Sir John Donne (19 July 2017)

Sir John Donne

Past Master Sir John Donne (Master in 1983/4) died aged 95 on 19 July 2017 in Shrewsbury Hospital after a short illness.

John was born in Brighton, where his father was senior partner in the family law firm Nye and Donne. He won a scholarship to Charterhouse where he particularly enjoyed both classics and chemistry and played cricket in the 1st Eleven. On leaving school in 1940 he volunteered to join the Army, enlisting in the Royal Artillery and eventually fighting in the hotly contested advance through the Low Countries into Germany in early 1945. It was during the War that John met and married Mary Seaton. There began a strong relationship cemented by family life and their common interests of reading, poetry, music and gardening.

On being discharged from the Army John declined to take up his place at Cambridge and instead qualified as a solicitor and joining the family firm which later amalgamated to become Donne Mileham and Haddock. He later became a senior partner in the firm, where he earned a reputation as a wise and knowledgeable lawyer.

At the same time as his demanding legal career John became involved in the National Health Service on a voluntary basis becoming Chair of the Management Committee of St Francis Hospital where he was committed to improving the conditions for mental health patients and staff alike. Friendly, impartial, and quietly formidable, his wisdom and fairness made him a natural chairman. He was successively Chairman of the Mid-Sussex Hospital Management Committee in the sixties, the South East Metropolitan Regional Board 1971-74 and its successor the South East Thames Regional Health Authority 1975-85 which was responsible for running all the hospitals in South London (excluding the teaching hospitals) and the South East of England.

He was passionate about the NHS. His approach was non-partisan. No-one ever knew what his politics were, and he always strove to prevent the politicisation of the organisations which he led. When knighted for services to the NHS in 1976 he was Chair of all the Regional Chairpersons.

Donne became a member of the International Hospital Federation in 1969 later becoming the UK’s representative. Other health-related roles held during the 1970’s - 1980’s included being a trustee of the health think-tanks the Kings Fund and the Nuffield Trust for Research and Policy Studies in Health Services, a governor of Guy’s Hospital and a member of the General Council of King Edward's Hospital Fund for London 1972-91. He was a Council Member of the Institute for Medical Ethics 1980-86, having already been on the Editorial Board of its Journal. He also participated in, and chaired, conferences on Social and Ethical Issues run by St. George’s House, at Windsor Castle and was a member of the Court of Sussex University.

Somehow in that busy life he managed to pursue his other interests. Cricket was his passion and he was a playing member of the MCC and in the early days of family life he regularly played for the Sussex Martlets. He was fascinated by the history and traditions of the City of London and enjoyed being a freeman of the City. He was introduced to the Broderers by his cousin Bill Button, a Past Master, and in 1969 became a Liveryman. He was Master in 1983-4 and remained on the Court until his death. He was delighted when his eldest daughter was one of the first women to be admitted to the Livery in 2012.

John and Mary moved from Sussex to Shropshire in 1985, John retiring a year later. He had a happy retirement having more time to pursue his various interests including gardening and genealogy. Ever keen to stretch his brain, John even took up evening classes to brush up on his Greek and, as an avid reader keen to learn and to explore new concepts and ideas, he had more time to read an always eclectic range of books. He continued in his quiet unassuming way to help people sort out their problems and to provide wise counsel and unofficial legal advice to family and friends.

Mary died in 2009 having been so compassionately cared for in her last years of illness by John. John embraced new technology and his computer became a lifeline when he was necessarily confined to the house during this time.

Unfailingly cheerful and philosophical, John was always good company, both interested and interesting, and with a sharp wit and good sense of humour. He was unfailingly kind, but despite his gentle unassuming manner he always exerted a strong core presence in any gathering. He retained his quest for knowledge, humanity and fairness right until the end. He was a devoted husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.