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Pearce, Malcolm Arthur Fraser (1898–1979)

by Tony Bott

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

Malcolm Arthur Fraser Pearce (1898-1979), public servant, was born on 19 April 1898 at Kapunda, South Australia, eldest child of James Smith Pearce, accountant, and his wife Elizabeth Ann, née Moyle. His father was a correspondent for the newspaper, the Register; his grandfather James Pearce had been mayor (1868) of Kapunda, and a member of the House of Assembly (1870-75) and the Legislative Council (1877-85). Educated at the local public and high schools, Malcolm began work in 1914 as a junior clerk in the Attorney-General's Department, Adelaide. During World War I he twice tried to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force, but was rejected on medical grounds. After qualifying as an accountant, he was promoted to clerk in April 1920.

At St John's Anglican Church, Adelaide, on 8 December 1922 Pearce married Gladys Myrtle Green (d.1958), a 25-year-old typist; they were to have two children. In 1926 he transferred to the Treasury Department and became confidential clerk to the premier. He worked as personal secretary to five premiers in the years that followed. In 1935 he visited London with (Sir) Richard Butler for the celebrations to mark King George V's silver jubilee. With (Sir) Thomas Playford, he travelled to the United States of America in 1951 for talks on uranium, and to London in 1953 to attend Queen Elizabeth II's coronation at Westminster Abbey. Pearce had been appointed C.B.E. in 1946.

In 1954 he was made under-secretary of the Chief Secretary's Department, clerk of the Executive Council, secretary to the minister of health, and a member of the public debt commission. Honest, conscientious, diplomatic and gifted with an exceptional memory, he developed his own form of shorthand and spoke little of his job. Premiers and ministers trusted him and relied upon him. 'Leave it to George' (Pearce's nickname) became a popular saying. For his work as State director of Queen Elizabeth II's visit to South Australia in 1954, he was appointed C.V.O. He also directed the visit of the Queen Mother in 1958. On 9 July 1959 at St Michael and All Angels Church, Henley Beach, he married Ivy Beatrice Duffy, a 58-year-old widow. She shared his work for charities and proved a capable hostess when he was South Australia's agent-general and trade commissioner in London in 1961-66.

Pearce was a board-member (1937-61) and chairman (1948-61) of the State Bank of South Australia, a justice of the peace (for forty years), president of the Royal Institute of Public Administration, vice-president of the South Australian branch of Meals on Wheels, chairman (1943-61) of the South Australian Symphony Orchestra committee and a member of the State division of the Australian Red Cross Society. He enjoyed bowls, golf, and gardening at his Erindale home. Survived by his wife, and by the son and daughter of his first marriage, he died on 21 November 1979 at the Burnside Memorial Hospital, Toorak Gardens, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1954 (25)
  • Public Service Review (Adelaide), 28 Nov 1942
  • South Australian Year Book, 1966, p 66
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 17 July 1929, 13 June 1946, 18, 19, 23, 25, 26 Mar 1954, 24 Nov 1979
  • News (Adelaide), 19 Feb, 3, 6, 7 Mar 1958.

Citation details

Tony Bott, 'Pearce, Malcolm Arthur Fraser (1898–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pearce-malcolm-arthur-fraser-11358/text20289, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 26 March 2019.

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

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