Ger­ald Ron­son fought fas­cists on the streets be­fore build­ing a busi­ness em­pire, serv­ing a prison term, and giv­ing mil­lions to char­ity. He is now con­cerned to en­sure that UK Jews have a se­cure fu­ture

The Jewish Chronicle - - FEATURES - BY JENNI FRAZER PHO­TO­GRAPH BY MICHAELDONALD

GER­ALD RON­SON THINKS for a minute as he reck­ons up how much he has given to Jewish char­i­ties over the years. “It’s about £35 to £40 mil­lion, but then my wife [Dame Gail Ron­son] and I prob­a­bly raise about £6 mil­lion a year for other char­i­ties.” Just the same, Ron­son in­sists, it is not about the money.

A driven in­di­vid­ual who at 68 still works “an 80- or 90-hour week” — 20 per cent of it de­voted to char­i­ta­ble and phil­an­thropic work — the prop­erty (and one­time petrol-sta­tion) gi­ant has won ad­mi­ra­tion even from his crit­ics af­ter over­com­ing two crises which might have bro­ken other men: prison, in the wake of the Guin­ness shares scan­dal; and the near col­lapse of his com­pany, Heron, with net debts of £328m.

But Ron­son has suc­cess­fully rein­vented him­self, af­ter bring­ing in new in­vestors such as Bill Gates and Ru­pert Mur­doch. Th­ese days, the

Rich List places Ron­son 89th in the top 500 in prop­erty, rat­ing him as worth £280 mil­lion. Cur­rent projects in­clude the Heron Tower, among the tallest build­ings be­ing con­structed in the City of Lon­don. So in­evitably, it about the money.

From his ear­li­est days in busi­ness, Ger­ald Mau­rice Ron­son has made a point of putting some­thing back into the com­mu­nity. He was, he says, “a bit of a

when he was a young man. “I used to go to the Jewish char­i­ties when I was 15, 16. In fact, I met [Sir] Trevor Chinn when I was 16 when he was run­ning the Char­i­ties Aid… so we go back a long way.” Ron­son did not re­ally do much him­self, though, at that stage. Af­ter four years at a com­mer­cial col­lege in Crick­le­wood — where he ex­celled in arith­metic, ge­og­ra­phy and games — he left school at 15 to sweep the floors of his fa­ther Henry’s furniture busi­ness. Even­tu­ally, he be­came works man­ager.

At 18, there was a turn­ing point. “What re­ally drew me in was the fight against an­tisemitism; the 62 Group.” This was a loose coali­tion of mainly Jewish teenagers who led the chal­lenge against Oswald Mosley’s fas­cists, newly resur­gent af­ter the war. He fol­lowed this by join­ing the Jewish Aid Com­mit­tee of Bri­tain — Ja­cob — which was also founded to fight fas­cism. Out of Ja­cob grew GRET, the slightly se­cre­tive Group Re­la­tions Ed­u­ca­tional Trust, which then be­came the CST, the present-day Com­mu­nity Se­cu­rity Trust — “and not”, Ron­son is at pains to point out, “Ger­ald Ron­son’s private army”.

“We formed Ja­cob be­cause we needed a ve­hi­cle to raise money to fight,” he ex­plains. “I was very much in­volved, in the early days, in, shall we say, the phys­i­cal side… It then de­vel­oped into a much more so­phis­ti­cated ma­chine, which is what CST is now: but then our en­e­mies are much broader, too. To­day, our

zette’s

bes”

is

Es­tates Ga-

lob- en­e­mies are the ex­treme left, the ex­treme right and, most of all, the Is­lamic fun­da­men­tal­ists.”

Had the young Ron­son been a street-fighter? “I would cer­tainly de­scribe my­self as a street-fighter in those days, and I have no em­bar­rass­ment what­so­ever about that. That’s how we dealt with the fas­cists, and we did take them off the streets in Lon­don — we did what we had to do.”

By 26, news­pa­pers were de­scrib­ing Ron­son as “Bri­tain’s youngest self-made mil­lion­aire”, thanks to an unerring in­stinct for prof­itable com­mer­cial prop­erty deals and a hands-on approach that has con­tin­ued to stand him in good stead. Even to­day, when he might be thought ready to take life a lit­tle eas­ier, Ron­son works a six-and-a-half day week, tour­ing Heron In­ter­na­tional sites on Sun­day morn­ings and con­tin­u­ing a pun­ish­ing in­ter­na­tional travel sched­ule.

He paid what he calls his “first se­ri­ous visit” to Is­rael in 1967 with the then Joint Pales­tine Ap­peal, meet­ing Golda Meir dur­ing a fact-find­ing mis­sion. He keeps his views about Is­raeli pol­i­tics to him­self, stat­ing that he is “not a po­lit­i­cal per­son… I do have opin­ions, but they’re re­ally about peo­ple I can work with or peo­ple I can’t work with. I’m a peo­ple per­son. With me, what you see is what you get. A lot of peo­ple can’t han­dle that, be­cause I’m very up-front. I say what I think… I haven’t got time to dress things up in fancy phrases.”

He spent much of his time dur­ing the Six-Day War work­ing for the JPA (now UJIA), can­vass­ing and get­ting in­volved in the Jewish Agency’s projects. Di­rectly out of that in­volve­ment came his pas­sion for build­ing schools: three in Is­rael, then Im­manuel Col­lege in Bushey, King Solomon High School in Bark­ing­side, Ye­sodey Hato­rah and the Lubav­itch Girls’ School in Lon­don, a wing at JFS, and now his

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