Roy McKerihan and friend climbing Mount Blanc, 1917
Roy McKerihan and friend climbing Mount Blanc, 1917

Banker led with compassion, ended up in charge of the bank

THESE days we have Internet banking and a large number of places where money is available.

However, in the days following the First World War and later during the Great Depression of the late 1920s and 1930s money was very difficult to obtain, especially money for rural development.

Following the closure of the Government Savings Bank of NSW in 1931 the Rural Bank of NSW was established from its ashes.

This bank was to become the saviour of many farmers and it was to grow into one of the State's most important development institutions. Its success and therefore the success of all those who benefited from it is mainly due to the efforts as well as to the philosophy of one man - Sir Clarence Roy (Roy) McKerihan.

Roy McKerihan was born in Tenterfield on 6 May 1896 to Edward and Elizabeth Jane McKerihan (nee Gillespie). His father was a draper who had been born in Ireland.

His mother was born in Australia. The family moved around the district so Roy received his education at Tenterfield, Tamworth, and then Casino. In 1912 he joined the staff of the Government Savings Bank of NSW at Casino.

He later was sent to Grafton.

In 1915 he enlisted in the Army and soon found himself at Gallipoli with the 4th Battalion. He survived the horrors of Gallipoli but then fought in Egypt and later in France.

He finished his war service in the Australian Records Section helping to find missing soldiers and giving families some idea of where they may have been buried.

He had always been a keen athlete and during one leave period he and a mate decided to climb Mont Blanc with a group of Harvard University students.

It is stated they were the first Australians to make the climb. Interesting to note they attached emu plumes to their slouch hats to make the climb - though they were not in the Light Horse! Roy was actually a Sergeant attached to the 56th Infantry Battalion and his mate, Sergeant Godfrey Hector Lahey was with the 4th Divisional Ammunition Column. On his discharge Roy held the rank of Warrant Officer First Class.

Returning to the Savings Bank in 1919 Roy was appointed Loans Officer at its Head Office in Sydney.

On the creation of a rural bank section in 1921 he was transferred there and in 1928 became its chief clerk.

With the closure of the Savings Bank in 1931 the Rural Bank of NSW was formed.

He was appointed commissioner of the new bank in 1933 and president in 1934. His main task was to guide this new bank through the Great Depression.

It is said that he did this with plenty of hard work but also with tact and compassion. He became known as "the banker with the human touch". He always went to the Royal Easter Show and chatted with farmers and made attempts to reach his other clients in distant areas.

During the Second World War he was honorary general secretary of the Australian Comforts Fund. He became a key co-ordinator and used his talents to steer through many arguments over competing interests and funds.

Meetings were held on Bank premises and he provided clerical and administrative assistance where required.

Roy McKerihan continued his interests in sport being a keen golfer and bowler.

He supported both the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides Associations and was a member of many organizations including Rotary and Legacy and the Big Brother Movement.

He was a member of various arts and community organizations and an elder of St Stephens Presbyterian Church, Macquarie Street.

He retired from the Rural Bank in 1961. During the thirty years he had been associated with it the Bank had grown from a small experiment to a major force with 134 branches throughout NSW.

He was knighted in 1961. and he died in 1969 with a service at St Stephens Presbyterian Church.

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