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Sir Stanley Lewis Prescott (1910–1978)

by G. C. Bolton

This article was published:

Sir Stanley Lewis Prescott (1910-1978), university vice-chancellor, was born on 21 March 1910 at Tetbury, Gloucestershire, England, son of John Prescott, pharmacist, and his wife Jessie Mary, née Lamplugh. Stanley was educated at Tetbury Grammar School and at the Victoria University of Manchester (B.Sc., 1932; M.Sc., 1934) where he was Wild prizeman and sub-warden (1934) of Lancashire Independent College. In 1936 he was appointed professor of physiology at the Cheeloo (Shantung Christian) University, Tsinan, China. On 15 September 1937 in Hong Kong he married Monica Mary Job, a medical practitioner.

Following the carnage and disruption caused by the Japanese invasion of China, Prescott became hospital superintendent at Tsinan late in 1938. He sent his wife and son to Sydney in 1941 and followed them four months later. Commissioned in the Royal Australian Air Force on 23 August 1941, he served as a junior intelligence officer. From 1943 to 1945, as squadron leader, he commanded No.1 Flying Personnel Research Unit, Melbourne, which was involved in aviation medicine.

In 1946 Prescott was appointed master of Ormond College, University of Melbourne. He took office as vice-chancellor of the University of Western Australia on 1 April 1953 and presided over a period of unprecedented growth in students, staff, budgets and building. New faculties of medicine, architecture, and economics and commerce were created, and work on the (A. J.) Reid Library was commenced. Determined that the new buildings should harmonize with the Spanish-mission idiom of the university's pre-war core, he persuaded the town-planner Gordon Stephenson in 1958 to act as consultant architect for a revised master-plan. The result was probably Australia's most unified and aesthetically satisfying campus.

Tall, slim and prematurely grey-haired, Prescott looked the diplomat he was. He cultivated amicable relations with the university senate and an able, but combative, professorial board: 'Come, let's not get cross with one another', he would say. Maintaining strong ties with the business community and Rotary, he kept on good terms with leading politicians of both major parties and chaired (1962-64) the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee. His own university escaped much of the student radicalism of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Wider recognition came with Prescott's appointments to the Commission of Enquiry (1957) on the University of Malaya, as chairman (1959) of the Nanyang University Commission, Singapore, as a Commonwealth consultant (1960-71) on the Inter-University Council for Higher Education Overseas and as a member (1967) of Sir Lawrence Jackson's committee on tertiary education in Western Australia.

Appointed O.B.E. in 1958 and knighted in 1965, Prescott suffered a heart attack and took early retirement in 1970. That year the university conferred on him an honorary LL.D. Sir Stanley continued to serve on the board of the Royal Perth Hospital, becoming deputy-chairman (1973) and chairman (1976), and sat on the planning board (1971-73) and senate (1973-76) of Murdoch University. When he visited China in 1975 he was welcomed as an outsider with authentic reminiscences of its pre-revolutionary past. He was stimulated by the experience and began work on a phonetic dictionary of the Mandarin language. Survived by his wife, and their two sons and two daughters, he died of cancer on 14 July 1978 in R.P.H. and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Prescott left the University of Western Australia thriving and well nourished. His leadership was perhaps underestimated because of his preference for operating through a quiet diplomacy at times verging on mandarin subtlety. It was easy to believe the story that he once concluded a testimonial: 'You will be fortunate indeed if you get Dr . . . to work for you'.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Alexander, Campus at Crawley (Melb, 1963)
  • G. C. Bolton and P. Joske, History of the Royal Perth Hospital (Perth, 1982)
  • B. de Garis (ed), Campus in the Community (Perth, 1988)
  • P. Crawford and M. Tonkinson, The Missing Chapters (Perth, 1988)
  • West Australian, 17 July 1978
  • University of Western Australia Archives
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Prescott, Sir Stanley Lewis (1910–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 18 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Stanley Lewis Prescott (1910-1978), by Mark Strizic

Stanley Lewis Prescott (1910-1978), by Mark Strizic

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an12151279, with the permission of Mr Mark Strizic

Life Summary [details]


21 March, 1910
Tetbury, Gloucestershire, England


14 July, 1978 (aged 68)
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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