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Kilpatrick, Sir William John (Bill) (1906–1985)

by Damian Veltri

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

Sir William John (Bill) Kilpatrick (1906-1985), businessman and charity-worker, was born on 27 December 1906 at Surry Hills, Sydney, third child of Scottish-born James Parke Scott Kilpatrick, hotel waiter, and his wife Georgina, née Banks, a native of Sydney. Raised in the Wollongong area, Bill left school when his family returned to Sydney in 1920 and began work at Pincombe Ltd, an office equipment supplier. He obtained qualifications in accounting, auditing and commercial law and began a rapid rise in the firm: appointed company secretary and assistant-manager in 1927, he moved to Melbourne in 1933 as director and manager of its Victorian and Tasmanian branch. On 29 October 1932 at St David’s Presbyterian Church, Haberfield, Sydney, he married Alice Margaret Strachan, a typist.

Enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force on 23 February 1942, Kilpatrick was commissioned next month. He was employed as an identification officer in a number of fighter sectors in the South-West Pacific Area and as a personnel officer at headquarters, Southern Area, Melbourne. In January 1945 he was promoted to acting squadron leader. His appointment was terminated on 15 June that year.

In 1946 Kilpatrick established his own import company, Business Equipment Holdings Pty Ltd, an enterprise which, when acquired by Litton Industries Inc. of the United States of America in 1965, employed a thousand people in thirty offices across Australia. His other business interests included investments in urban land, beef and dairy properties in Victoria and New South Wales, and the plastics industry. Deciding to work part time in 1955, he devoted his extraordinary drive to community service and charity work. That year he organised Operation Gratitude to raise funds for war veterans’ and war nurses’ homes. He served as treasurer of the Victoria Promotion Committee and as a Melbourne city councillor (1958-64).

Kilpatrick made his greatest and most enduring contributions, however, as a health campaigner and fund-raiser for medical research. A member of the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria (1957-76) and chairman of several of its committees, he was founding president of the Australian Cancer Society (1961-64, 1974-77). As world chairman (1962-74) of the International Union Against Cancer’s finance council, he travelled widely. In 1960-64 he was the first vice-president of the National Heart Foundation of Australia and in 1970-72 chairman of the National Drug Education Committee.

To support these causes, Kilpatrick introduced the door-knock concept from the United States of America and directed the three largest charity appeals attempted in Australia: the 1958 Anti-Cancer Campaign, which raised £1,350,000; the 1961 National Heart Appeal (£2,562,745); and the Winston Churchill Memorial Appeal of 1965, which nearly doubled its target of £1 million to support the trust of which Kilpatrick was founding national president (1965-80) and patron (1980-85). Praised in the Age in 1964 as a man of `great humanity, tireless energy, constructive thinking, inspired leadership and outstanding organising ability’, he was appointed CBE (1958), KBE (1965) and AC (1981). In 1977 he was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws by the University of Melbourne.

Modest, gracious, persistent and persuasive, Sir William lived at Toorak and enjoyed golf and swimming. He suddenly became ill while attending an NHF meeting in Canberra, where he died on 25 May 1985. Survived by his wife, a partner in his philanthropic work, and by their three daughters and son, he was cremated. A portrait by Sir William Dargie is privately held.

Select Bibliography

  • Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria, Annual Report, 1985, p 36
  • Herald (Melbourne), 7 Sept 1961, p 12
  • Age (Melbourne), 22 May 1964, p 2, 27 May 1985, p 6
  • Canberra Times, 27 May 1985, p 7.

Citation details

Damian Veltri, 'Kilpatrick, Sir William John (Bill) (1906–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kilpatrick-sir-william-john-bill-12738/text22977, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 1 August 2014.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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

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