British Society of Flavourists members and the wider Flavour Industry fraternity will be saddened to hear of the passing of Geoff Sonley on the 4th October 2020. Although Geoff retired in 1991, he retained numerous strong and close relationships with the many people he worked with including both colleagues and customers.

Geoff was born in Stuttgart whilst his family were visiting his mother’s family. He lived in England until the family moved to Australia when he was about 14. One of his early achievements outside of business was the founding of the Anglesea Surf Life Saving Club in Melbourne; it still runs today. Whilst living in Melbourne he participated in many rescues.

The first employment for Geoff in the flavour industry was with W.J. Bush, in Melbourne. He was 19 and was working on their oleoresin Vanilla plant. He spent some time training in the UK and returned to Australia to take up a sales position. He often mentioned that his sales territory in Queensland was twice the size of England.

Having moved to Sydney, Geoff met Isobel, his wife to be, whilst visiting a customer’s house! They were married in 1959. Geoff and Isobel, at that time, lived in Palm Beach, North Sydney. They went on to buy a plot of land in Balgowlah Heights, near Manly, where they built their home together.

In 1966 three companies Stafford Allen Ltd., A. Boake Roberts Ltd. and W.J. Bush Ltd. (who Geoff worked for) merged to form Bush Boake Allen. (acquired by IFF in 2000) Quite soon after this, an opportunity arose for Geoff to join Firmenich, still based in Sydney. He worked at Firmenich as a Sales Manager for ten years, overseeing the company’s growth in the region. During this time Geoff travelled to Geneva and whilst there built close relationships with other Firmenich luminaries such as Don Hartman and Richard Ensor; friendships made which endured throughout his career and beyond.

1976 saw the Sonley family move to the UK; still working for Firmenich his role was General Manager of the UK Flavour Division. Amongst some of those he served with at Firmenich, BSF members would know, Danny Kite, Ken Hassey, Roger Levicki and Geoff Coupland.

In 1978 Geoff moved to PFW at Perivale as Commercial Director. He spent thirteen years at PFW. During this time PFW acquired Zimmermann Hobbs and later merged with Fries & Fries to become Tastemaker. As a senior officer of PFW Geoff became strongly associated with PFW’s operation and headquarters in Holland. Other officers there, such as Hans Lok and Jan Brockhof, became lifelong friends.

PFW Flavour Creation Labs, Perivale UK, 1990PFW’s commercial operations in Perivale grew exponentially under Geoff’s direction. In his team or fellow colleagues were people like Jack Knights, Hugh Davis, David Farmer, John Puzey, Gareth Williams, Steve Hart, Richard Clark, Paul Filby, Iain Pate, Colin Scott, to name just a few. Towards the end of his PFW/Tastemaker tenure he helped oversee the company’s move from Perivale to Milton Keynes.

In 1991 Geoff was the recipient of the BSF’s Hugh Davis award. The BSF President at that time was Danny Hodrien, when presenting the award, he said, “Geoff Sonley, one of the most highly regarded characters in the Flavour Industry”. He was a great supporter and advocate of the BSF. It was rare for Geoff to miss a BSF lecture back in the days of Saville Row and the Burlington Bertie gatherings.

Geoff and Isobel had three children: Valerie, John and Garth. The family remembers Geoff often bringing home various samples for them to test; the samples were perfumes, food flavourings such as new types of sweets which made his children extremely popular at school, especially the Turkish delight and Space dust!

Geoff was a keen sportsman and particularly enjoyed tennis. He moved on to squash and became veteran champion at his club. Paul Filby remembers whilst at PFW playing squash with Geoff at his club in West London. Geoff won all the games very easily and apologised for every point! Such a gentleman.

Sailing was another of his passions and he mentioned, in a 2010 BSF News and Views article written by David Baines, how Isobel and he had sailed a new sailboat from the UK to Spain via canals in France. This was shortly after his retirement and the journey took six weeks to complete.

In retirement Geoff bought a villa in Moriara, Spain. Industry friends would often visit and during his holiday travels he continued to meet up with many of those colleagues already mentioned herein. More recently the Sonleys’ home has been Brixham in Devon; more friends and neighbours to keep Geoff busy. Helping others and supporting people was Geoff’s way. An avid and tireless member of the local Rotary he enjoyed working with the Brixham College students, encouraging them through an Interact group with the local community. He recently received the Paul Harris award and medal, for his work with the Rotary.

Geoff was always always positive and encouraging, nothing was ever too much trouble. He wanted everyone to see the best in themselves. Danny Kite, a work colleague of Geoff’s when he was General Manager at Firmenich UK said “although Geoff was in a senior position, he was very approachable, he always conducted himself in a most correct and professional manner”. Another of his colleagues from that era, Geoff Coupland said, “The world is a less kind and funny place without Geoff”.

With thanks to the various contributors, but particularly Valerie Sonley.

(This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2020 edition of New Flavourist)