner. His Herald colleagues telegraphed: 'We have lost a good bloke and you have got him. Treat him well. They are scarce'.

The good bloke became chief executive-officer of Associated Newspapers in 1942 and managed the group until 1953. 'E.K.' extended his extraordinarily wide range of friends and contacts, who kept him well-informed on local and national affairs. He and his wife were part of the Sydney social scene. A confident, self-made man, physically imposing, he was cheerful and fit, and enjoyed golf, tennis and swimming. Tolerant, readily offering sound counsel, he was also a witty companion and conversationalist.

Kennedy was chairman (1942-46) of the Audit Bureau of Circulations, a member (1942-45) of the Commonwealth's Press Censorship Advisory Committee, a director (1942-53) of Australian Associated Press Pty Ltd and an executive-member (1950-51) of the Commonwealth Jubilee Celebrations Council. He was president (1947-49) of the Australian Newspaper Proprietors' Association, having been warmly nominated by R. A. G. Henderson, general manager of John Fairfax & Sons Pty Ltd, who publicly praised his 'capacity and wisdom'. But in 1953, following the Fairfax takeover of Associated Newspapers, Henderson decided there was no room either for Kennedy's capacity or his wisdom.

Using his generous payout to develop a successful public relations consultancy, Kennedy remained active—president (1960-66) of the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association, vice-chairman (1963-74) of St Luke's Hospital board, a committee-member of the Australian-American Association, and a member of the Australian, American National and Australian Golf clubs. He died on 5 January 1974 while playing golf at Elanora Country Club and was cremated; his wife and daughter survived him. An old colleague Jim Macdougall wrote in his Daily Mirror column, 'In a savagely competitive world of newspapers, Eric Kennedy had too much humanity, too much kindness'.

Select Bibliography

  • Newspaper News (Sydney), 10 Dec 1947
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Aug 1942, 21 Nov 1947, 3 June 1950, 9 Jan 1974
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 7 Jan 1974
  • Wentworth Courier, 16 Jan 1974
  • Kennedy papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Stuart Inder, 'Kennedy, Eric Thomson (1897–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kennedy-eric-thomson-10718/text18989, published in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 1 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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