Obituary Robert Sumner Ward


[Extracted from Brian Bennett's oration at the memorial service at St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, on February 28, 2008]


We are here to honour Rob, but also to celebrate and enjoy the memory of his life, because we know that this is what he would have wanted today.   Rob loved life.  He lived it to the full.  So I think he would wish us now to recall with pleasure the great times we had together.  And for us it is also a day to reflect on the many ways in which knowing this man enriched our own lives.


Fortune, I think, plays a greater role in our lives than we care to acknowledge, and it was my good fortune, when I joined Sea Containers in 1975, to have Rob as my immediate boss, then and for the next 26 years until I retired.  But to me and to so many of us here today, Rob was more than just a guy we worked for.  He became a very dear friend and mentor, even at times an agony aunt, a man we could trust completely and respect profoundly.


He had a warm and generous nature which was apparent particularly in his relationships with those who worked for him. He was a stalwart and a prime mover of the Sports and Social Club, serving as its chairman for 25 years, and this reflected his fervent belief that people were more than a simple human resource to be exploited, but that you got the best out of them if they felt part of a wider family.


But Rob was above all a brilliant businessman, with a keen incisive brain, a superb negotiator and debater, combining a sound commercial instinct with a good legal mind.  He was extraordinarily painstaking and diligent, and when others thought it time to relax and enjoy themselves, he would still be toiling away.


And you could always rely on Rob to rescue you when digging yourself a hole in front of JBS at the annual management meetings, something that happened not infrequently to me.  In fact Rob was a sponge who soaked up all our little misdemeanours before they got upstairs and similarly absorbed all the demands coming down from on high and took some of the sting and - dare I say? - irrationality out of them.


Rob was authoritative without being stuffy, serious and uncompromising when necessary,  but full of humour when relaxing.  He always believed that business should be enjoyed, that it should be fun and an experience to be savoured.  Many of us here today will have our own personal memories of the fun, the laughs we had when travelling with Rob, often in the most bizarre situations.


A remarkably gifted man, therefore, was Rob, who gave the best part of his working life to SeaCo, was a cornerstone of the Company, and one of the main building blocks in its success over 30-some years.  A giant of the leasing industry.


His all too short retirement, at a time when we all expect to enjoy the fruits of our labours, turned into a long and painful struggle as his health steadily deteriorated.  A fighter to the end, he tackled the cruel and horrible disease that eventually took his life with the same strength, courage and uncomplaining humour that he showed throughout his business life.  These were some of the qualities that made us proud to call him our friend.


Rob is gone now, and those of us who were his friends miss him more than we can possibly say.  But it is an ending, and what is left is for us to honour and say goodbye to a rare man.  Wherever you are Rob, I know the celestial barman will be dispensing the gin and tonic and I can hear those immortal words: "Go easy on the tonic."


God bless you, Rob.  We shall not forget you.



(Click on picture to enlarge)


[Rob Ward presenting a souvenir album to Brian Bennett on the occasion of the latter's retirement]