Ger­ald Lipton

Chi­nacraft founder and phi­lan­thropist who took Nightin­gale House to “a new level”

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

WHEN STU­ART Lyons, then chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Royal Doul­ton china com­pany first met Ger­ald Lipton, he re­called a fig­ure in a black leather chair, feet rest­ing on a glass desk, cigar in hand.

Tall, ath­letic in his youth and blessed with an easy charm, the founder of Chi­nacraft would tell peo­ple he “sold cups and saucers in the mar­ket”, which dis­arm­ingly un­der­stated the busi­ness he built with his sis­ter Jeanette. Chi­nacraft be­came a show­case for the finest English china and crys­tal, help­ing brands such as Wedg­wood, Water­ford and Royal Doul­ton to grace din­ing ta­bles across the world, within a net­work of 45 shops, many in prime West End lo­ca­tions.

Born in Hack­ney and raised in Hen­don, Ger­ald Lipton, who has died aged 89, lost his father when he was seven, which in­flu­enced his de­ci­sion to leave Hab­er­dasher’s Askes in Crick­le­wood, with­out qual­i­fi­ca­tions at 16 de­spite the head­mas­ter’s ef­forts to dis­suade him. He wanted to im­prove the lot of his mother and two sis­ters; mem­o­ries of a coin-box for hot wa­ter and a stone floor in the bath­room prov­ing in­cen­tives.

Be­gin­ning as an of­fice boy in a pub­li­ca­tions ex­port com­pany, at 21 he was elected a cor­po­rate mem­ber of the In­sti­tute of Ex­port. Via an ad he placed in the JC of­fer­ing his ser­vices, an op­por­tu­nity arose and he started ex­port­ing tea-sets.

Gov­ern­ment re­stric­tions on sell­ing dec­o­rated table­ware at home re­mained in force, although ex­port re­jects were al­lowed. Armed with a £1,000 loan from cousins, Ger­ald opened the first Chi­nacraft shop in Hen­don in 1950, the name sug­gested by his elder sis­ter Rita (who as Rita Levy later be­came Mayor of Bar­net). Amid the grey­ness of the aus­ter­ity years, the brightly coloured crock­ery found a ready clien­téle. Trade was of­ten so brisk the shop had to shut dur­ing lunchtime to re­stock. Within a year an Ox­ford Street branch had fol­lowed.

While Jeanette pro­vided the cre­ative flair, Ger­ald looked af­ter the fi­nances and lo­gis­tics. Be­hind his re­laxed man­ner lay a shrewd busi­ness brain and, re­spected as a man of his word, he won the trust of top sup­pli­ers.

Com­mu­nally minded, he was a board mem­ber of Western Mar­ble Arch Sy­n­a­gogue (as it is now called) who re­cruited Jonathan Sacks as its rabbi. At a packed me­mo­rial ser­vice at WMA in May, the Emer­i­tus Chief Rabbi re­mem­bered him “as one of my best ad­vis­ers”.

He had a knack of be­ing able to get his point across with­out up­set­ting peo­ple. He once took out the food and bev­er­age man­ager of the Is­raeli ho­tel where his fam­ily would spend Pe­sach to the best restau­rant in Tel Aviv – to show him what good food and ser­vice ac­tu­ally were: they be­came firm friends.

It was a con­ver­sa­tion in shul one Shab­bat morn­ing with David Clore, younger brother of Sir Charles, who headed fundrais­ing for Nightin­gale House, the south Lon­don Jewish home for the el­derly, that led to his in­volve­ment with the char­ity. He be­came a trustee, then chair­man in 1985 and lat­terly its life-pres­i­dent.

A more re­cent chair­man, Har­vey Rosen­blatt, re­called, “Dave Clore was a phe­nom­e­nal fundraiser but Ger­ald took it to a new level”. He presided over a sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment of the home as care chal­lenges grew more com­plex, en­abling it to rest on a se­cure fi­nan­cial base with­out hav­ing to dip into re­serves. His char­i­ta­ble ser­vice earned him an MBE in 1999 and when he stepped down as chair­man af­ter 16 years, a wing was named af­ter him.

His first mar­riage to Shirley Lipert in 1957 ended in di­vorce. But he had 44 years of hap­pi­ness with his se­cond wife Wendy (née Kingsley).

As home din­ing de­clined dur­ing the 1990s and sup­pli­ers opened shops abroad, Chi­nacraft switched to ca­ter­ing for the restau­rant and ho­tel in­dus­try. Three of his chil­dren, Carolyn, Tim and Sam fol­lowed him into the busi­ness.

For many years, he stud­ied To­rah at home with Rabbi Joey Grun­feld, di­rec­tor of Project Seed, and played chaz­anut in the car on the jour­ney down to his flat in France. He was a keen golfer and fre­quent bridge player.

A bro­ken leg sus­tained when a mo­tor­bike hit him when he was 20, cut short his crick­et­ing and rugby days. When he took up golf in his 30s, one club in­struc­tor asked why he had not yet joined it. “What is your po­si­tion on Jews?” he asked. “We don’t have any,” came the re­ply. “Which is why I am not a mem­ber,” Ger­ald said. He is sur­vived by his wife Wendy, chil­dren Carolyn, Jane, Sam and Tim, 10 grand­chil­dren and three great-grand­chil­dren. SI­MON ROCKER

Ger­ald Ju­lian Lipton; born Novem­ber 1, 1927. Died April 9, 2017.

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