Farewell to the impact player

SIR ALASTAIR: Voted one of the four toughest managers in Britain
SIR ALASTAIR: Voted one of the four toughest managers in Britain

FAMILY, friends and business associates travelled from around the world for the memorial service for Sir Alastair Morton, the driving force behind the Channel Tunnel. Business Editor Trevor Sturgess joined them at London’s Southwark Cathedral.

THEY came in their hundreds, filling every seat and standing space in Southwark Cathedral, to celebrate the contribution to business, Kentish, national and family life of Sir Alastair Morton.

They travelled from Kent, France, Japan and South Africa to remember the man who created the Channel Tunnel, dubbed “magnificent Morton” by the obituarist after his sudden death at just 62 from a heart attack in September.

Family, friends, business associates, including many people like Simon Jenkins, Anthony Howard and Bamber Gascoigne, heard his drive, his passion, his determination and, of course, his notorious bluntness, qualities that ensured the Chunnel was built but made him enemies along the way.

Pen Kent, a former senior member of the Bank of England, recalled his business life, from fulfilling days at the British National Oil Corporation to the less happy times at the Strategic Rail Authority, his last major role.

Sir Alastair was always the man for your team, he said. “He was – to use a sporting term – an impact player. When he entered the game things started to happen and we all wanted him on our side.”

Voted one of the four toughest managers in Britain, a quality he possibly derived from his upbringing in South Africa, he sometimes fell out with those whose support he most needed, Mr Kent said.

He could be blunt to the point of rudeness. “Bullshit” was one of the gentler words that lesser business mortals heard from Morton’s mouth when they doubted that something could be achieved, or if they impugned his our Eurotunnel’s integrity. Not a man to be on the wrong side of.

His chairmanship of Kent Training and Enterprise Council, and the East Kent Initiative, and his passion for the regeneration of Kent through the creation of the tunnel, was recalled.

But the congregation at the memorial service conducted by the Dean of Southwark, the Very Rev Collin Slee, heard too of the family man, his kindness, consideration, humour and charm.

Vincent Van der Bijl, Sir Alastair’s cousin and the South African and Middlesex fast bowler, spoke about his characteristically large feet with wide spaces between the toes.

To the family, he was “Big Al” who loved Africa, the caring man, the grandfather who read stories to his grandchildren, the father who always made time for his children Jessica and Hadrian when they were growing up, whatever the pressures of work.

The man who was looking forward to many retirement years with Sara, his wife of 40 years, in their Cape Town home, the man who helped talented musicians by chairing the National Youth Orchestra for 14 years.

Jessica Wren, his daughter, read a passage used by Nelson Mandela in his presidential inaugural address, including the line: “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Malcolm Allan, former chief executive of Kent Tec, had these memories of his one-time chairman: “He always had a sense of where he might go, and I liked that. I like men with the vision thing.

“He had a wonderful charming quality – he would put his arm on your shoulder and say: ‘Let me share with you a thought that I’ve had’ and often as not changed your mind.”

His lesson to other managers was: “Aim high, you can be better than you are, use your resources in harmony, stop fighting amongst each other.”

His son Hadrian told guests in The Glazier’s Hall after the service: “In truth, Dad would have been embarrassed by all this fuss. But he would have loved to have been here today to have so many great friends in one place.”

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