Lord Gibson

Businessman and authoritative chairman of the Arts Council and the National Trust
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The Independent Online

Richard Patrick Tallentyre Gibson, businessman: born 5 February 1916; director, Westminster Press 1948-78; chairman, Pearson Longman 1967-79; deputy chairman, S. Pearson & Son (later Pearson Plc) 1969-75, executive deputy chairman 1975-78, chairman 1978-83; Chairman, Arts Council 1972-77; created 1975 Baron Gibson; chairman, Financial Times Ltd 1975-77; Chairman, National Trust 1977-86; married 1945 Dione Pearson (four sons); died Lye Green, East Sussex 20 April 2004.

Pat Gibson was chairman of the Arts Council and the National Trust and also of S. Pearson and Son, the diverse business empire now known as Pearson Plc.

He was a man of grace and charm with an incisive mind, a gift for leadership and a deep and active interest in the arts. By nature quiet and retiring, he was wonderful company and a born raconteur, choosing his words with effortless precision and delivering them in a voice that was soft and unusually melodious. He had a discerning eye for architecture, gardens and works of art, and was ski-ing into his eighties. But, his great love was for music and in the last week of his life he attended a performance of Der Rosenkavalier with his family.

There was also a strong streak of determination in his character and a steely impatience with bluster or humbug which made him a formidable negotiator. As a chairman, he had few equals, using his natural gifts in both large gatherings and around a table to steer discussion, defuse tension and win support with the skill and elegance of a professional tennis player. All these gifts he brought to the three organisations, prominent in the worlds of both business and the arts, which he served and led with notable success through turbulent years of social and political change.

Richard Patrick Tallentyre Gibson was born in 1916 to parents who were accomplished singers and who met while studying in Vienna. He might have pursued a career in music, but instead, after Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford, he chose to follow his father as a stockbroker. This proved unfulfilling, but the Second World War intervened and, as for so many of his generation, it determined the course of his life.

In 1939 he was commissioned into the Middlesex Yeomanry and fought against the Italians in North Africa. He was captured in 1941 and imprisoned in a camp near Parma. Two years later, Italy surrendered and the gates of the camp were opened. With two companions, Edward Tomkins and Hugh Cruddas who were to be lifelong friends, he set out on a long walk through German-occupied Italy. It was an experience full of hardship and danger, but it left him with an enduring love of Italy.

After six weeks they reached the Abruzzi mountains and looked down on the river Sangro, along which the Allies faced the Germans. At 4am they waded across the river. Tomkins had been injured in a fall, so Gibson went forward alone and came on a British sergeant shaving in the dawn light. "Sergeant," he said. "I have a man on the river bank who needs a stretcher." He was ragged and unwashed, but the sergeant replied without a moment's hesitation: "Certainly, sir. We'll get him right away." Gibson was to describe this as the best moment of his life.

After a spell in hospital, he returned to England, applied to join the Italian section of the SOE and was sent back to Italy to support the Partisans in their under-cover war against Germany. From 1945 to 1946 he worked in the Political Intelligence Department at the Foreign Office where he met and later married Dione Pearson. Theirs was to be a long and exceptionally happy marriage and the warmth of their devotion to one another radiated out among their wide circle of friends.

Gibson's wife was a granddaughter of Weetman Pearson, 1st Viscount Cowdray and founder of a family business with an extensive range of interests, among them oil, banking and publishing. The latter included the Westminster Press group of provincial newspapers which Gibson joined as a trainee journalist in 1947, soon rising to become editorial director. In due course, he joined the boards of the Financial Times, The Economist and S. Pearson and Son, the holding company. He was appointed chairman of the book-publishing arm, Longman Pearson, in 1967 and of the Financial Times in 1975. He was group chairman from 1978 to 1983.

In 1972 he was appointed chairman of the Arts Council. His five-year term coincided with a period of rapid inflation and the budgetary crises of the Labour government, reducing the Council's grant after a long period of growth. Charges of "élitism" were beginning to be made and there was criticism of policies which were based, some thought, on too narrow and traditional a view of the arts. Gibson's leadership was firm through this difficult time and he was notably successful in directing resources away from London and in resisting pressure from the Treasury to merge the Royal Opera with English National Opera.

When he became Chairman of the National Trust in 1977, he already knew it well, having been a member of the Executive Committee since 1963. He had also been one of the small group, chaired by Sir Henry Benson, which the Trust had commissioned in 1968 to conduct a far-reaching and, as it turned out, highly influential review of its management, organisation and responsibilities. His enjoyment of this new job after years of wrangling with politicians was immediately apparent; he seemed to feel he had come among friends. The values which motivate those who work for the National Trust were his values. He believed in its purposes and cared deeply about the buildings, countryside and great collections which it held as the nation's trustee.

During his time as Chairman membership rapidly increased, passing the million mark in 1980, and with his help and encouragement many of the Trust's greatest treasures were acquired, among them Kedleston Hall, Belton House, Fountains Abbey, Canons Ashby and 3,000 acres of the famous Pennine massif of Kinder Scout.

In 1983 he chaired an extraordinary general meeting convened by a group of members who objected to the granting of a lease for the extension of an MoD Communications Centre beneath Trust land in the Chilterns. One of the resolutions called for a vote of no confidence in the chairman. It was a measure of Gibson's authority, as well as of the respect and affection in which he was held, that the motion was defeated by a massive majority.

It was, however, a defining moment for the Trust: the members had been taken by surprise and had taken the Council to task. It was Gibson's wise conclusion that the Council should in future be involved in all decisions about the use of inalienable land.

Gibson was chairman of the Advisory Council of the Victoria and Albert Museum; a director of the Royal Opera House; a trustee of Glyndebourne; a member of the executive committee of the National Art Collections Fund and an adviser to the Gulbenkian Foundation. He was made a life peer in 1975.

He died at Penns-in-the-Rocks, his home in Sussex, where he and his wife created a beautiful garden which was a source of constant joy to them both.

Martin Drury