Chris Jenkins (SPC 1938-41)

February 17, 2021

Chris Jenkins.

We extend our condolences to the family of Chris Jenkins (SPC 1938-41) who passed away peacefully on April 9, 2020 aged 94.

Chris was well known in horse racing circles and is remembered as a man of great presence, great self-belief who lived a full life built on strong principles and unshakable bonds of family, faith, friendships.

One of the few quiet pursuits he enjoyed was to help others in need, with no fanfare and no fuss, but he was a man of many people with even his grandchildren’s friends making contact at his passing. They all remember ‘Gramps’, as he was universally known to the younger generations of the clan, as an outgoing, engaged, welcoming character with lots of stories and an innate interest in people.

Born on August 25, 1925 into a Ballarat racing family of punters and bookmakers, Chris was the second youngest of six children and would tell endless stories of helping his father with the SP bookie business run from the local pubs. He had a great love of family from this time and his son Michael remembers his father telling many colourful stories of his upbringing in Ballarat and family life in Raglan Street. His family name, which remained until the end, was Nook, the origins of which not even he was sure about.

Chris Jenkins pictured in his 1941 SPC Honours Class.

Chris moved to Melbourne in 1942 aged 17 to study dentistry at Melbourne University after attending St Patrick’s College from 1938-41. Chris was a day student and arrived at SPC with classmates from the Christian Brothers’ School, Drummond Street, including Jack Collins, Greg Hutchinson, Tony Magill and Kevin Willis. He represented the college in an array of sports, particularly athletics and cricket, was in the honours class and was a member of the Sodality of Our Lady and made many of his life-long friends.

He attempted to join the RAAF but as dentistry was considered an essential service he was turned down. He resided in Newman for many years and loved this time of life. His dental career lasted 23 years mostly practising from the old T&G Building in Collins Street in a small solo practice he purchased in 1951.

He met his wife Betty (known as Betsy to later generations) in 1945 and they married in 1950. In 1951 their first child arrived, Sally, then Chris, Tim, Lou, Michael and Jack. He loved big families. He ends this life with not only the six children, their respective partners, but also 16 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren with more to come. The loss of their son Chris in 1961, the second eldest aged 8, was a great tragedy in his and Betty’s life, and to the end this remained.

Chris is remembered for his vast and keen intellect. An insatiable thirst for knowledge. A voracious daily book reader, maybe a book a week, with history a favourite genre, and the crossword a part of the everyday routine. His home in Malvern was full of an eclectic array of hundreds of books from Wodehouse, Francis and various histories, mainly European, to a smattering Miller Guides (for the uninitiated they are an encyclopedia on race results) and yearling sale catalogues, mainly NZ.

Horse racing was both a passion and a profession for the majority of Chris’ life. Using wit, guile and a fair-sized bucket of self-belief he became fully involved from an early age. His worked for his SP bookie father as the runner in Ballarat before his teens. He later worked for his elder brother Jim who was both a bookie and punter before taking on, with gusto, the world of punting himself. Along with his eldest brother Jim he was amongst Australia’s biggest punters from the 50’s through to the late 70’s.

He attended near 70 Melbourne Spring Carnivals, a rare feat, and an estimated 6,000+ race meetings in his life. He owned many horses and he said the best was Column who was runner-up in the 1971 Victoria Derby but his favourite day at the races was when Ferocity, owned in part by Chris, son Jack and son-in-law John van Veenendaal won the Magic Millions at Morphettville in 2005.

Chris also served on the VRC Committee from 1985-93 and he loved that time of his life. From the back lanes of depression Ballarat to the hallowed halls of racing’s top echelons, it was a long climb, and he could mix it with anyone in and out of the racing fraternity and be welcoming of any part of social spectrum. He ended with Life Membership of many race clubs and attended the races for the last time for two days of the Flemington Carnival last year.

Chris was a man of resolute Catholic faith that underpinned his life. It never wavered from an early age. His father, also Chris, went to mass every day in Ballarat and Dad took his faith from those early days. He found comfort in it, was heavily involved in many church activities and leadership roles including head of the Parish Council at St Joseph’s in Malvern. It was one of the few things he did quietly.
Chris had cared for Betty for many years before her passing in 2008 and from that time he also needed more assistance which was given by many beyond his five surviving children, their partners, grandchildren and great grandchildren. He was able to continue his patriarchal role including hosting family Sunday family lunches until the last year.

Gramps’, as he had become known, last full family occasion was Xmas last December with more than 25 immediate family attended. He is remembered as having led a life rich in adventure, a touch of the scallywag, great warmth, self-belief, great faith, great generosity and great influence on so many from all walks of life.