Event Review – Simon Mordant AO (B1 1973-77) ‘Building a Bank & a Museum for Contemporary Art; My Journey to Philanthropy’

“Mordant Major won’t go far in life because he does not play cricket”. So read the prep school report of Simon Mordant AO (B1 1973-77) who gave the Marlburian Monday talk in February. This report, which remains framed on his desk, drove Simon and his talk went onto demonstrate just how wrong it had been.

People often talk about that one teacher that inspired them but in Simon’s case there were three Beaks who proved influential. Firstly Robin Child, the infamous Head of Art at Marlborough in the 1970s and 1980s. Strangely, but serendipitously, there was not enough room for Simon in his boarding house for one year and so he lived with the Child family instead with their three daughters. This year was life-changing for Simon, igniting his appreciation of, and passion, for Art. Secondly Martin Evans, his Housemaster who he said was great fun and really cared for the pupils in his house and finally Michael Preston, a History Beak who was on an exchange at Marlborough from Australia.

Simon took us through his successful career in banking, mainly based in Australia (in part influenced by Michael Preston). Having set up not one but two banks in the country Simon was in the fortunate position to be able to give back. He explained that he and his wife have committed themselves to give all their wealth away and Simon shared his philanthropic philosophy which is that those with wealth have an obligation to leave the world in a better place than they found it. Simon worries that for many such individuals the problem is not that they are not philanthropic rather that they don’t have a passion which can be a vehicle for this philanthropy. For Simon art was this passion, or even obsession, which he can trace all the way back to his time with Robin Child at Marlborough.

Simon’s philanthropic zeal has been impressive. He explained that he joined the board, and later chaired, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and led a A$53m fundraising campaign to build an extension, which he and his wife also supported very generously themselves. He also led a campaign to redevelop the Australian pavilion as part of the Venice Biennale, which led to his knighthood for service to the arts in Italy. He went on to join the boards of several prominent not-for-profits around the world, including many art organisations such as the Tate in London and MOMA in New York. His philanthropy, nationally and internationally, led to him being made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2020 by the Queen. In life Mordant Major went far indeed.

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