A tribute to David Winn OBE 1940-2020

The following eulogy was delivered by David Stewart at the funeral of David Winn on Thursday 22 October 2020.

My connection with David is through Eastbourne College, his old school. I first met David 36 years ago. This makes me very junior compared with some here - John Wilmot and Maureen have known David for a great deal longer - at least 60 years?!

This is obviously a very sad occasion because we are saying farewell. So many people will miss David and the magnitude of the loss grows every day. However, when we stop and think about his extraordinary life there is so much to be thankful for.

Defining 'a successful life' is a contentious point. But most of us can agree on two fundamental criteria:

  • 'how many other people in the world have we helped?',
  • and, 'are we leaving the world a better place?'

David was a giant and hugely successful on both these counts. His life centred around his family, Winn and Coales, his lifelong friends, and his association with the College.

As we all know David had a busy life and distilling his irrepressible personality and spirit into a few minutes is impossible. However the three qualities which are unavoidable when describing him are: loyalty, modesty and generosity. In light of his generosity to charities it was only fitting that in 1994 he was awarded an OBE in recognition for his services to the community in South London. Underneath that 'no nonsense' demeanour was a sensitive man whose kindness and awareness of the needs of others, made him very special. He was always understated and the self-deprecating humour that he used to such good effect was a big part of David; a joke and a laugh were never far away.

David was the grandson of the founder of Winn and Coales, Paul Winn, and he joined the company in 1965. He served as Deputy Chairman from 1968-1991 and Managing Director from 1988-1995. When Frank Coales passed away in 1991, he became Chairman of the company and held this position for 29 years.

During his time as Chairman, the Group grew substantially with seven subsidiaries around the world and a network of dedicated distributors and agents. In the last decade, the Group won three Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in International Trade, recognising its growth in world sales. These notable successes were achieved in 2010, 2015 and 2017.

Despite his many achievements, he was, first and foremost, a very modest man who – while being immensely proud of Winn and Coales - was quick to give credit to others for the company’s successes.

It was typical that when the company won the Queen’s Award in 2015, David said:

'It is essential that the credit for this award is shared by all who work for the company, from the factory to the sales offices, overseas subsidiaries and agents. Without everyone's endeavours it would not have been possible.'

What happened last year when David travelled to America for the opening of the new state of the art factory in Houston was also characteristic of his 'can do' and 'let's cut to the chase' attitude. Problems were there to be solved. Because he wasn't allowed to fly he decided that a trip on the Queen Mary 2 and a flight from New York was the way to get the job done. Ongoing health issues were quite simply not going to get in the way of him being present at such an important occasion. It is no wonder he inspired such loyalty from the Winn and Coles employees when he himself was so committed to leading from the front and fulfilling his responsibilities as Chairman.

From a family point of view his happy marriage to Jennifer and living at South End House was the rock from which he was able to do so much to help others. David was always quick to underplay his sporting prowess but Chris remembers tennis matches with friends when he would run his opponents ragged. The motto of 'minimal movement but maximum effectiveness' made him dynamite and highly effective on the tennis court!

Jennifer's unexpected death in January 2008 came as a massive blow to David, Chris and James. The courageous way he coped with that terrible loss is a lesson to us all. It was typical of him that he chose to commemorate Jennifer's love of the performing arts by naming the 'Jennifer Winn Auditorium' at the College. He wanted to make something positive from a terrible negative. And he donated a beautiful portrait of Jennifer which everyone passes as they enter the Auditorium.

His record of service and loyalty to the College is unrivalled:

College Governor for a record-breaking 33 years, College Vice-President and Chairman and President of the OEA and Eastbournian Society.

Tales of schooldays were frequently recounted and when speaking at reunions he invariably had his audiences rolling in the aisles. As a public speaker he had the timing of a master comedian and left his audiences wanting more.

Through his time at the College he made many lifelong friendships and no tribute to David would be complete without mentioning the Windsor 10 Society.

John Wilmot, Windsor 10 member, writes that 'this was David's brainchild and the inaugural meeting was held on the 12th July 1958 in study no.4 in School House. There were ten members.The object of the Windsor 10 was that its members (all School House) should meet once a year for a reunion. David had in mind to meet at the basement bar of the Windsor Dive at Victoria station and had already chosen a tie for the new society featuring the Tower of Windsor Castle. The initial reunion took place in December 1958 at the Windsor Dive, followed by lunch at Simpsons in the Strand and a theatre visit. Before this, the Windsor 10 had gone to Blackheath to watch the College playing rugby against Ampleforth. We are still 7/8 members meeting every year although the format has changed and the Windsor Dive is no longer there. We will miss David but no future meeting will pass without reference to David and also Dod Wainwright who died in 2019.'

David’s interest in and support of his old school has been transformative and generations of Denso scholars at the College will be able to take advantage of a life-changing opportunity.

Philip Broadley, the Chairman of Governors, says: 'No longer will the College have his ebullient presence at every occasion: we have lost our greatest supporter and I have lost a true friend.'

And finally our Headmaster Tom Lawson writes: 'No single person has contributed so much to the development of the College as David. As I stood there at the opening of the Winn Building, with David, Dame Katherine Grainger, and the Eastbournian great and the good, I described David as 'the second founder' of the College. This phrase came easily and if anything underplays his impact. He gave more generously than anyone to create the thriving College we see today.'

In summary David’s life was based on the pillars of family, business and friendship. And with those hallmarks of loyalty, modesty and generosity, David has set us all a superb example. On behalf of those of us here and all those unable to be here today, thank you David, rest in peace and God bless.

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