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CMRI acknowledges passing of philanthropist James Fairfax

The staff of Children’s Medical Research Institute (CMRI) is saddened by the passing of philanthropist, James Fairfax, who died at his home at Retford Park in Bowral on 11 January, 2017.

Among many things, Mr Fairfax was one of the founders of Children’s Medical Research Foundation (CMRF), established in 1958, which later became CMRI. For the remaining 59 years of his life, he was unwavering in his support. From 1967 – 1985 he sat on the Management Committee of CMRF, and was a Board member of the incorporated CMRF/CMRI from 1985 – 1989.

The Premier, Jill Dunlop, James Fairfax, John Dunlop & Prof. Peter Rowe.

Mr Fairfax’s support was noted in his financial contributions to CMRI. He donated a total of almost $5 million from 1962 – 2001. As a result of his donations from 1962, the James Fairfax Surgical Research Unit was established in 1963. Dr Robert McMahon was appointed as the first James Fairfax Surgical Research Fellow to head up the unit in 1964. It’s understood CMRI Founder, Sir Lorimer Dods, had treated and cured Mr Fairfax as a child for a medical condition, and that is where his interest in medical research was born.

Former CMRI staffer, Stephen Ryall, worked closely with Mr Fairfax, describing him as a quiet and humble man, yet one who had an aura of authority with a real sense of true philanthropy about him. “James never sought recognition for his contributions to CMRI and in fact requested us not to make a big deal of it - though it was a very big deal to us! This is the heart of a true philanthropist,” Mr Ryall said.

His spectacular philanthropy support for medical research, education facilities, conservation organisations and visual arts overshadowed his lengthy career in media. Mr Fairfax served as Director on the Fairfax board from 1957 – 1987, and held the position of Chairman from 1977 – 1987.

“He was there at the very beginnings of the CMRF and felt it was ‘his research foundation’, as he believed it was he who first put the idea into Sir Lorimer's mind to establish such an organisation (the first of its kind in Australia). And, of course, it was his Fairfax organisation through Channel 7, the Sydney Morning Herald and 2GB that enabled that first public appeal via Australia's very first telethon to occur in August 1958,” Mr Ryall said. “His influence in the media world and social circles really set the CMRF on solid ground and then with Sir Lorimer’s charisma, passion for medical research and his influence in wide circles of life (from our fundraising committees right through to the then Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies), the CMRF's future was secure.”

Mr Fairfax generosity was acknowledged in 2010 when he was made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) for “eminent service to the community through support and philanthropy for the visual arts, conservation organisations and building programs for medical research and educational facilities”.

Mr Fairfax is survived by his half-brothers, Warwick and Charles Fairfax, his half-sisters, Annalise Thomas and Anna Clearly, and his stepmother, Lady Mary Fairfax.

Mr Fairfax’s backing of medical research was unwavering, financially supporting CMRI’s research from its beginning until now. He has created a legacy that will continue to support scientists at CMRI and enrich the lives of Australians.

He was 83.

CMRI Director Professor Roger Reddel also acknowledged the legacy left behind by Mr. Fairfax directly in a letter to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, as seen below.