Dr Jones was a month short of his 90th birthday when he died on 15 December 2007. Even in death, his renowned ability to get things done was on display. At his state funeral, Brisbane’s longest-serving lord mayor was hailed as the “father of modern Brisbane”, a generous and tireless charity worker, a sports lover and a passionate republican. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told the mourners that Dr Jones – the lord mayor who paved Brisbane’s streets and sewered the city – was “a giant among men” and an inspiration for the Labor Party in some of its darkest times. “Brisbane is his monument,” Mr Rudd said.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh also paid tribute to “our Clem” – who did not accept a salary for his record 14 years as Brisbane’s lord mayor from 1961 to 1975. His contribution to the development of Brisbane saw the Queensland capital grow from a sleepy country town into a vibrant and cosmopolitan sub-tropical city.
Jones, a successful surveyor with a real estate business, a sharemarket investor, and later developer, also served as curator of the Brisbane Cricket Ground. He developed Brisbane’s first town plan and implemented many dramatic changes including improvements to roads, drainage and the creation of parklands and public swimming pools.
Floods brought a huge challenge in 1974. He ordered the gates of the Somerset Dam to be closed, despite expert advice that this would risk the dam’s safety. Jones argued that letting the water run out kept the flood going. The dam survived.
Clem’s civic service continued well after his retirement from politics through his membership of many civic, sporting, and professional bodies, such as Administrator of the Darwin Reconstruction Commission following Cyclone Tracy, the Western Queensland Flood Appeal, and his election as delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1998. He had what he described as a ‘weakness for doing things’ including the more unusual – such as sailing a raft made of 12,000 beer cans – the Cantiki – with two mates from Darwin to Singapore in 1976 to announce to the world that Darwin was back in business.
His vision, enthusiasm, and energy made him a commanding force in many projects, including aged and disabled persons care, World Masters Games, and Queensland football. His honours included being awarded the Order of Australia 1976, Queenslander of the Year 1990, keys to the City of Brisbane 1998, a Centenary medal for distinguished service to local government and the community, and recognition for his contribution to sport with an Associate Membership of the Australian Sporting Hall of Fame.
Clem Jones may end up being even better known as Australia’s greatest philanthropist. He made his fortune from land and property before he became Lord Mayor, but the true extent of his personal wealth has only become evident since his death at the age of 89. And even more significantly, virtually every dollar of his estate has been left to charitable and community cases, to be administered by the Clem Jones Trust he set up before his death. He was an extremely generous benefactor to a range of causes in his life – the aged, homeless, sport for young people, cricket and soccer, and the families of children suffering from leukaemia.