Thursday, 31 January 2013

Marius Gray RIP

News reached us last night of a good friend's death, on Tuesday morning. We had been expecting the call, but it was cruelly premature.

Ringing Leo with the news, I was sad to hear he regretted never really getting to know his Godfather Marius. "He was a quiet, kind man, but there was a sort of distance to him." This was also the public perception, perhaps.

Marius, a chartered accountant, though one would hardly know it (he was far too civilised), was the supreme negotiator; and he was valued as such, but more so for his wise, all-round advice. This could be conferred anywhere: at trustee meetings in stately homes (a Woburn or a Welbeck Woodhouse), or in the Daily Mail boardroom; as Receiver of the Beatles or securing the Prokofiev royalties; as Chair of the King's Fund or alongside the late Tom Bingham on the two-man Government enquiry into sanction-busting in Rhodesia. We discussed directorships once during a plane journey: "I like it when I'm sole director," he said. "You can hold board meetings when and where you like: I think I'll hold one now."

How he kept all his balls in the air, at the same time as being senior partner of his firm, Dixon Wilson, may be attributable to his succinct style. When a letter from him landed on my desk, I rarely had to turn the page: indeed, often it consisted of one paragraph, or sentence: once, indeed, just a single word. It was invariably enough.

Belatedly, Marius was made CVO a couple of years ago. A man in a suit with a difference, he won respect not only in this country, but abroad too. He seemed to thrive on travel. I first met him in Paris in I think 1973: the above photograph was taken after lunch in the Piazza Farnese, Rome in October 1974. A Winter or two later, Marius drove three of us from Geneva up to Méribel: when he mistook a rock for a ball of snow, the puncture made us late for a rather important meeting, and dirty as well. Marius was, needless to say, entirely unfazed. Never did I hear him swear or display anger.

It seems only a very short while ago that Marius properly retired, and was able to devote himself entirely to his beloved gardens (Greenwich and Herefordshire), birds, stamps and books - and of course to the wife and family of which he was so justly proud.

Leo was right: Marius was never a man to make a display of emotion: matter-of-fact was an adjective made for him, but with his few words he was nevertheless a master of nuance. Despite his seeming caution and a relish for silences, life was never dull: he would pose, with a smile in his eyes, the most searching questions on the widest range of subjects. If - as frequently happened - you couldn't answer one, then it was seldom he volunteered to help you out. His cleverness lay in the questioning: his charm in the wit and laughter of an essentially shy man.

Invited to lunch by Marius one day at the Lansdowne Club, I noted him pause for a longish chat with an older man. "Who was that?" I asked. "My father," came the reply. And there might have been a Chinese streak in Marius' make-up, one felt, acquired as if by osmosis through Basil Gray, head of the British Museum Oriental Department for nearly a quarter of a century. In a more direct way, his love of visual art, from David Jones to Rembrandt came from his mother Nicolete, the celebrated letterer and daughter of the art scholar (and poet) Laurence Binyon. Nicolete's great friend, Lavinia Mynors charted the milestones of Marius' life in her - mainly still unpublished - diaries: from the little that is in book form (Alethea Hayter's "A Wise Woman" - the Erskine Press, 1996), we glimpse "Marius in a velvet jacket with glorious embellishments..." Later, she records: "Marius carved a pretty ham, and... distributed high class small glasses of high class wines." For his sociability if for nothing else, he will be so missed. Someone of such kindness, discretion, integrity, intelligence and faith is irreplaceable.

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