Eulogy read by his Son, Ceri , 30th November 2019 – St Andrews Church Eastleach
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome and thank-you for coming to celebrate the life of a great man and to say goodbye. I know some of you have travelled from afar, and it would humble him to know that such efforts had been made on his behalf.
I’m also sure that his modesty would baulk at being called great – but not for the first time, he and I will have to disagree!
He was born into humble circumstances, at home, in a terrace of cottages in the valleys of South Wales in 1938. It was a happy home, in a close community with strong moral values, but with little in the way of outside opportunity – but that was not to stop him.
He took, and was awarded, a scholarship (the first of a number he got) to Llandovery College, where he excelled in both the academic and sporting fields, becoming both Head of School and playing three seasons for the first XV as a wing-forward. My Grandfather always maintained that had he stayed in Wales a Welsh cap was in the offing, but it was not to be, as the wider world held greater appeal.
From school, he was drafted as one of the last National Serviceman; and was to serve for two years in the Royal Artillery (as a long-range sniper as he used to call it!).
A rare example of failure followed when he failed theCommissions Board the first-time round. He attributed this to not getting over the 12’ wall (which at 5’9” is understandable!). But, not defeated, his second attempt was successful and he went on to obtain a commission from Mons officer Cadet School. From then on, any difficulties were often compared to that 12’ wall to get over, under or round.
Whilst in the army, home on leave, he met my mother and invited her to an army ball. It might have been the uniform, as my mother always maintains, but it was the start of the next sixty years together.
A degree at Cambridge followed, where he read metallurgy and Natural sciences before joining United Steel in Sheffield as a trainee manager. After a few years there, he realized that he knew a lot about steel but not much about business, and, being a man who valued education and understanding highly, he then became a NATO Scholar to Columbia in New York where he received his MBA. It was during this period he received his second draft notice but this time from the Americans who required his service in Vietnam. Thankfully he managed to dodge that draft and his experience of the Far East happened in more peaceful circumstances a decade or so later.
From New York, the family returned; first to London, then Manchester before another stint in London prior to the first of the overseas postings led us to Hong Kong. There he ran the joint venture between Jardine Mattheson and Redland.
Success in the Far East led to promotion, and from Hong Kong we moved to Bahrain where he headed up another joint venture, this time between Redland and Inchcape. Recruited by the latter, he became Chief Executive ofInchcape’s interests in the Middle East – during which, he still found time to go to Harvard to attend the International Senior Management Programme. Promoted again, he was posted to Singapore to run Inchcape’s diverse interests throughout South East Asia. Having promised his family that we’d be in Hong Kong for three years, the family eventually moved back to the UK some 15 years later.
On his return, he discovered that his skills were very much in demand and a number of non-executive directorships followed which were then superceeded by various Chairman roles. These included BOC, where he would oversee the world’s largest chemical company merger, the deal only to be blocked by the Mergers and Monopolies Commission, Premier Oil, where he successfully extracted the company from Burma, Balfour Beatty and BSI.
Somehow, during all of this, he also found time to be a Trustee or Governor of Llandovery College, Columbia University, The School of African and Oriental Studiesand Asia House; a Fund Raiser for Cambridge University, Vice chairman of British Trade International, Chairman of the CBI International Committee, Chairman of the Royal Society of Asian Affairs and a Board member of the Welsh Development Agency.
Always wanting to be busy, and having reached an age where most men had retired, he then became the Chairman of the Cotswold Water Park – working there through to the end of his life.
For all these efforts, he was awarded a knighthood in 1999 and subsequently became known as:
Sir David John, KCMG, D.Univ (Glam), MBA (Col.NY), MA (Cantab) but to the family, after his appointment to the Water Park, he was simply Sir David John H2O:
That was his history, but what of the man?
It goes without saying that he loved his family and friends deeply, and always had a special spot for his grandchildren. There was always a cwtch on offer for the young ones and a warm welcome, and glass of wine for the rest.
He was a renaissance man, limitless in his capacity for development and had a thirst for knowledge to develop his capacities as fully as possible. He held authority, though quietly spoken, and a set of values that were unwaivering throughout his life; Integrity, Education, Opportunity, Kindness and Generosity.
He was also curious, and never lost his curiosity about; life, people and how it and they worked. Equally at home in the company of Kings, Queens, Presidents, Prime Ministers and Emirs, he never lost the common touch and would spend as much time talking to the Everyman – and he was genuinely interested in whatever they had to say. Having come from modest beginnings, and having been on the receiving end of prejudice, he never could abide the airs and graces of those who hadn’t earnt the respect of whatever office they held. That he achieved such high office, whilst remaining so approachable, marks him out as a special individual.
He was modest, but proud of his achievements but that wouldn’t be made obvious. He cared deeply, not only for his family, but also for everyone who he felt he had a responsibility for. He often maintained that it was easy to shut a failing company – but that the challenge lay inturning it round to protect the livelihoods of both the workforce and their dependents – and this he did on a number of occasions.
He was also generous, both with his time and the sharing of his expertise, he mentored many people, many of whom went on to be leaders in their field.
He always had time for my and my sister’s friends and would always offer advice – if it was asked for – usually with a glass of wine, a fantastic story and a lot of laughter. He had an excellent sense of humour and a keen sense of the absurd and he could laugh as heartily against himself as with others.
I would like to finish by quoting some of your kind thoughts that you have generously sent, and I think sum up the man better than my inadequate words.
Your father took me under his wing over thirty years ago and helped guide my career, as he did for numerous others for many years. He was a superb boss and mentor,who had a wonderful touch with people and will be very sadly missed by many, many colleagues. I was so proud and honoured to be able to count him as a friend. It is not often that I’ve cried over the years but I have today, I will dearly miss him.
My memory of David is simply that of a force of nature – he was a genuinely remarkable man.
He had that very rare quality of being able to project huge strength with a quiet and absolute authority.
It’s a quality that simply cannot be faked, and I think it only comes with complete integrity, and fierce intellect; the result being someone who was utterly authentic –
He was a man whose advice I always have valued and taken, he was a man whose team I would always have wanted to be on, he was a man I would have followed anywhere.
Well, Dad, you’re on a journey now that none of us are too keen to follow you on, but lead the way, as you have always done, and we will all follow you when our time is right.
Read The Times obituary here https://www.eastleach.org/sir-david-john-obituary/
When Great Trees Fall By Maya Angelou
When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.
When great trees fall
small things recoil into silence,
eroded beyond fear.
When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.
When Great Trees Fall By Maya Angelou Source: https://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/when-great-trees-fall-by-maya-angelou