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Sir Clarence Roy McKerihan (1896–1969)

by Melanie Oppenheimer

This article was published:

Sir Clarence Roy McKerihan (1896-1969), banker and worker for voluntary societies, was born on 6 May 1896 at Tenterfield, New South Wales, fifth child of Edward McKerihan, a draper from Ireland, and his native-born wife Elizabeth Jane, née Gillespie. Educated at Tamworth, Tenterfield and Casino, Roy excelled at all sports, particularly swimming, tennis and cricket. He began work in 1912 as a junior in the Casino branch of the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales and was moved to Grafton in 1913. Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 26 May 1915, he served at Gallipoli with the 4th Battalion, and in Egypt, France and Britain with the Australian Records Section. He rose to warrant officer, class one (1917), and was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal (1919). He was known as the first Australian soldier to climb Mont Blanc, during leave in 1916.

Discharged in Australia on 7 September 1919, McKerihan was soon appointed loans officer at the head office of the Government Savings Bank in Sydney. He was transferred to the rural bank department on its creation in 1921 (chief clerk 1928). On 17 August 1921 he married Dorothy Juanita McCallum at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney. Following the closure of the Savings Bank in 1931, the Rural Bank of New South Wales was formed from its remnants. McKerihan was appointed commissioner of the new bank in 1933 and president in 1934. He guided the bank out of the Depression. Called 'the banker with the human touch', he displayed tact and compassion, as well as a capacity for hard work. He believed that the bank should assist small holders to increase the number and quality of their stock, and chatted with his clients at such events as the Royal Easter Show, which he regularly attended.

During World War II McKerihan was honorary general secretary (honorary federal administrator 1940-46) of the Australian Comforts Fund for servicemen and women. As the key central co-ordinator, he ensured the organization's success by placating the often competing pressures of State and Federal governments and voluntary organizations. He allowed the A.C.F. executive-committee to hold its Sydney meetings in the board-room of the Rural Bank headquarters in Martin Place, and provided clerical and administrative assistance through his staff.

McKerihan was a board-member (from 1938) and president (1945-53) of the Women's Hospital, Crown Street. A public-spirited man, he was active in many organizations, including the Freemasons, the Rotary and Legacy clubs of Sydney, the Big Brother Movement, and the Boy Scouts' and Girl Guides' associations; he also raised money for the St John Ambulance Brigade. He held numerous honorary positions: president of the State branch of the National Trust of Australia, councillor of the Australian-American Association, treasurer of the Australian Association for the United Nations, trustee of Kuring-gai Chase, federal director of the Arts Council of Australia and founder of the War Veterans' Home, Narrabeen. Deeply religious, he was an elder of St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Macquarie Street.

In 1959 McKerihan was criticized for the bank's loans to a failing cement company. When he retired in 1961 the bank had 134 branches across New South Wales. He was awarded King George V's silver jubilee medal in 1935, appointed C.B.E. in 1958 and knighted in 1961. Sir Roy belonged to the Australian, Royal Sydney Golf and Rose Bay Bowling clubs. Survived by his wife and two daughters, he died on 28 December 1969 at St Luke's Hospital, Darlinghurst, and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at $58,733.

Select Bibliography

  • C. O. B. Jackson, Proud Story (Syd, 1949)
  • Banker, May 1961, p 11
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 23 Sept 1956
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Jan 1958, 30 Sept, 5, 22 Oct 1959, 1 Jan 1967, 29 Dec 1969, 4 Jan 1970
  • M. Oppenheimer, Volunteers in Action: Voluntary Work in Australia 1939-1945 (Ph.D. thesis, Macquarie University, 1997)
  • Department of Defence Co-ordination files, A817/1 item 141, McKerihan correspondence Australian Comforts Fund, 1 Jan 1940-31 Dec 1946 (National Archives of Australia)
  • State Bank of New South Wales Archives, Sydney.

Citation details

Melanie Oppenheimer, 'McKerihan, Sir Clarence Roy (1896–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 May, 1896
Tenterfield, New South Wales, Australia


28 December, 1969 (aged 73)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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