A Tribute to John Marston MBE
A personal tribute to my Uncle, Boss and Mentor John James Shepherd Marston MBE, who died on the 1st July 2022.
August 1, 2022
19th February 1935 - 1st
John's 60 years at Marstons are recorded in the 125 year anniversary book (not available in all good books shops but available via this link and via a copy lodged in The British Library).
The last time I saw John was in St George’s hospital 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, so 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 role 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. 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 Brunell 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, diving in to turquoise pools, murky seas, or into muddy canals.
It is 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 a structure the world can see and use that you have personally 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, difficult architectural work, 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 really 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!
John and I had our disagreements – sometimes our differences would seem insurmountable. I would resign but he would 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 particularly about tackling problems - don’t walk away, find a different way.
John joined the company after a visit from one of the Marston Company Directors saying ‘your father needs you’. He would much rather have stayed working for Costains as he loved being an engineer. 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 Mette, Nicola, 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 very important but equally so are the ‘family of employees’ to whom he has always shown the same loyalty, kindness and respect as his relatives.
Witnessing the tributes paid to John, it is his constancy that shines through. He is described as a kind and honest gentleman. More than that, you knew his enthusiasm would rub off on you and you would always have fun, and champagne! Always champagne!
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