Malcolm Barr

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The Independent Online

John Malcolm Barr, businessman: born Leeds 23 December 1926; chairman and group managing director, Wallace Arnold 1962-88, group executive chairman 1988-1998; CBE 1984; chairman, Leeds Permanent Building Society 1989-95; married 1955 Elaine Rhodes (two daughters; died 1995); died Kirkby Overblow, North Yorkshire 15 July 2001.

Malcolm Barr brought his business acumen to shrewd use in the world of show jumping, most notably when he purchased a big Irish-bred gelding called Ryan's Son for John Whitaker to ride. It was the start of two happy partnerships – for not only did Whitaker have great success on the horse, in 1979 he also married the owner's elder daughter, Clare.

Barr was educated at Shrewsbury School before attaining a law degree at Clare College, Cambridge. He served in the navy for about a year at the tail end of the Second World War and afterwards took up ocean-going yacht racing, several times navigating for Ted Heath. He was later drawn into the horse world, switching from sailing to riding through his two pony-mad daughters, Clare and Janine.

Whitaker first rode for his future father-in-law when he was sent a horse called Rufus the Red, who had been a disappointing ride when hunted by Barr. He proved a talented show jumper, however, and he fetched a good price when sold at the end of the 1972 season. The money was re-invested the following year when Ryan's Son was bought for £2,500, with Barr providing £2,000 and the Whitakers (who wanted to show their faith in the horse's ability) putting up the rest of the money.

The big bay, with his distinctive white blaze, was to win team and individual silver medals at the "alternative" Olympics of 1980 (when all the leading show-jumping nations boycotted the Moscow Games) and another team silver at the 1984 Olympics. Ryan's total prize money in a long and distinguished career amounted to more than £250,000.

Barr, who was President of the Leeds Permanent Building Society and group executive chairman of Wallace Arnold, was appointed CBE for his services to industry in 1982. The tour company, of which his father had been co-founder, had originally been known as Barr Wallace Arnold. It had begun with the purchase of a big old-fashioned car, which was used to take people to the seaside, before building up to a coach company and then a tour operator.

Since the early 1980s Malcolm Barr had been Treasurer of the British Show Jumping Association, often enlivening board meetings with his dry humour which was often revealed in apt Shakespearean quotations. He loved the theatre and poetry, and was also an accomplished pianist. His wife, Elaine, shared the same interests (which also included sailing and climbing) and they did everything together. Her death five years ago was a devastating loss.

Among other horses bought by Barr and ridden by his son-in-law were Virtual Village Gammon and Grannusch, who were both winners of the valuable Calgary Grand Prix. After Gammon's 1992 victory netted around £100,000 in this Canadian classic, Barr suggested that he and his son-in-law should come to a different arrangement regarding the prize money, which they normally split equally. Whitaker, equally quick-witted, replied: "Do you want to ride the horse yourself?"

Barr also owned Randi who is nowadays ridden by his grandson, Robert Whitaker. He was devoted to his five grandchildren and last December, after John Whitaker suffered a life-threatening cerebral haemorrhage in Sweden, he flew to Stockholm to support Robert and his elder sister, Louise. They were both competing in a Stockholm horse show while their mother stayed at their father's bedside in a hospital at Uppsala, a 40-minute drive away.

John Whitaker made a splendid recovery, returning to the international show-jumping circuit in April. He was back in Sweden, competing in the Falsterbo Derby, on the day when his father-in-law died.

Genevieve Murphy

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