Although he moved at the highest levels of corporate life Hugh Williamson neither forgot his modest beginnings nor lost sight of the values of kindliness, integrity and honesty. The foundation he established has carried on these values and has been responsible for enormous service to the community. Hugh Williamson’s legacy has been immense and has touched the lives of many people.
Hugh Dean Thomas Williamson was born in Ballarat on 4 February 1901. At the age of sixteen he commenced work as a teller with the Ballarat Banking Company. A year later he transferred to the Bank of Australasia, Ballarat branch, beginning a forty-four year association during which he worked his way to the most senior position of General Manager.
When Hugh Williamson retired as General Manager of the ANZ Bank in 1961 he entered a period in his life where he gave generously of his time and was a great supporter of a wide range of business and community ventures. His personal interest in the arts meant that both the National Gallery of Victoria and the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery benefited greatly from his generosity.
Williamson was an enthusiastic supporter of the NGV. In the 1960s he was actively involved in the development of the St Kilda Road arts precinct, holding the key role of treasurer of the Arts Centre Building Committee, which oversaw the construction of the NGV and the Arts Centre complex. In 1985, shortly before his death, Williamson met with the then Director, Patrick McCaughey, to discuss supporting the NGV in other ways, including establishing a program of acquisition of works of art that related to the region.
As a result of this meeting the NGV, in 1986, received an endowment which allowed for the acquisition of works of art that focussed on Melbourne and its environs. Since 1986 the NGV has acquired or commissioned a total of 66 works of art through this endowment. Many of these have been major acquisitions and include, among others, two important works from the 1889 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition, Tom Roberts’ By the Treasury, 1889, and Arthur Streeton’s Princess & Burke & Wills,1889; Henry Gritten’s Melbourne, 1867; and the major commissioned work by Jon Cattapan The Melbourne panels, 2003. In 1990 a decision was made by the NGV to direct funds from the Hugh Williamson endowment towards the purchase of photographic works relating to Melbourne. This continued for a period of two years during which time forty-seven works by contemporary photographers were acquired for the collection. In addition to funding acquisitions the Foundation has provided valuable support to the NGV’s Conservation Department through a Fellowship program.
Hugh Williamson was proud of his connection with Ballarat and regularly supported activities and events in the region. The Ballarat Fine Art Gallery has benefited significantly from Williamson’s generosity in the form of works acquired though an emerging artist prize established in 1984 and funded by him. Following his death the Foundation has continued to support the Gallery by funding acquisitions, in particular where they relate to Ballarat, and by contributing financially to a major extension – The Hugh D. T. Williamson Gallery of Contemporary Art, which opened in 2001. In line with the support provided to the NGV the Foundation has also funded a conservation program for the Ballarat Gallery.