Shortly after the sad news of Past Master John Hauxwell we heard of Past Master John O’Carroll-Bailey, who also recently passed away following a battle with cancer.

Below is a tribute to John by Past Master Stuart Somerville.

“I am a long term close associate and friend of John and very glad and honoured to have been asked by Jean and her family to talk about him.

“John and I were very good friends in the Builders’ Merchant Industry.  It turned out that we had quite a lot more in common. I was born in Coventry, our family business had a branch in Coventry and shortly after the war I went to the Arnold Lodge prep school in Leamington, where I believe many years later John’s two children, Tom and Dominique, both went.

“Our paths first crossed about 16/17 years ago at the Berners Hotel, London where a meeting had been arranged by the Builders Merchants Federation (the BMF). Let me briefly tell you how John had arrived at that point in his life.

“In 1961 John left school and became a trainee engineer with Turriff Construction. Over an eight year period he rose to become personal assistant to the operational director but was told he was too young to progress any further in spite of his capabilities. You can imagine how John took that. He and his new bride Jean took a ship from Southampton to Cape Town where he soon found a job and thrived as a civil engineer undertaking large building projects. However, by 1975 he and Jean felt that South Africa was not the right environment to bring up their two young children. So even though they loved the country and the wonderful life it offered, the family returned to Kenilworth.

“He joined the family builders’ merchants business Niall Bailey in Coventry as a buyer. He steadily worked his way up to Managing Director and took over when his brother retired in 1989. The company had grown to be a very successful six branch business. John was very keen on training so Niall Bailey bought into the training organisation AMIT where John was appointed chairman and turned it from a loss to a profit – making business. His business philosophy was “Keep it simple”. You buy at one price; you sell at a higher price. How can you lose money so long as there is a good buyer in place?

“John’s buying and negotiating skills were legendary whether it was the price of cement, the price of an airline ticket, a bed and breakfast in Scotland or a super conference hotel in Monte Carlo; he always managed to get astoundingly good prices. About 10 years later Niall Baileys sold out to the Grafton Group and it was only then that John started coming to BMF meetings in London which is where I first met him. He eventually became their national President and, during his year, he hosted a very successful conference in the dream location of Monte Carlo.

“The BMF was very sorry to hear of John’s death. They send their deepest condolences to his family and thank him for all his valuable contributions during his time at the BMF.

“There followed a number of years when Grafton UK asked John as a Board member to help establish, sort out or improve a number of businesses in Scotland and England. He did this efficiently and successfully to the benefit of Grafton and all of the projects which he undertook.  These ranged in activity from builders merchanting, a specialist distributor of dry lining materials, a nail packaging company and a distributor of tubes, pipes and valves. His skill, at integrating the businesses, increasing their turnover and sensitively managing the people involved, was exactly what John had in spades.

“Retirement gave John the time and the opportunity to focus his efforts on the Worshipful Company of Builders’ Merchants, one of the City Livery companies in London, whose objectives are charitable. He progressed through the Court and became Master. During his year as Master his forceful drive was instrumental in persuading the Company to accept the principle of having an Honorary Alderman on the Court. It was this that led Fiona Woolf to becoming an Honorary Court Member; we were delighted she subsequently became Lord Mayor of London.  His legacy to the Company is the wonderful embroidered cloth for use on the top table at all major functions. You will all know of John’s speech impediment. It is a mark of his courage and determination that he did not let this stand in his way in accepting these roles of senior office.

“His aggressive cancer was diagnosed in April 2011 towards the end of a holiday in South Africa. His character and bravery drove him to battle against it with Jean’s unstinting and tireless support. It was during this time that he realised the lovely house where they were living at Ashow was just too big for them and too far from town, even though he was often seen hurtling through the country lanes on his mobility scooter on his way to and from Kenilworth. So he and Jean decided to move and to downsize. The right location was found, the new house was designed and built and they moved in before Christmas last year. Having spent a weekend there with them, I have to say it is a magnificent house. But only John, an engineer, could manage to downsize on that scale. I believe the footprint is about the same as the old house. It is true there are fewer bedrooms and the garden is probably smaller but I have heard a rumour that there is so much glass in the new house that their window cleaners are now considering early retirement!

“John was energetic, organised, strong-minded, stubborn and thrifty but encouraging, fair, warm- hearted and loving. I know from experience that the twinkle in his eye, his wicked sense of humour and his tendency to play tricks would often catch you out. He had a very, very quick wit. and I never knew him to not to come up with an immediate response. However, John was not without his problems. As a large man of 6ft 2” he was not always in control of his body. In particular he had a propensity to lean heavily on tables laden with fine wine glasses at formal functions—-much to Jean’s embarrassment. But his mind was always razor sharp. In his leisure time he loved to play bridge or chess and enjoyed the challenge of a Sudoku.

“The task of trying to sum up John is so, so difficult. He was:-

  • The top man in Niall Bailey,
  • He was a top man at Amit and the Builders Merchants Training Trust and the Unimer Buying Group.
  • He became the top man at the Builders Merchants Federation.
  • He became the top man at the Worshipful Company of Builders’ Merchants.
  • He was definitely a top Grandad, to William, Oliver, Abi and Cloe.
  • He was a top father to Tom and Dominique.
  • But above all he was top husband to Jean.

“He will be greatly missed.”