Vale John Hooke: Sydney farewells a visionary philanthropist

1 November 2018

John Hooke leaves behind a lasting legacy, thanks to his passionate support of nanoscience at the University of Sydney.

John Hooke

John Hooke helped transform nanoscience in Australia with a $5 million gift.

Philanthropist John Hooke CBE passed away at the age of 85 on Sunday. As a generous supporter of the University of Sydney, he leaves a legacy that will transform fields ranging from medicine to computing to sustainable agriculture.

Mr Hooke had a big vision for the science of the very small; he helped transform nanoscience in Australia with a $5 million gift to the University in 2011. His donation helped establish the University of Sydney Nano Institute and provided funding for the John Hooke Chair of Nanoscience.

Sydney Nano’s researchers study the structure and function of materials on the scale of nanometres, which measure one billionth of a metre (roughly the size of ten atoms in a row). Nanoscience is transforming our understanding of physics and chemistry, offering potential solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges. Sydney Nano’s work includes creating nanoscale robots that could enter the body to diagnose and treat disease on a molecular level. Another signature project aims to alleviate the effect of drought by capturing water from the atmosphere.

Mr Hooke – who held degrees in both engineering and science from the University of Sydney – was quick to recognise the potential of nanoscience to change the world. “I have always been extremely passionate about science and how it may benefit society,” he said when his gift was announced in 2011. “Nanoscience has so many applications and possibilities. It’s really a revolution and I am delighted to be able to help.”

John Hooke on nanoscience

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Mr Hooke spent his life exploring new frontiers. In 1954, as a young man working for Amalgamated Wireless Australasia (AWA), he screened the first experimental television broadcast in Australia from the back of an old Arnott’s van. Later, he provided the signal that relayed the first moon landing.

In his passion for exploration and discovery, Mr Hooke followed the example of his father, Lionel Hooke, who at 19, also an employee of AWA, joined Sir Ernest Shackleton’s crossing of the Antarctic as the wireless operator. His Morse code messages saved the expedition, making contact with the outside world after the explorers were trapped in an ice field for eight months.

Lionel Hooke went on to run AWA and after his death in 1974, his son succeeded him as chairman and chief executive.

During his career, John Hooke directed companies including BHP, National Australia Bank, AMP General Insurance and Channel Ten. He was also chairman of Tubemakers of Australia.

He was an active member of the University community, serving as council member and deputy president of the Science Foundation for Physics, foundation board member of the Brain and Mind Centre, and board member of the University’s philanthropic campaign, Inspired.

Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence said Mr Hooke’s kindness and decency made him a treasured member of the University community. “His gifts to the field of nanoscience confirmed his belief in the value of scientific endeavour, and will continue to facilitate the cutting-edge work conducted at the School of Physics and Sydney Nano,” said Dr Spence. “While his farsighted philanthropy will always support future generations of students and researchers, those of us who knew him personally will miss his inspiring passion and personal generosity.”

Mr Hooke is survived by his wife, Dott.ssa (Dr) Maria Teresa Hooke OAM and his sons, Paolo and John.

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