Michael Hooker

Early pioneer of professional charity fund-raising
Click to follow

Michael Ayherst Hooker, charity fund-raiser and educationist: born Seal Chart, Kent 22 January 1923; died Brighton 26 January 2004.

Michael Hooker was an early pioneer in the art of charity fund- raising. Inspired by the slick, professional techniques long practised in America, he founded in 1959 a PR consultancy firm which set out to specialise in raising money for good causes.

Within a short space of time Hooker, Craigmyle & Co had shown notable success in this new field; and Hooker's own punctilious attention to detail, rigorous sense of duty and total rectitude in business matters swiftly recommended him to the senior ecclesiastics, university principals and headmasters to whose objectives he tirelessly committed himself. Many institutions, from medical trusts and charities devoted to the welfare of the young to 13 of Britain's historic cathedrals, benefited from his pioneering zeal. He claimed to have raised more than £100m for good causes.

Even while enduring, with stoic fortitude, his long, last illness with cancer, he was eagerly making plans to continue his work for Newton Prep, the London preparatory school in Battersea for intellectually gifted children. As a founding governor since 1991 he had helped to steer the school into calmer waters after a turbulent spell in the mid-Nineties.

Michael Ayherst Hooker was the son of a self-made City businessman, Albert Ayherst Hooker, who rose from office boy to become a leading commodity broker and a senior member of the Baltic Exchange. Educated at Marlborough College and St Edmund Hall, Oxford, where he read History, Hooker fils worked briefly at the British Council before taking up a post in 1947 as a prep-school master at St John's in Johannesburg. Several of his old pupils remained lifelong friends.

In 1952 he gained his PhD at the University of Witwatersrand, devoting his thesis to the life and times of the controversial John Colenso, first Bishop of Natal. By nature and upbringing a dedicated Conservative - Hooker had been Chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students while still at Oxford - he stood for Parliament in 1953, fighting the strong Labour seat of Coventry East. The experience of being blooded by political defeat did not encourage him to try his luck again but he continued to work for the Conservative cause behind the scenes, sitting on such bodies as the Conservative Commonwealth Council.

A devout Christian with a deep and abiding faith, he also remained dedicated to the cause of the Anglican Church. An appointment, in 1952, to the London Diocesan Board of Education, happily combined the two great driving interests of his life - education and religion.

The spur which first led him to form his own company was his year in New Zealand in 1957 working for the American fund-raising group the Wells Organisation. He successfully managed his own company for 13 years until it experienced a period of boardroom upheaval that led in the end to his resignation. Soon afterwards, in 1972, he started, on his own, another company, Michael Hooker & Associates, which had to weather the economic blizzard of the 1970s when even the very rich were disinclined to dig very deep in their pockets for charity.

Outside his professional career Hooker was a fount of good advice to parents privately seeking information on the best education for their children and he tirelessly gave of his own time and money to favourite good causes including Aids charities, the NSPCC and the Police Convalescence and Rehabilitation Trust. When his friend and fellow old Marlburian Ross McWhirter was murdered by the IRA in 1975 he became one of the chief founders of a special trust, set up in McWhirter's name, to promote his example of leadership and image.

For many years Hooker used to stay for the weekend at his elderly parents' house at Winchmore Hill in Buckinghamshire and when his father became a widower he devotedly cared for him into his nineties. In 1987, after his father's death, he moved to Brighton, where he took a rambling seafront flat in Kemp Town and from which he continued his work on behalf of Newton Prep and a Japanese multi-faith foundation, Shi-tennoji International, of which he was cultural director.

Shopping in Kemp Town for his dinner parties, he presented to the world a sturdy, rubicund, Pickwickian figure, well capable of keeping local shopkeepers up to scratch by advising them of his distinguished and imminently expected guests.

Decades as a zealous committee man, much embedded in the world of established officialdom, had enabled him to fine-tune his skills as a networker and his seaside dinner table over which he beamingly presided continued to be a gathering place for the great and good. There one might find a former economic adviser to Margaret Thatcher, a public-school headmaster, a political biographer, the widow of a former cabinet minister and a major tycoon. On one notable occasion the theatre star Dora Bryan was placed next to the Bishop of Chichester. Hooker explained his seating plan: "It's because I want to hear what the actress really did say to the bishop."

Beneath his sometimes crusty authoritarian exterior there flickered a strong sense of fun. There also lurked the most humane, kindly, amusing and thoughtful of men, generous to a fault. In an earlier age and time he would have been described as a confirmed bachelor, although he did surprisingly lay claim to a past liaison with Stalin's daughter Svetlana. In recent years, however, his existence was frequently enlivened by a succession of handsome young men friends, including at one time a budding pop singer. But no weekend guest, however exotic, was ever excused the obligation of accompanying him to Sunday morning service at the lovely old church of St Nicholas.

Derek Granger

Comments