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John James Shepherd Marston MBE

This post is my personal tribute to John as my uncle , boss and mentor. His sixty years at Marstons is recorded in the 125 year anniversary book (not available in all good books shops but available via this link and the copy lodged in The British Library !)

The last time I saw John was in St George’s hospital on June 19th before I went on holiday . One of the nurses asked if I was his daughter and John replied that I was his niece and I added ‘and he is my boss.’ To which he said ‘now she’s in charge’. Strictly I am no longer in charge as I have handed over the Managing Director’s roll to the extremely able and all round good man John Clark but to me JJSM will always be the boss , the patriarch, the head of the table and the figurehead of the business. When I joined the company in 1986 John had his own office with the most enormous mahogany partners desk almost the same size as the room . After a three course lunch in the canteen every day he would smoke a cigar . That’s what a boss does isn’t it ? Nowadays none of us have an office and we don’t smoke….. and lunch is more likely to be left overs from home !

My father, John’s brother Tony, died in 1999 when my two sons were still very young . John didn’t hesitate to step in to do grandpa things with them like helping with a school project on Brunel and taking us to Bristol to see SS Great Britain, messing about on boats and tying bowline’s. Recalling some of these happiest of memories with my eldest son we realised most memories involved John getting wet either sailing , swimming or diving in to turquoise pools, in to the murky seas, or in to muddy canals either fully dressed or completely naked.

Fitting therefore that one of John’s first jobs at Marstons was the construction of Richmond Swimming Baths ( now called Pools in the Park). The building is not only still in full use after 60 years but is also Grade II listed . Any builder will tell you the pride they feel in passing by a structure that the world can see that you have had a hand in. Driving around South West London with John would be more like sitting next to the tour guide on an open top bus, with him pointing at and recalling a problem structure or difficult Architect or a roof feature made by his own practical hands.

John was still a Director of Marston Properties Holdings when he died and only missed the last Board meeting in May. When I visited him in early June with some fresh figs and a prawn sandwich he was looking quite frail. When I made to leave he said ‘What about the Strand’ . I realised I hadn’t included this in the ‘business update’ . He was referring to a building he bought an interest in the early 1980’s, despite the lawyers advice, with the intention of one day running it as an hotel. We still don’t run it but he is completely determined that we will and fully expects us to one day… John had the most extraordinary tenacity when it came to seeing something through and he expects the Company Directors to have the same determination - we will feel him watching !

John and I had our disagreements – sometimes our differences would seem insurmountable. I resigned once but he let me come back saying if you want to influence something you have to stay involved. John wouldn’t let go , he would find a way , a more lateral route and patiently and respectfully would keep prodding away . He taught me so much but especially in tackling problems , don’t walk away , find a different way.

John joined the company in the early 1960's after a visit from one of the Marston Company Directors saying ‘your father needs you’ . He would much rather have stayed working for Costains and he loved being an engineer, clearly he was good at his job. However John was a loyal family man and once asked to join the family business he would not have considered doing anything else. His most important family are of course his wife Mette , children Nicola and Andrew and the grandchildren Ben, Adam, Ruby, Ava and Rita. The wider family, his siblings , nieces and nephews some of whom are shareholders are also pretty important but equally so are the ‘family of employees’ to whom he has always shown familial loyalty, kindness and respect .

Witnessing the tributes paid to John over the last few weeks it is his constancy that shines through. He is described as a Gentleman, kind , honest and straightforward . More than that you knew his enthusiasm would rub off on you and you would have fun …. and champagne , always champagne.