Garry Weston, grocer, philanthropist and frugal billionaire, dies after long illness

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Garry Weston who established a billion pound empire selling food staples such as bread, sugar and flour has died aged 74.

The former chairman of Associated British Foods and Fortnum & Mason had suffered ill health since having a stroke in 1999.

Canadian-born Mr Weston, was credited with sweeping changes made to AB Foods in the 1990s, and achieved an estimated fortune of £1.35bn.

Born on 28 April, 1927, the fourth of nine children, he served on the board of AB Foods for 51 years and became chairman in 1967, a position he held for 33 years. He was appointed a director of Fortnum & Mason's in 1951 and became chairman in 1978.

He moved to Britain from Ontario aged four and was educated at Oxford University and Harvard before becoming the third generation of grocers in his family.

But he was undistracted by the trappings of privilege and chose instead to immerse himself in the unglamorous task of restructuring the business, cutting the price of bread production and investing heavily in bakeries, which were considered among the world's finest.

Although he developed a deep disdain for deal-cutting City bankers, he was a wholehearted proponent of capitalism, expressing his ardent admiration of Margaret Thatcher and contributing generously to the Conservative Party until he became disenchanted with John Major.

He once asserted that "money only attracts envy" and he displayed a fondness for frugal living, driving a second- hand diesel Mercedes and often travelling by bus or walking to work. He described his homes in London and Oxfordshire as "comfortable but not ostentatious".

Mr Weston, a father of six, chose instead to donate large sums to the arts. He gave £20m to the British Museum – the largest private sum it has ever received, and donated a further £60m in five years to education, sports and medical research.

Harry Bailey, chairman of AB Foods said Mr Weston would be "greatly missed by all those who worked with him".

Two sons continue Mr Weston's name at AB Foods while his eldest daughter Jana Khayat is chairman at Fortnum's.