Chichester philanthropist remembered as the 'perfect gentleman'

Tributes have been paid to a Chichester philanthropist, who has died at the age of 91.

Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 1:40 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 1:42 pm

John Rank, described as a benefactor and friend to Chichester, was influential in the opening of a number of key landmarks, including the Oxmarket Gallery, the Festival Theatre, Pallant House Gallery and Brandy Hole Copse nature reserve.

His great-nephew James Rank, said: “He did fundamentally love the arts, culture and heritage. There have been some lovely stories from people who say he was one of a kind in one sense. He will be sadly missed for his interest in everyone and anyone he came across.”

The Oxmarket Gallery, in particular, is ‘indebted to him’.

John Rank was a 'true philanthropist, benefactor and friend to Chichester'

Chairman Sophie Hull said: “John was a founder of the Oxmarket some 50 years ago and his generous support and contributions will live on.

"Along with Lady Portal and Doris Wilson, they turned a dilapidated church into one of the only spaces for artists to exhibit in Chichester.

"We are so pleased he saw completion of our recent refurbishment; he attended the official relaunch and he again supported the transformation that will ensure the Gallery is fit for purpose for another 50 years."

Two long-standing city councillors, and former mayors, also paid their respects.

John Rank pictured with one of his 'great-grand' nieces while walking in Bosham

Anne Scicluna said: “I am so very sorry to lose John, as he was the perfect gentleman, who did so much for Chichester, but without fanfare or fuss.”

Richard Plowman added: “John Rank was a true philanthropist, benefactor and friend to Chichester.

"He supported particularly the arts in Chichester and his name appears in many buildings representing his generous support to those enterprises.

"He supported many of the projects I was organising. He was an active president of the Murray Club and a major sponsor of the Murray/Nelson sculpture.

"He played a substantial part in the Priory Park 100 event in 2018. He was also a long standing member of the Keats Club, a major figure in Chichester Society and Civic Award holder.

"We and Chichester shall miss him greatly.”

'Not a man who shouts about his good deeds'

The youngest of four children, John was born and raised at his family home in Aldwick. He decided not to pursue a career in the family firm — a four milling business.

After his father died in the early stages of the Second World War, John devoted himself to looking after his mother, his great-nephew James said.

"He was never married and had no children," he added. "That's possibly why he took an interest in so many different people.

"He was a philanthropist more than anything else. He was very involved in lots of things but more in a voluntary capacity."

John was the longest-standing member of the Regency Society, celebrating his 50th anniversary in 2012. This is the oldest amenity and conservation society in Brighton and Hove and a registered charity.

He joined the society in 1952 with his mother, Margaret Rowland Rank, and both names appear on the first published list of members in the annual report of 1953. They also became members of the Georgian Group, which is the national authority on Georgian architecture built between 1700 and 1837 in England and Wales.

In 1962, Margaret bought Sennicotts, one of a cluster of stately homes in Funtington, to the northwest of Chichester. The Regency villa and historic garden was John’s home for the next 40 years.

According to its website, Sennicotts is attributed to the architect James Elmes and is regarded as one of the 'finest country houses of the Regency'.

"Keen life-members of The Georgian Group, they gathered much of the current history of the house when not playing a significant role as benefactors of the arts primarily in the Chichester area," a post on the website read.

"After the death of Mrs Rank in 1988, Mr John Rank carried on until 2002. Sennicotts is now the home of a grand nephew and his wife."

When he lived at Sennicotts, John opened his garden every year for the Yellow Book scheme, helping numerous caring charities, as well as opening the house itself to special interest groups.

Having moved to a cottage in Bosham, John was still involved in the community in his latter years, offering financial support to charities.

In 2015, he was honoured at the Chichester City Council civic awards.

Speaking at the time, Councillor Scicluna said: "He is not a man who shouts about his good deeds, but just gets on and does them.

"John is actually rather a private, unassuming man, but one with great integrity and judgement.

"When invited he is frequently to be seen attending various events within the city, arriving quietly and without fuss, and sitting towards the back of an audience, enjoying whatever local volunteers have organised in support of their project.

"He is dedicated but he is also an approachable man, and a person with whom it is a pleasure to chat.

"If I try to sum up all the compliments that I have received about him, I can say that they add up to 'John Rank is a gentleman philanthropist, and Chichester is extremely fortunate to have him'.

"I quote one well known local man, and civic award holder himself, who said 'John Rank is the consummate gentleman, courteous and kind, something that, sadly, is becoming increasingly rare these days'."