Sir James Douglas Spooner
1932-2019

Sir James Douglas Spooner
James Spooner with Adrian Swire in 1955.

Sir James Spooner,

who died on 8th August, aged 87, was a director of John Swire & Sons for 33 years. He joined the Board in 1970 at the relatively young age of 38, shortly before the firm diversified into property development, and he was closely involved with the inception and subsequent successful growth of Swire Properties, which was to remain one of his main areas of responsibility as a director of the group's parent company.

James Spooner was the only child of Rear Admiral E.J. Spooner, who was senior British Naval Officer in Singapore in January 1942, when the city fell to Japanese forces. After supervising the evacuation of civilians and service personnel, he was one of a group that attempted to escape in a motor-launch. It was bombed and sank off an uninhabited Indonesian island where he later died.

James went to school in the UK, at Eton followed by a National Service commission in the Royal Navy, and then to Christ Church College, Oxford, where he was an exhibitioner. In 1962, he qualified as a Chartered Accountant with the leading City of London firm of Dixon Wilson, and he was a partner in that firm from 1963 to 1972. One of his more colourful undertakings was as receiver for The Beatles from 1971, during the group's acrimonious four-year break up; their financial affairs had been thrown into disarray following mismanagement of their production company.

It was also through Dixon Wilson that in 1968 Spooner joined the board of NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes), the organisation that runs supermarkets and catering outlets that serve British forces personnel and their families. He became Deputy Chairman of the Board and then served as (unpaid) Chairman from 1973 to 1986. He was knighted for his services to NAAFI in 1981.

Inheriting a life-long love of music from his mother, Megan Foster, who was a noted soprano, Sir James was variously a governor of the Royal Academy of Music and Deputy Chairman of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, which he successfully navigated through some financially turbulent seas. Director General, Jeremy Isaacs, later summed him up as an "acute student of a balance sheet, and wise in larger matters".

Indeed, his remarkable acumen and no-nonsense approach, combined with a forceful, but good-humoured personality characterised James Spooner's directorial style and he was a close confidant and adviser to Sir Adrian Swire, a friend from school days, during the latter's Chairmanship of the Swire group.

Other directorships (he was on the board of more than 50 companies) included Barclays Bank and its investment arm BZW, and the supermarket group, J. Sainsbury. He also brought his considerable financial wisdom to the non-profit sector. He was involved in establishing, and was then Chairman of the Prince's Trust: a charity founded by the Prince of Wales in 1976 to assist vulnerable young people into the workplace.

A voracious reader, especially of history and philosophy, Spooner's passion for literature and classical music was matched by his devotion to his many dogs – "they don't answer back!" His Jack Russell-Pekinese cross Sophie was a familiar visitor to Swire's London office and to many other City boardrooms; he used to say her presence under the table at meetings was a calming influence, as she would start to bark if voices were raised.

Sir James Spooner was predeceased by his wife, Alyson, in 2017 and is survived by their children, Tania, William and Adrian, to whom we extend sincere sympathy.
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Sir James Douglas Spooner
1932-2019

Stuart Alexander Shields
1941-2019

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