For 57 years, James "Jim" Glen Service, "Mr Canberra", banker, property expert and company director, was identified with most things commercial and cultural that happened in the national capital. Those who knew him found a tough-minded businessman, conscientious about "giving back", with a wonderful sense of the absurd.
Born on February 9, 1933, son of William Arthur (known as "Pat"), businessman, and Lesley Mary ("Doon") Service, house duties, young Jimmy spent his first four years in Fiji where his father worked for Colonial Sugar Refineries as a buyer of jute - used for sugar bags.
Though educated at Newington College (1945-49), excelling in his studies, winning a string of academic prizes, Jim was, as he said: "... a wild teenager, and I loved the physical life." He worked for two years as a jackaroo at Monwonga Station, a sheep property west of Forbes in NSW, before returning to Sydney, at first at Prouds jewellery. He studied accountancy at night. On September 10, 1955, he married Dorothy Kenny and they raised three sons and one daughter, all of whom worked at different times in the family property business.
His business career followed a steady trajectory. In 1959 he became head accountant at CAGA finance company; in 1963, an executive director of the listed Canberra-based accommodation and restaurant group, Moteliers Ltd.
In 1964, Jim and Dorothy moved their young family to Canberra. He rose to Motelier's chief executive, but later quit when the company was acquired by the ill-fated Mainline building group.
Jim's impact on Canberra was the result of his relentless determination, in building, funding, imagining a modern, lively metropolis; he learnt from others, aspired to assist fledging organisations in the cultural and administrative life of his adopted city.
As the city expanded, in 1969 he formed a property consultancy and construction company with builder Len Goodwin (who died in 1987) and Arthur Kenyon (1926-2015), who owned several pharmacies in Canberra. They developed shopping centres in Canberra, starting with Kippax Fair and Jamieson Centre, then branched out to property project management advisory across Australia and as far as Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
Jim's impact on Canberra was the result of his relentless determination, in building, funding, imagining a modern, lively metropolis.
Jim formed his own business, JG Service Pty Ltd., itself becoming a nationwide (and global, with offices in New Zealand and UK) property advisory and project management business, responsible for many billions in property development and investment.
Both Kenyon and Service were involved in the embryonic Canberra building society movement which became a major force in Canberra's economy. Jim was deputy chair, and then chairman of the Civic Permanent Building Society from 1984 until it was absorbed by the Civic Advance Bank in 1986, which in turn absorbed the Canberra Building Society of which Kenyon was chair from 1964 to 1990. Jim became chair of Advance Bank from 1992 to 1997, thereby becoming the first Canberra businessman to head a major Australian public company.
When I first met Jim, he was seated at the head of the table at the ACTEW Board. I had been warned by the ACT Chief's Minister's departmental head that "Mr Service does not take fools gladly".
But he was always a fair chair. If someone was quiet in a meeting, he would prod them to speak. He wanted all voices heard. He saw that better decisions come from full participation. I was incredibly impressed by the mix of will-power, wisdom, and whimsy. In seeking unanimity, he never gave the time of day to a hazy consensus. Boards were there to guide and assist management make decisions.
At the helm of ACTEW from 1995 to 2008, then the energy JV, ActewAGL, from 2000 to 2008, he picked the two exceptional chief executives of Canberra in modern times - John Mackay and Michael Costello, with the latter succeeding the former as chief executive of ACTEW then of ActewAGL. A few years after ActewAGL's formation, government coffers flushed with a $350 million equalisation payment, the ACT government's share of dividends was greater than when everything was in 100 per cent government control, with either the lowest or close to lowest utility charges of any comparable organisation in Australia.
In Who's Who, Jim listed his recreations as travel and art. Examples of his extensive patronage included Canberra Floriade and the Bundanon Trust formed in 1993 when the Australian government accepted the gift of properties (1000ha) on the Shoalhaven River, from the Australian artist Arthur Boyd and his wife Yvonne.
Jim served as chairman of the National Museum of Australia (1996-99), chairman of the Canberra Theatre Trust (1993-95), and chairman of the National Gallery of Australia Foundation (1994-96). There were so many boards he participated in, patiently shaping, and providing leadership to an interesting city in-the-making: Canberra - far too many to roll-call.
He was long-time chairman of the Salvation Army Advisory Board, patron of the Spirit of Calvary Hospital capital development campaign and supported many major charity fundraising campaigns in Canberra.
In 2001 he was named Canberran of the Year by the ACT government. Jim received numerous awards including being made a member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1990 for service to the community, receiving the 2001 Centenary Medal for service in developing Australia's construction industry, and in 2004, being made an officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for service to business and to the community particularly through support for arts, cultural and charitable organisations.
With Dorothy, his wife of 66 years, they enjoyed ribbing each other in case either one got too serious. Theirs was a joyous dynamic. Jim Service is survived by her, their children James, Catherine, Adrian, and Robert, their partners, and seven grandchildren, and a brother David.
- Dr Michael Easson AM served on the boards of ACTEW, ActewAGL, Barclay Mowlem, and the EG Perth Rail Link Trust with Jim Service.