Don Newbold was a staunch and extremely generous supporter of the Brighton Phil for many years. He passed away in March 2018, just before the concert he had sponsored brought last season to a close. Our concert on Sun 17 March 2019 will be dedicated to his memory. His close friend for over 65 years, Ron Grief, describes Don’s fascinating life, career and his love of sport and music.
“Donald Victor Newbold was born 23rd June 1926 together with his twin brother Ben in Barking, Essex and was one of five sons of Laura and William Newbold. Very much a self-made man, Don achieved considerable status in many fields by his own efforts. He knew what he wanted and how to get there. His life had many strands, notably his business life and his love of sport.
I met Don in 1952 at the Tennis Club of the South East Essex Technical College, which we knew as the “Tech” and where we were both students. The Tech was an institute where young people on the east side of London could obtain further education, the likelihood of any us getting to university at that time being nil. Don aimed to gain professional qualifications in Mechanical Engineering.
Leaving school at 14, he became an apprentice at WJ Fraser, an engineering company in Dagenham some 15 miles from his home, making the daily journey by bicycle. Having finished his five-year apprenticeship and secured his job, he attended evening classes three nights a week for over six years to emerge with an AMIMech E, an associate member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, later becoming a fellow.
On leaving WJ Fraser he joined the oil industry, eventually ending up at Foster Wheeler, an international oil construction company. From the early ‘60s he worked in almost every capital city in Europe where Foster Wheeler had an office, and by the early ‘70s he had a season ticket on Concorde and took up residence in the New York Athletic Club for five or six months every year, spending only about two months of the year in the UK.
Don was a great swimmer and water polo player, originally a member of Barking Swimming Club and later President. In later years he coached the Shiverers, the Brighton Water Polo Team, and was also involved with the England Team. It was no surprise that he became a leading international water polo referee and possibly the top umpire in the world. He refereed the final at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. Before he went, Margaret Thatcher told him, “Donald, you are not to go to Moscow. Are you listening to what I am saying?” Don was on first name terms with Margaret, having spent time with Dennis Thatcher, who was in the oil business. Unlike his media portrayal, Dennis was a clever man who made numerous inventions which Foster Wheeler utilised. Don would visit the Thatcher home long before Margaret was an MP and he would help to put the twins to bed whilst she cooked dinner. Needless to say, Don explained to Margaret the country was still doing business with Russia, so he was going anyway.
Don continued to climb the corporate ladder at Foster Wheeler and was made Chief Executive Officer in the late ‘70s. The company had a turnover in the region of $4 billion, employing about 13,000 people. Don retired in the late ‘80s and was appointed CBE for his contribution to export. At the time of his retirement some of his contemporaries in the oil industries were knighted, so perhaps Mrs Thatcher had the last word.
In addition to swimming, Don was a very good tennis player, continuing to play at his Brighton club until well into his 70s. He was also a tidy squash player, playing at least once a week until he retired. He was keen on watching cricket and was a life member of Essex County Cricket Club and could recall witnessing the Australians scoring 721 runs in a day at Southend in 1948. He was an avid supporter of the “Hammers” West Ham Football Club. In his later years he became a very active member and president of the Hove and Kingsway Bowling club. But his real passion was for water sports and he continued to swim daily well into his late 80s.
Concerned by the poverty in Gambia, a favourite holiday spot, Don was pro-active in founding a school for visually impaired children. Soon a charity was established and the school opened. Today it is fully integrated into the Gambian Education Ministry and you can read its tribute to Don posted on the Internet.
Always interested by anything engineering, Don observed that there is no mains water in the Gambia despite plenty of water some 60/80 feet below the surface. Once he set out to find a water source, the school had an ample supply within a couple of months. In addition to this school, Don supported the local primary school – we donated hundreds of pens and pencils on every trip. Always both generous and imaginative, Don also supported many of the young local men who worked at the beach club; he would fill his suitcase with clothes and leave them all behind for the boys to share.
Whilst working in South Africa Don was very conscious that there were no black engineers in the company and so set about founding an engineering school, hoping that eventually there would be black engineers working for Foster Wheeler.
Don’s charitable interests were important to him with some 30 charities benefiting from his support. He was particularly interested in bird watching, both in the Gambia and in Essex when we would go to the Rainham Marshes RSPB site for a few hours. He was also a great benefactor of the National Trust and visited most of their locations in the South of England.
Don was a very fine cook. On our weekend visits he would serve his favourite dish, Beef Wellington, which took four or five days to prepare. Finest fillet was purchased from Waitrose and marinated for three or four days before serving on Saturday night – the quality was outstanding, as good as any five star restaurant. If we were staying in the early autumn we would always go home with two jars of his home-made marmalade, once again as good if not better than anything one could buy. As ever when Don decided to do something the results were always of the highest order.
Don loved classical music and whenever we arrived at Bath Court the radio was always playing Classic FM. He was a great patron of the Brighton Philharmonic and every year sponsored a concert, then hosting a lovely party at Bath Court for about 30 people.
I hope I have given you a brief insight into Don’s highly successful life. I think a quotation by Albert Einstein is rather appropriate: it’s mathematical, so Don would approve:
Success in life equals x + y + z, work is x, play is y and z is keeping your mouth shut.
Throughout 65 years of friendship Don was essentially the same person I met in 1952, he never changed. His life was characterised by hard work, kindness and generosity. He was indeed an exceptional man of the highest integrity. Don, you will be sorely missed, but never forgotten.”