Obituary: Sir Jack Hayward, businessman

Born: 14 June, 1923 in Wolverhampton. Died: 13 January, 2015 in Florida, aged 91.
Sir Jack Hayward: Philanthropist who made fortune in the Bahamas and once owned Wolves football club. Picture: PASir Jack Hayward: Philanthropist who made fortune in the Bahamas and once owned Wolves football club. Picture: PA
Sir Jack Hayward: Philanthropist who made fortune in the Bahamas and once owned Wolves football club. Picture: PA

Jack Hayward was a shrewd businessman who amassed a fortune in the Bahamas but gave generous gifts to various charities in England and the Bahamas.

He somewhat tarnished his reputation by buying (and virtually giving away) Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club and thus creating a certain ill-will within his own family. He also got involved as a witness at the Jeremy Thorpe trial when he had to justify that his payments had been to the Liberal party and not to scare off Thorpe’s lover, Norman Scott.

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But Hayward did much to support Britain – not for nothing was he called “Union Jack” – and donated huge sums to major philanthropic schemes: most notably, in 1970, he financed the return from the Falkland Islands of Brunel’s SS Great Britain back to Bristol.

Hayward was also Laird of Dunmaglass as he owned the 14,000-acre estate, Dunmaglass, just south of Inverness, set in spectacular countryside and providing excellent shooting. He refurbished the white-washed Dunmaglass Lodge and greatly improved the estate’s shooting facilities.

The Lodge is the ancient seat of the Clan MacGillivray but a major controversy arose more than a decade ago when Hayward planned to erect 36 wind turbines close to the summit of Beinn Dubhcharaidh.

Both Scottish Natural Heritage and the John Muir Trust raised serious objections: their objections were vigorously supported by Sigrid Rausing, who owns the nearby Coignafearn estate.

At the time, journalist Magnus Linklater wrote an article on the controversial project in Scotland on Sunday and interviewed Hayward. In combative form, Hayward argued that “it’s just ‘nimbyitis’…those pylons are only going to be there for 25 years.”

Hayward concluded: “Besides, I don’t think they’re ugly. I think they’re beautiful things.”

Despite the biologist Dr David Bellamy arguing that the project was like “selling Scotland’s heritage for a mess of wattage” the scheme was given the go-ahead in 2010.

Jack Arnold Hayward was the son of self-made industrialist Sir Charles Hayward and attended Stowe school. During the war Hayward flew Dakotas on dangerous supply missions to Burma. Many years later Hayward recalled: “We were more frightened of flying through the monsoons than we were of the Japanese. I loved the war and getting my wings was the best day of my life.”

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He was demobbed as a Flight Lieutenant and joined his father in the family firm, managing one of its principal assets, the engineering giant Firth Cleveland in New York.

Much of his international business was transacted through Nassau and Hayward was convinced that the Bahamas was a major growth area. He began to develop the Grand Bahama port of Freetown – including the deserted shrub and moorland inland. Hayward converted the entire port into a tax-free haven – his initial £1m outlay showed an immense profit and the land is now amongst the most valuable in the Caribbean.

His property company prospered and the shares rose dramatically on the New York Stock Exchange. He was listed as one of the wealthiest men in Britain.

In 1968, to his later great regret, he donated to the Liberal Party and funded Thorpe’s colourful campaign on helicopters and hydrofoils. In court Hayward had to explain that his donations were to the party and not for Thorpe to pay off intermediaries. Hayward produced conclusive documentation that he had supplied £10,000 for election purposes and the judge described Hayward as “a nice, respectable witness”. Hayward later admitted he was the “fall guy” and had been too easily taken in by Thorpe.

He paid £2m in 1990 for Second Division Wolverhampton Wanderers and immediately rebuilt the ground and training area. He ploughed more than £40m into resuscitating the club and in 2003, to his great joy, Wolves were promoted to the Premier League – only to be relegated the following season.

Four years later he sold the club for £10 on the promise that the new owners would spend £30m.

In the guestbook for the club museum Hayward wrote: “Glad to have helped.”

However, his family felt that his action severely depleted their potential inheritance and some tangled lawsuits ensued. “They think Golden Tit – me – will go on forever,” he said sadly.

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He funded the England women’s cricket team, the round-the-world yachtsman Sir Chay Blyth, the rebuilding of a hospital destroyed in the Falklands War, and the Gurkhas.

He also bought Lundy Island as a nature reserve for the National Trust.

He loved watching cricket at Lords and was a life member of Surrey County Cricket Club. Hayward was also keen on amateur dramatics – building a theatre in the Bahamas and performing annually with the local society.

Hayward was knighted in 1986. He married Jean Forder in 1948, from whom he was separated.

He is survived by his two sons and a daughter.