The Head, the Board of Governors and all those involved with the Old Stoic Society, were profoundly sad to hear of the death of The Rt Hon. the Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover KG, on Friday 14 January. A former President of the OS Society and President of the Campaign for Stowe, Lord Sainsbury was an enthusiastic and loyal supporter of the development and restoration work carried out over recent decades at Stowe. Perhaps most significantly, it is the refurbishment and restoration of the Watson Art School – a project which Lord Sainsbury and his charity, the Linbury Trust, became very actively and passionately engaged with – that stands as testament to his generosity.
Beyond that, he supported a number of other significant projects and causes at Stowe, including the restoration of Stowe House, helping to ensure that vital momentum in the project was sustained through its first decade. The restoration of the Marble Hall, in particular, would not have been possible without Lord Sainsbury‘s generous patronage.
John Sainsbury arrived at Stowe in 1941 and was in Grenville House. The warmth that he felt for his time at Stowe is evident in the affectionate letters that he exchanged with JF Roxburgh, Stowe‘s founding Headmaster. Even in the years following his departure from Stowe in 1946, he talks of his disappointment at not being able to attend OS gatherings and takes a keen interest in sporting and academic matters at the School: “…How is Stowe? That sounds a stupid question, but are we doing well in exams and matches? Who is Head of Grenville this term and who have you as Head of the School…?”
John went on to study history at Worcester College, Oxford. He then completed his National Service with the army in Palestine before he joined the family firm in 1950. He was best known as the driving force behind the family supermarket chain for 23 years as its distinguished chairman and he helped secure the company‘s position as one of the country‘s leading food retailers. When he became chairman in 1969 – the fourth generation in the family firm since its foundation in the mid-19th century – its profit of £4.3m was half that of Tesco and a ninth of Marks and Spencer. Such was his success, when Lord Sainsbury retired on his 65th birthday, the company had overtaken its rivals to become the largest supermarket in Britain. It had branched out into the Homebase do-it-yourself chain, launched in the US by taking over a supermarket group there and recorded an annual profit of £628m.
In 1973 the company was floated on the stock market in what was described as the biggest flotation to that time, the family owning 85% of the stock, though that decreased substantially over time as shares were redirected to the family‘s web of charitable trusts and foundations. Between the flotation in 1973 and John Sainsbury‘s retirement in 1992, the company‘s market capitalisation rose from £117m to over £8bn.
John married the former ballet dancer Anya Linden in 1963 and the couple established the Linbury Charitable Trust to channel donations, eventually totalling more than £150m, to projects largely devoted to art and the performing arts, heritage and educational projects. Among them, in collaboration with other family members, was the £50m Sainsbury Wing to the National Gallery. There was also the Linbury Studio Theatre attached to the Royal Opera House, the Linbury biennial prize for stage design and a £25m donation to the British Museum.
Lord Sainsbury was knighted in 1980 for his services to the food retailing industry and given a life peerage in 1989. He was further honoured by Queen Elizabeth II in 1992 when he became a Knight of the Garter. He is survived by Anya and their children, John, Mark and Sarah.
Lord Sainsbury was President of the Old Stoic Society from 1997–1998 and regularly attended Old Stoic events throughout his lifetime, including attending our Senior Old Stoic Lunch. He is the only Old Stoic to have two plaques bearing his name at Stowe, one is on the wall of the Art School, the other is in North Hall. The Art School plaque reads: The renovation of the Art School was made possible by Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover KG President of the Campaign for Stowe (Grenville 1941–1945) 7th September 2010. The North Hall plaque reads: This stone was unveiled by The Rt Hon. The Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover, KG President, The Old Stoic Society on 11th May 1998 to mark the inauguration of the Stowe School Foundation on the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the School.
We remain profoundly grateful for the extraordinary and transformative support that he gave to Stowe and he will be very sadly missed by us all.