I met Stewart Millman at Oxford where we both played in the college football team and were both fans of Manchester United. We remained friends ever since until his death a year ago from an aggressive cancer. Unfortunately I could not attend the funeral and then although I planned to attend the Memorial Service that was held in his honour in November last year that turned out to be the day we buried my brother-in-law Perran Penrose. (See my blog In Memoriam Perran Penrose, 24 November, 2012, tag People) I was therefore pleased to be able to get along to his stone setting ceremony at Bushey Jewish Cemetery this week and pay my respects to his family, his sisters Arlene and Yvonne, their husbands Ian and Neil, and their five children, Aaron, Anna, Danny, Leah and Stefan.
Stewart won a scholarship to New College, read Chemistry from 1967 to 1971 before embarking on a career in the City including roles at Lazard Brothers, de Zoete and Bevan (later BZW), NatWest, HSBC and then his own financial consulting firm Quantum Corporate Finance Consultancy. He later added numerous Chairman and NED roles where I would bump into him on the independent director circuit. Among the highlights of his professional career were his role in helping to create the Eurobond market in London and then his engagement in many of the privatisations of nationalised utilities.
While I have stayed in touch with my old college and enjoyed going along to the occasional gaude and other reunions Stewart, as in everything he did, became much more committed. In 1990 he became a trustee of the New College Development Fund, a role which he held until his death. Indeed knowing he had little time left he attended and led a meeting of the trustees less than a week before the end. He also served for many years on the college’s Endowment committee and produced two publications for Old Members on the College’s finances, “A Forward Look at New College’s Finances” in 2008 and “New College Finances Revisited” in 2011. These are a model of clarity in explaining the arcane world of Oxbridge finances resting as they do on 14th century endowments and centuries of complex dealings with properties spread over several counties.
Stewart was presented with the Distinguished Friend of Oxford Award in 2010 for his services to New College and the Said business School and was elected to the Vice Chancellor’s Circle in 2010 in recognition of his generosity to the collegiate University. Stewart became a benefactor to many causes including Oxfam to whom he was also an adviser. In the 2012 edition of the New College Record David Palfreyman, the bursar, writes that “(Stewart’s) legacy to the college will be the largest in living memory of such gifts which we have had the good fortune to receive, and indeed one of the largest in our 633 years of existence. What will the college do with it? The executors have been in discussions with the college, and with the family. Clearly we will readily honour Stewart's Letter of Intent that accompanied his Will and hence we will deploy the capital to do the following things in his memory:
We will fully endow on a permanent and perpetual basis a post as ‘The Stewart Millman Fellow and Tutor in Management Studies’.
We will again permanently and perpetually endow ‘The Stewart Millman Graduate Studentship in Management Studies’, working jointly with the Said Business School to find and fund high-grade research students.
We will establish on a permanent and perpetual basis ‘The Stewart Millman Bursaries’ for the provision of financial aid more generally to New College students.
And we will use a small amount of the legacy to finance a recording of a performance of the New College Chamber Opera whose summer performances Stewart attended for many years: a CD of that recorded performance will in due course be available in his honour and memory.
I am also able to say that, thanks to the generosity of those who were and remained friends of Stewart from his undergraduate days reading Chemistry, another college academic post will almost certainly now be endowed in his honour and memory as ‘The Stewart Millman Fellow and Tutor in Chemistry’. “
At the Memorial Service Sir Curtis Price, Warden of New College gave the address. I quote just a few extracts:
“…he arrived at New College in 1967 to read Chemistry. He’d been a brilliant pupil at City of London Boys’ School, and that early promise took full flight at New College. And he never changed. His former classmates remember a boisterous, mascot-like figure who couldn’t stop talking except when soaking up knowledge and information from all around him. He would then immediately begin to challenge and one of his contemporaries can’t remember ever winning an argument with him. Stewart simply could not be ignored: he dominated proceedings with impeccable logic and a formidable intellect; he lit up rooms with his wit and occasional sarcasm, but was never mean-spirited and always blunted his barbs with playful self-deprecation.”
On his role as an adviser to the college Sir Curtis said “…he was an active member of various college committees, negotiating major contracts on our behalf and keeping tabs on our fund managers. But all this official activity masked even more important service; Stewart was in effect the college’s principal independent financial adviser over many years, helping to maximise the growth of the endowment before the crash of 2008 and to minimise its effects on the college’s portfolio. He was our guardian angel.”
And on an even more personal note “… I greatly valued Stewart’s friendship. He was a frequent visitor to the lodgings and became over time a confidant; I called him my ‘economics tutor’. We talked often – sometimes several times a week – and I can scarcely believe that he is not still at the end of a telephone or stopping by for tea on his way to Old Trafford. I miss him terribly.”
Sir Curtis and his wife were also at the stone setting. Sir Curtis and I had arrived without suitable headgear and he managed to find a couple of yarmulkes for us. Jim Astle, one of Stewart’s executors and another New College man from our era, was there too. He had contributed a fine obituary for the Record in which he recalled “I have known no-one cleverer. He nominally read Chemistry as an undergraduate, but in reality read everything and forgot nothing. .. he was known by every New College undergraduate and most of the Senior Common Room.”
I too have known no-one cleverer. Stewart used his brilliance to make a fortune but has also used it to leave a legacy that will help many both through charity and through education. He leaves the world a poorer place for his loss but a richer one for his gifts. I last saw him at a New College function in November 2011. We were photographed together with my wife for the New College News. He was diagnosed with cancer less than three months later and dead within seven months. I am proud to have known him and to have been one of his many friends.
Copyright David C Pearson 2013 All rights reserved