Obituary: John Grey

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The Independent Online
JOHN GREY personified the image of design consultant as environmentalist as artist.

In 1987, in his 32nd year, he co-founded Halpen, Grey, Vermeer, a design consulting company which specialised in corporate identity and communication. With the philosophy "Design is about communication, not decoration", it became associated with the first rank of British design, its client list including Unilever, Schroders, Lloyds Bank, TSB, Mobil, British Airways, Tesco, Royal Mail and Greenpeace.

Grey's interest in environmental and humanitarian causes attracted him to the world of Media Natura, the British green design and media charity supported by a commercial consultancy. In 1995, having amicably parted company with Halpen, Grey, Vermeer, he accepted the onerous role of chairman and managing director of Media Natura.

Over the last two years he had implemented new and creative communication programmes for organisations as varied in their needs and aspirations as Amnesty, Water Aid, Intermediate Technology, Calor Gas, Sainsbury's Environmental Department, the Co-operative Retail Society and the National Provident Institution. To each he gave his unstinting energy, optimism and poetic imagination. His legacy lies in such logos as that of the environmental group Plantlife, which is in the shape of a leaf-form wrapping itself around the globe - the perfect image for a group set up to preserve rare plants and recreate lost countryside habitats in Britain.

One project in which he played a key role was the setting up in 1996 of the Marine Stewardship Council. He brought into being that blend of business experts and environmentalists which governmental bureaucrats rarely consider. The council is now a source of inspiration to all those concerned with the maintenance of world-wide fish stocks, bringing together Unilever and the World Wildlife Fund to help certify and maintain ecological standards.

Born in 1956, Grey inherited the dark Hispanic good looks of his mother, Magda, who was born into one of the old families of Cadiz, which had intermarried with an Italian family from Genoa. With an Irish father, Grey combined the European personality of a Latinised Celt with that of a sophisticated Londoner.

His schooldays at a Sussex comprehensive school were short-lived. He chose to end them at the tender age of 15 without even one O level. He assured his mother that she should not trouble herself unduly with such a decision, taken without her permission, because he promised she would one day know him as a successful member of society - and almost immediately he proudly gave her the news that he had found employment with a local newspaper, selling advertising.

So began his early entry into the adult world, and he continued, without an academic qualification to his name, to make his reputation in the highly competitive media and communications industry. He learned the techniques of successful sales marketing strategies for publishing houses such as IPC and Haymarket. In 1984 he launched a design management agency representing independent designers and in 1987 became a co-founder of Halpen, Grey, Vermeer.

His marriage in 1995 to Catherine Maxwell Stuart gave Grey a life in Peeblesshire in dramatic contrast with that of London. It was focused on the historic castellated house of Traquair, which had been the royal hunting lodge of the Stuarts. Catherine succeeded her father in 1990 not only as Laird of Traquair but as the brewer of "Traquair Ale", and the two of them successfully relaunched the image of the brewery, the smallest in Scotland. Grey was completely at home in the world of all those who regard Traquair in its beautiful setting on the banks of the Tweed as Scottish rural life at its most meaningful and creative.

Grey began his fight against lung cancer not long after the birth of his daughter Isabella three months ago, and despite his illness proved himself to be a loving and attentive father. He died on his 42nd birthday.

John Patrick Lonergan (John Grey), design consultant and environmentalist: born 17 March 1956; married 1995 Catherine Maxwell Stuart (one daughter); died Innerleithen, Peeblesshire 17 March 1998.

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