Gerald Lightfoot [1877–1966]

By Helen Wolff November 6th, 2019

Early life

Gerald Lightfoot, public servant, was born on 3 May 1877 at Walker, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland, England, son of Thomas Bell Lightfoot, mechanical engineer, and his wife Emilie Ainslie, née Coxon.

Tertiary education and early career

He graduated with first-class honours in the Mechanical Sciences Tripos from Cambridge in 1898 and was elected Foundation Scholar, Pembroke College, Cambridge, 1898.

After working for several years as an engineer, he was called to the Bar at Middle Temple, where he specialised in “Commercial Court” work and in patent and technical legal work.

Mr. Lightfoot came to Australia in 1906 and joined the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics where he was responsible for establishing the Bureau’s Labour and Industrial Branch and extending it to the main industrial centres of the Commonwealth.

Time at CSIRO

CSIR Council Meeting, 1935

A CSIR Council Meeting in 1935. Front row (L-R): P.E. Keam, A.C.D. Rivett, George Julius, H.C. Richards, E.H.B Lefroy. Second row: G. Lightfoot, E.J. Goddard, D.O. Masson, A.E.V. Richardson. Third row: W.R. Grimwade, Kerr Grant, R.D. Watt, H.A. Woodruff, I. Clunies Ross.  Source: CSIRO Science Image

In 1916 he was chosen by the Prime Minister, Mr. W. M. Hughes, to accompany him overseas to enquire into the work and organisation of industrial research institutions in England and America.

On his return to Australia, he was appointed ‘Acting Secretary’ of the newly formed Advisory Council of Science and Industry. He became Secretary when the Advisory Council was changed to the C.S.I.R. in 1926.

Although he retired to 1944, he was retained as a consultant to the Council until 1947.

In his years with the Council, he saw it develop from a staff of 4 to over 2000 with 20 major laboratories and many field stations.

As Commonwealth representative on the Prickly Pear Board, he played an important part in the work which resulted in the eradication of Australia’s worst weed menace.

He was also closely involved in the establishment of the Standards Association of Australia and later became Chairman of the National Association of Testing Authorities.


Adapted from an obituary published in CoResearch, CSIRO’s staff newsletter (no. 88, July 1966), p. 1

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