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Pyke, Sir Louis Frederick (1907–1988)

by John Foley

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

Sir Louis Frederick Pyke (1907–1988), businessman and charity worker, was born on 21 November 1907 at Prahran, Melbourne, son of Montague Joseph Pyke, a New South Wales-born clerk, and his English-born wife Phoebe, née Marks. Solomon Green was his great-uncle. Educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School to 1923, Louis completed an apprenticeship as a carpenter and joined J. E. Simmie & Co. Pty Ltd, builders. He later described himself as a ‘lousy student’ and a poor carpenter, but from a young age he had loved building: ‘it’s hard work but you can see something positive for your efforts’. Becoming a project manager with Simmie, he worked on large construction jobs in Canberra, including buildings in Civic Centre and the Australian War Memorial. He was made a junior partner in 1939. On 23 November 1936 at the Great Synagogue, Sydney, he married Sierlah Rose Cohen.

Having served in the Citizen Military Forces since 1925, Pyke was mobilised for full-time service on 15 January 1942 as a temporary (later substantive) major, Australian Army Service Corps. He performed staff duties at Army headquarters, then Allied Land Forces headquarters, Melbourne, and was promoted to temporary lieutenant colonel in June. On 27 September 1944 he transferred to the Reserve of Officers.

In 1947, with ‘Jock’ Simmie, Pyke founded and became a director of Pyke-Simmie Pty Ltd. The firm initially built mass-produced, imported prefabricated houses for Victorian Electricity Commission workers, but later extended to general industrial contracting. In 1956 Pyke left to start up on his own account and formed L. F. Pyke & Son Pty Ltd. Costain (Australia) Pty Ltd, which had been trading at a loss, acquired Pyke’s company in 1965 and appointed Pyke managing director. In the post until 1973, and also chairman (1971-77), he turned the construction company around, making profits for nine successive years. Becoming a public company in 1972, Costain moved into coal-mining. Pyke claimed that his success was due mainly to delegating authority ‘all down the line’ and to selecting the right people to fill key jobs. The journalist Russell Barton wrote in 1967 that his ‘down to earth attitude’ and ‘ability to mix with men from executive and Government level right down to the “brickie” and laborer’ made him a popular figure in the contracting business.

A director of several companies, especially after retiring from Costain, Pyke was also a consultant to the Victorian Housing Commission. He was a fellow of the Australian Institute of Management and of the Australian Institute of Building. A member of the South Melbourne Rotary Club from 1962, he was president (1963-73) of the South Melbourne Technical School council.

From 1957, when his wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Pyke was actively involved in the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Victoria; he was a board-member (1974-88) and president (1975-80). He was also vice-president (1974-81) of the society’s national advisory council. Using his business contacts he encouraged influential people to join the society and raised large sums of money. Among those who became active members were Dr Peter Colville, a rehabilitation medicine specialist, the businessman John Studdy, who was New South Wales (1983-98) and national (1979-97) president, and the banker James Wolfensohn, later president of the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies. When Pyke joined the society it had $150 000 in hand and $15 000 in annual income. By 1975 an MS centre had been established at Camberwell, providing medical, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, nursing and home care for patients. Committed to helping severely disabled and dependent sufferers, the society opened accommodation units at Balwyn and Hawthorn in 1977 and at Ivanhoe in 1980. The MS READ-a-thon fundraising program was established in 1978. In 1980 a $2.3 million MS rehabilitation and accommodation unit at St Albans was underway.

A gregarious personality, Pyke was a peerless networker. He was a member of the Naval & Military, Victorian Racing and Melbourne Cricket clubs and of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. From 1961 he farmed land at Cockatoo in the Dandenong Ranges. He was knighted in 1978. Survived by his wife and their daughter and two sons, Sir Louis died on 17 January 1988 at East Melbourne and was buried in Springvale cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at $2 157 645.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian, 9 Dec 1967, p 17
  • Herald (Melbourne), 25 Apr 1970, p 23
  • Newsletter (Multiple Sclerosis Society of Victoria), Autumn 1988, p 1
  • B884, item V145709 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Foley, 'Pyke, Sir Louis Frederick (1907–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pyke-sir-louis-frederick-15577/text26791, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 23 October 2019.

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

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