Roland Ellis Jacobs was born at North Adelaide on 28th February 1891, the son of company director Samuel Joshua Jacobs and his wife Caroline (née Ellis). He was educated at Geelong College, Victoria, and the Adelaide Shorthand and Business College. A series of office jobs developed his business skills, his initiative and the ability to take responsibility at an early age. During the First World War, having been rejected for overseas service on medical grounds, he served as a training and administrative officer in various South Australian army camps.
On 29th August 1917 he married Olga Hertzberg and they had three children. After his marriage he worked as a mercantile broker, becoming agent for the Perth firm of F.A. Henriques. In 1930 that firm merged with Harrison San Miguel, the Adelaide subsidiary of the Sydney business Mauri Bros. & Thomson Ltd., suppliers of brewers’ and bakers’ requisites. He remained with the firm as Assistant Manager and then Manager until 1948.
After his father died in 1937, he was invited to go on the board of the S.A. Brewing company, of which his father had been a founder and later Chairman of Directors for thirty-five years. He declined this invitation, partly because his father had always insisted that his position in the brewery should not benefit his son, and also because he himself did not think he had the necessary experience.
His reputation was enhanced in 1942 when he became President of the Adelaide Chamber of Commerce and then served on a number of war-related government committees. In 1948 he was again invited by the brewery to become its Managing Director. This time he accepted and soon after became Chairman, holding this position until he retired in 1967. He strove to promote the image of the company as a contributor to the public good. The beautification of the Torrens bank next to the brewery and the decoration of the chimney stack in the colours of the premier football club were his ideas.
The number of voluntary organizations (more than thirty) of which he was a member and often Chairman reflected his strong belief in the importance of community service, and confirmed his reputation for wisdom, commonsense and the ability to raise money for good causes. One of his particular interests was the welfare of crippled children and others with disabilities. He chaired the committee of Meals on Wheels at the request of its founder, Doris Taylor, and was a government-appointed member of the advisory boards to the Royal Adelaide and Queen Elizabeth Hospitals. With Sir Ivan Jose he promoted the establishment of the Medical Foundation of the University of Adelaide.
Although unskilled in the arts himself, he supported many artistic activities. For ten years he was on the A.B.C. Advisory Committee in Adelaide and helped to form an association to establish the South Australian Symphony Orchestra on a permanent footing. With Sir Lloyd Dumas and Professor John Bishop, he was a founding Governor of the Adelaide Festival of Arts and raised money by organizing guarantors. He was also a foundation and honorary life member of the Elizabethan Theatre Trust. In January 1963 he was created Knight Bachelor for services to the community. His first wife died in 1969 and on 30th November 1970 he married Esther Lipman Cook, who, like himself, had been prominent in community service for many years.
Sir Roland Jacobs was an unostentatious and private man, who did not seek or acquire personal wealth but was loved and respected by a wide range of people for the warmth of his personality and generous service. A considerate and caring employer, he was a good listener, was tolerant of other people’s viewpoints and believed in ‘moderation in all things’. Born into the Jewish faith, he practised its ethics rather than its rituals.
He died on 28th June 1981 and was buried in the Jewish Cemetery at Centennial Park.
Cudmore, M., History of the South Australian Brewing Company Limited 1888-1988 (Thebarton: South Australian Brewing Co., 1988).
Cockburn, S., 'Obituary: Sir Roland Jacobs', Advertiser, 29 June 1981.