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KENNY John Willoughby (1920-2002)

John Kenny.

John Kenny.

KENNY John Willoughby (1920-2002)

John Kenny was an internationally recognised collector of antiques, particularly Chinese porcelain and glass. He left an exceedingly generous bequest of $400,000 to the Geelong College Foundation, and in accordance with his wishes, the Foundation created the John W Kenny Bursary Fund. It enabled the school to offer places to worthy students from a wide range of backgrounds who would not otherwise be able to attend the College without some financial assistance.

John, the son of Nepean Kenny and Dorothy Raymond, (nee Birks) was born in Adelaide and spent some of his early years in New Zealand in Auckland where he attended Remuera Primary School. John boarded at the College from 1931 to 1936. He left in his intermediate year, now Year 10, in order to take up a position in the office of Thos White & Co, chartered accountants. Mr White was said to have already tried out several predecessors to John, but none of them measured up to his high standards. A condition of John leaving before the end of the year was that he sit for his intermediate certificate at the 1936 public examinations. This he did, and passed. Having one's intermediate certificate was, in those days, regarded as a qualification for senior clerical or accounting jobs.

He served in the AIF during World War II. He enlisted on 22 September 1942 and served with HQ First Australian Army (Intelligence) in New Guinea from September 1944 to September, 1945. He was Mentioned in Despatches gazetted on 21 February, 1946 for distinguished service in the South West Pacific area during the period 1 October 1944 to 31 March 1945. He was discharged on 8 November, 1945.

He was a major donor to both the National Gallery of Victoria and the Geelong Gallery and in particular donated a Sheraton style, portable writing fire screen to the Gallery in memory of Sir Francis Rolland, Lady Rolland and the Misses Rolland’.

Ken Aitken recalled is friendship with John Kenny – ‘My brother, Bob and I went down to the College in 1932, John and I became close friends. I can't remember much of what we talked about but there was an endless flow of conversation. We visited one another during school holidays and John used to stay with our family at 'Newberry Hill', a fisherman's cottage about 2km on the Melbourne side of Sorrento, which we used to take every summer. I have a memory of John reading in a hammock. The hammock gave way; John did not lift his head from his book but sat on the grass and continued reading. John and I used to stay with David Borthwick at Shaving Point, Metung. The house had a private water frontage and was close to heaven. John was a good scholar. He was methodical, neat and precise. His favourite subject was history. He always topped the class in bookkeeping. He had a distaste for cricket and football and rarely attended compulsory practice. He was a very good swimmer. Mr Aclom, in charge of physical training, examined every boy to ferret out such defects as flat feet or protruding shoulder blades. He recorded John as being a perfect physical specimen.

I remember John as having a much wider knowledge of the world than I had. Conversation with my parents was confined to topics which they thought would be of interest to school children. John, I believe, discussed current affairs with his mother and family friends. His resource stood me in good stead when I was asked to write for the Pegasus magazine about school visits to operas at His Majesty's. To review the performances was quite beyond me. John handed me a list of appropriate comments which found their way into the magazine. An extract: "Many heard Madame Austral in the 'Flying Dutchman' in which she sang with great power as Senta. The Spinning Song was very lively compared with the eerie tones of the ballad of the Flying Dutchman.’

Sources: J K (Ken) Aitken (OGC 1934), John W Kenny Bequest-Ad Astra January 2005 p22; James Affleck. Geelong Collegians at the Second World War p305.
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