Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Luxton, Lewis (1910–1985)

by Andrew Lemon

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Lewis Luxton (1910-1985), businessman and sports administrator, was born on 12 September 1910 at Malvern, Melbourne, eldest of four children of Victorian-born parents (Sir) Harold Daniel Luxton, hardware merchant, and his wife Doris Mary, née Lewis.  With family wealth derived from his grandfather Thomas Luxton and consolidated by his father’s business interests, Lewis was educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, where he excelled at sports.  For two consecutive years he was stroke of the MCEGS crew.  Proceeding to the University of Cambridge (BA, 1933; MA, 1960), England, he made his mark rowing for Pembroke College.  He gained a swimming Blue, competed at university games in Germany, and was stroke of the crew that first defeated the University of Oxford and then represented Britain in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

In 1933 Luxton joined the Adelaide office of the Shell Co. of Australia Ltd.  On 8 December 1938 at St John’s Church of England, Halifax Street, he married Mary Varley Harry.  He served in the Militia before transferring to the Australian Imperial Force on 20 May 1940.  Appointed as a lieutenant in the 7th Divisional Petrol Company, he served in Egypt, Greece, Crete and Syria.  In January 1941 he was promoted to captain; he returned to Australia in March 1942.  Attached to the First Australian Army, he graduated from staff school and was made a temporary major in April 1942 and temporary lieutenant colonel the following March.  With New Guinea Force from September 1944 to April 1945, he was involved in planning the Lae, Salamaua, Huon Peninsula and Ramu Valley campaigns.  As a substantive lieutenant colonel from March 1944, he joined the Australia section of the Eighth United States Army at Hollandia in November.  Mentioned in despatches, he transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 1 November 1945 and was appointed OBE in 1947.

Returning to Shell, Luxton moved to Melbourne and became assistant general manager in 1949.  When the company established a local board in 1951, he was appointed a director and, in 1954, first managing director.  In 1961-68 he was the first local chairman of the Shell group of companies in Australia.  Large and confident, he was, according to Robert Murray, 'an ebullient Australian economic nationalist in the way of his time':  never bombastic, he nevertheless developed a reputation as a formidable businessman.

In 1951 Luxton’s father retired from the International Olympic Committee, on which he had served as one of two Australian members since 1933.  The committee named Lewis as his replacement.  It fell to him to address the local squabbling that was undermining preparations for Melbourne’s 1956 games.  Following an ultimatum-laden visit by IOC president Avery Brundage, Luxton became full-time deputy-chairman (1955) of the Olympic Games Organising Committee.  Promoting the games in the United States of America and England as a great amateur event, not a contest for national supremacy, Luxton insisted that 'no one wins the Olympic Games'.  His role in the Melbourne games’ success was recognised when he was appointed CBE in 1957.

Combining business and Olympic commitments, Luxton held directorships in the Australian Wool Board (1966-71) and the National Mutual Life Association (1967-82).  Although retiring from the IOC in 1974, he remained an honorary member and chairman of the Australian Olympic Federation executive.  In 1980 he gave his casting vote against Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser’s forceful proposal to the AOF to join the American boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

In the 1980s Luxton withdrew from most of his public responsibilities but remained a devoted member of the council of Melbourne Grammar until 1983 and donor to its rowing club.  Survived by his wife and their two sons, he died on 9 November 1985 at East Melbourne, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Gordon, Australia and the Olympic Games, 1994
  • R. Murray, Go Well, 2001
  • Herald (Melbourne), 3 July 1931, p 4
  • Herald (Melbourne), 6 August 1931, p 6
  • Herald (Melbourne), 14 April 1955, p 1
  • Herald (Melbourne), 15 September 1955, p 12

Citation details

Andrew Lemon, 'Luxton, Lewis (1910–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/luxton-lewis-14171/text25183, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 16 July 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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