Born in Vienna in 1935, Peter Weiss emigrated to Australia with his family in 1939, taking up residence in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
A chance encounter with a cello at his doctor’s house began a fascination with the instrument. He went on to study the instrument at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and following his graduation, he began a stint with the Australian Youth Orchestra, realising shortly afterwards that his ambitions were more aligned with that of a star solo performer. 21-year-old Weiss then travelled to London to study at the Royal College of Music where he briefly pursued his studies before abandoning them, with the recognition that he would never be the star soloist he envisaged.
Mr Weiss returned to Australia and alongside his first wife, Adele, created the eponymous design company, Weiss, in 1973. The pair went on to run one of Australian fashion’s most recognised fashion brands, specialising in mix and match separates and wardrobes for Ansett Airlines and the Westpac bank. At the peak of their success, Weiss had more than 40 stores and concessions throughout Australia.
As business thrived, Mr Weiss began making a number of considered philanthropic contributions to Sydney cultural institutions. In the 1980s, he was one of the early donors to the Art Gallery of NSW Foundation and sponsored a series of a concerts at Sydney’s St James’ Church. He was also one of the first to sponsor a ‘chair’ in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
In the late 1990s, Mr Weiss wound up his fashion business, and moved to Sydney’s Palm Beach where he met his second wife, Doris.
Following the closure of his fashion business, Mr Weiss returned to his first love of music. He continued with his philanthropic activities, founding the Sydney Symphony’s Maestro Circle in 2008 and was made a life governor of the Art Gallery of NSW in 2009.
In recognition of his significant contributions to the arts, Mr Weiss was made a member of the Order of Australia in 1996. He was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters (honoris causa) from the University in 2012. At the ceremony, Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence AC said, “Peter is known for his ability to turn concepts into successful and workable initiatives, always leading by example. His impact on Australian cultural life has been profound. His sense of adventure is an integral part of his philanthropy, inspiring people to do more and to do better.”
Mr Weiss was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in 2012 and in 2018, lung cancer was added to his diagnosis. Despite his own ailing health, the wellbeing of others remained at the forefront of his mind.
In 2019, Mr Weiss donated $4 million toward the University of Sydney’s lung disease research at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research. Of the gift, Dr Michael Spence said, “While this donation to the University has a medical focus, at its heart it also promises to improve and enhance the quality of life of thousands of people and we are extremely grateful for, and excited by, this gift.”
The Peter Weiss Lung Disease Research Fund will continue Mr Weiss’ remarkable legacy of giving, funding vital research into prevention of respiratory failure, including the development of vaccines to treat viral infections in COPD patients. A talented and kind member of our alumni community, he will be missed by so many.
Mr Peter Weiss AO, is survived by his wife Doris and his children Ariane and Antony.
Photo credit: Tim Bauer