Obituary: Fereidoun Soudavar

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The Independent Online
Fereidoun Soudavar was one of Iran's leading entrepreneurs and industrialists, and was instrumental in ensuring the continuing study of Iran's great cultural heritage both in the universities of Britain and elsewhere.

He was born in 1908 into a family of prominent tea merchants, in the frontier city of Eshqabad, close to the border of Iranian Khorasan with the Turkmenistan Republic, of which Eshqabad today is part. After the Russian revolution in 1917, the family returned to Iran and settled in Tehran. On completion of studies in Europe, with his elder brothers, Samad and Ahmad, he founded the Merrikh Company which represented Mercedes Benz in Iran. This company subsequently grew into one of Iran's largest industries, the Khavar Industrial Group.

The group included the assembly of lorries and textile manufacturing among its activities; these were crucial to the economic expansion of modern Iran. It was one of the first companies admitted to the Tehran Stock Exchange on the latter's inauguration early in 1968.

Although from 1978 Soudavar chose voluntary exile in Britain, he never voiced a criticism of his homeland; and not many years ago he endowed a hospital in Tehran.

This was only one of the many acts of philanthropy, in education, Iranian studies and cancer research, to which he devoted himself, particularly after the death of his two sons. Besides endowing a Chair in Persian Studies at Oxford University in 1987, Soudavar made the generous provision which ensured the continuation of the long-established Persian Studies course at Cambridge University.

Similarly, at Princeton University he endowed undergraduate scholarships for Iranian and Third World students and in memory of his sons Alireza and Mohammed, and contributed large sums for residencies in the field of cancer research. Latterly he furnished support for the study and presentation of Persian Art and Culture at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York.

Fereidoun Soudavar was an admirable example of Iranian dignity, courtesy and beneficence; and, with his shrewd wit, excellent company. He introduced to his associates something of the light of those Iranian qualities that, throughout a long history, have survived the most grave adversities.

Peter Avery

Fereidoun Soudavar, businessman and philanthropist: born Eshaqabad, Iran 7 May 1908; married 1939 Shamsi Amiralai (two sons deceased); died London 4 April 1997.