Canberra Citizen of the Year


James Glen Service (born 1933)

John Haslem, Ita Buttrose and Jim Service at the Canberra launch of an appeal for funds for the Australian National Gallery 

Jim Service, right, with John Haslem and Ita Buttrose, late 1970s.

SOURCE: ACT Heritage Library image 000802

Jim was born on 9 February 1933 in Sydney and then spent four years in Fiji. His educational record at Newington College (1945-1949) gives some idea of the successful man he was to become: the Wigram Allen Scholarship in 1947; the Edwin and May Grainger Scholarship and the Holliday Scholarship in 1948; first class honours in English, Chemistry and Geology and the RT Baker Scholarship in 1949. He returned to the school as a member of the re-established Newington College Foundation Board from 2006–2010.

Despite his academic brilliance, Jim waited until 2012 for a university degree – an honorary doctorate from the University of Canberra, where he is Adjunct Professor of the National Institute of Governance.

After school, Jim went bush for two years as a jackaroo and then worked in Sydney, by 1959 in managerial positions. He moved to Canberra in 1964 as an executive of Moteliers but resigned to form GKS Constructions Pty Ltd with Len Goodwin and Arthur Kenyon. Their first big project was the Jamison Centre, which led to Kippax Fair before branching out into property consultancies in Fiji and Papua New Guinea. In 1981 he founded JG Service Pty Ltd, a hugely successful national property consultancy, management and development company. An early project was the new Canberra Times building at Fyshwick. Whatever other roles he assumed, JG Service was his flagship enterprise.

Meanwhile, his business acumen had earned him the presidency of the Canberra Chamber of Commerce (1975 and 1976), the chairmanship of the ACT Advisory Board on Tourism (1975) and deputy chairmanship of the new Canberra Development Board (1979). He was deputy chairman and then chairman of the Civic Permanent Building Society from 1984 until it was absorbed by the Civic Advance Bank in 1986, of which he was appointed chairman.

In the 1980s Jim was involved, usually at the highest level, with the Canberra Chamber of Commerce, the ACT Advisory Board on Tourism, the new Canberra Development Board, Calvary Hospital board and Australia Day in the National Capital committee. By 1991 he had added Floriade, NRMA, the [Northern] Territory Insurance Office, Canberra Centre Holdings and the Australian National Gallery Foundation, as well as now being chairman of Advance Bank, formed by merging Civic Advance Bank with Canberra Building Society. He was the first Canberra businessman to head a major national public company.

He then accepted the appointment as chairman of the ACT Board of Health – on condition that he was allowed to relinquish one or two of his other positions. Why accept it? "Health is the most difficult of all government roles. It is useful to have people in the system who bring a business perspective to these things." On a less altruistic level, “I have a low boredom threshold.”

By then Jim had a clear view of Canberra’s position post-self government, and he didn’t like it. Canberrans were not rising to the occasion; they were still knocking self government, still expecting government to pay for everything, still disapproving of commercial advancement for the Territory. He warned that Canberra would be alienated from the rest of Australia, and that being well-planned did not mean it had finished growing. He disagreed with the current trend of organisations like CSIRO, that had come to Canberra to be closer to government, going back to the states, but accepted that no amount of subsidy would bring industry to the capital.

Canberra’s advantages needed to be marketed – a well-educated population and several universities for knowledge-based industries, cheaper processing costs for hi-tech industries. He would be happy to be Canberra’s ambassador out in the market place, but believed that change would come with the next generation. “There are some ratbags, but on balance they're brighter. I'm an optimist."

Jim is also a skilled manager of people, able to inspire loyalty and defuse tensions. People respond to his low-key, down-to-earth approach to problems, and respect his capacity for hard work, despite his generally maintaining a certain distance that inadvertently creates a kind of superman aura.

Over the next few years Jim’s already impressive CV grew even longer. Some of the more important roles he accepted included chairmanship of ACTEW (1995), the National Theatre Trust (1993-1995), the National Gallery of Australia Foundation (1994-1996), the National Museum (1996-1999). He is chairman of the ACT Salvation Army Advisory Board and a trustee of the CFMEU Children’s Healthcare Trust.

One charity connected with the Service name is the Canberra Cancerians Committee, that has raised over $3 million for cancer research since 1987. It is not Jim but his wife Dorothy, who was its second president, and his son James, who was the third.

Awards and Distinctions

1977 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal

1990 Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for service to the community

1995 Canberra Region Leadership Award

2001 Centenary Medal for service in developing Australia's construction industry

2001 Canberra Citizen of the Year for his work and contribution to business and charity organisations

2004 Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for service to business and to the community particularly through support for arts, cultural and charitable organisations

2011 Newington Medal

2012 University of Canberra Honorary Doctorate

Select Bibliography

1977 'KIPPAX FAIR.', The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), 14 June, p. 11, viewed 16 February, 2016,

1992 'A sense of optimism under the wide skies of Canberra.', The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), 8 September, p. 13, viewed 16 February, 2016,

1992 'A life of service benefits the community.', The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), 29 December, p. 3, viewed 16 February, 2016,

See other Canberra Citizens of the Year.