George Jones is a distinguished name in business and in health. He has been generous with his hard-earned money and he is committed to making other people’s hard lives easier. But his own start in life was anything but easy.
“My mother and stepfather were chronic alcoholics, we weren’t fed and clothed properly and school wasn’t great. In fact, we were pretty close to street urchins.My parents would rent a house, pay the fee a couple of times and then stop until we were all kicked out. I ended up going to 12 different schools in nine years,” George said.
George is patron of Parkerville Children and Youth Cares, a place he knows intimately. He, his brother and two sisters were all residents there in the 1950s. However, Parkerville wasn’t the first orphanage for the Jones kids.
The Salvation Army came to the rescue when he was five years old as his situation at home became untenable.
Getting back on track
“First stop was the Salvos and then Parkerville. We got decent food and, just as importantly, emotional support from our Cottage Parents who actually had their own children living there, too.”
“It was something like a normal life. Sure, there were rules and we had to apply ourselves but that’s where I developed a strong work ethic. I copped a caning on a regular basis, but we are talking about the 1950s after all.”
George acknowledges that while Parkerville was a positive experience for him, others may hold a different view.
“I’ve spoken with many people who said they had difficulties but it seemed to me that the real problem was their underlying circumstances. Even in my own family there were different outcomes. My two sisters really enjoyed Parkerville but my brother didn’t emerge very well at all. He turned into a bit of a no-hoper and has spent time in gaol. There’ll always be some people who will rise above adversity and others who won’t.”
“I’d just turned 15 when I left Parkerville. They gave me £20, which was enough to live on for a month in the 1960s, put me on a train to Perth with an address where I could stay as a boarder. I knew I was responsible for what came next and I also realised that I couldn’t just sit around hoping things would get better.”
Making the most of life
“I’ve never regarded myself as being particularly talented and I only finished Third Year high school but I went into the army, learnt a trade and served in Vietnam. That gave me enough money to buy a block and build a house and I finished a business degree at Curtin.”
“Nonetheless, I wouldn’t have described myself as a particularly confident young man when I left the army. I kept to myself and was pretty quiet, and I had a lot of skin problems in my teenage years. These days those problems are cleared up quickly with the new medications.”
Most people don’t get to the age of 70 without some sort of interaction with the medical fraternity, and George is no exception.
“I’ve had an over-active thyroid removed and I’ve also suffered from Meniere’s disease. In fact, that was the catalyst for my ongoing association with the Ear Science Institute because it was Professor Marcus Atlas who did the operation to disconnect the nerve.”
“I went to see him afterwards and made the mistake of asking if there was anything I could do! We’ve raised $20m for the Institute and he’s got a funding model for the future so Marcus is pretty happy.”
Giving kids hope
One of his great achievements has been the opening of the George Jones Child Advocacy Centre, which has brought a new dimension to Parkerville and has wider ramifications for young people who find themselves involved with the juvenile justice system.
“Since Basil Hanna has been Parkerville CEO, the place has been transformed. I’m proud to be associated with it. The WA Police are right behind our new initiative at the Child Advocacy Centre, which allows children who’ve been abused to be examined and interviewed in a child-friendly environment.”
“Any evidence gathered is permissible in court and and they can even appear via a video-link so they don’t have to confront the person who abused them.”
Corporate philanthropy in WA has a long way to go before we come close to the US model. George reaffirms this state of affairs and outlines his own approach to raising funds for worthwhile causes.
“Australians generally are pretty generous but if you look at the list of the 150 richest people in WA there aren’t too many who give much of their wealth away. There are some notable exceptions such as Andrew Forrest and Malcolm McCusker, in fact the latter is a shining example.”
“I used to keep my philanthropy very quiet and I’ve discussed this aspect with Malcolm. He’s of the opinion that we need to take a higher profile because it’s one way to make people think more deeply about their own contributions.”
“I don’t particularly like having my name on a building but people do recognise the connection and, for places such as Parkerville and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, it’s part of my job to get people to part with their money.”