John Gracey obituary


John Gracey died 29th February this year aged 83. He will be remembered by a number of us who can date their association with the flavour Industry back to the late seventies when he held senior management positions at White Stevenson Ltd (MD, 1977 - 9, Reigate and Bletchley factories) and later at Barnett & Foster Ltd, Wellingborough (Deputy MD and Marketing and Technical Director, 1980 - 1989).

John was born 28th January 1929 in West Kirby, Cheshire. After his birth he returned with his parents to the then family home in Montevideo, Uruguay. The family came back to the UK in 1933, living in Belfast. He studied at `Campbell College, Belfast, achieving a 1st in Chemistry in the NI Senior Certificate in 1946 and followed this at the Chemistry faculty, Queen’s University Belfast, to gain his BSc degree (1950). His PhD Thesis (1954) entitled - `Physico-chemical studies on some organo-metallic compounds’ (ref.Science library QUB T//54.H18) was followed by the paper - Gracey, J.P.V. and A.R.Ubbellohde `The delocalisation of electrons in solid organic complexes of anthracene’ J.Chem.Soc., 1955, 4089 - 4097.

Following training in the Queen’s University Air Squadron, 1946 - 1950, he volunteered for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force 502 Squadron, Aldergrove, Co.Antrim in 1950, flying initially Spitfires for less than a year until the squadron was issued the single seater De Havilland Vampire jet fighter (a twin-tailed aircraft). He was a proud fighter pilot and was lucky to survive a live firing incident on 10th July 1954. As reported in the local press, The Times and The News of the World - “an exceptionally clever forced landing by Flying Officer JPVGracey of 502 (Ulster) Squadron.” After 1954 he was transferred to a squadron at Manchester, where he served until his resignation from the service in 1956, when he started on his Industrial career.He started out with Acrylics, working at ICI, Darwen, Lancashire, soon becoming the Technical Service & Development manager, transferring later to the headquarters of the ICI Plastic Division at Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire. His next move was into the Food Industry as Sales and Development Manager for CPC (Corn Products Corporation). It was here, at CPC, where he first met Shelagh, his wife to be. His recruitment by Pauls & Whites of Ipswich, to take up the Managing Directorship of their subsidiary, White Stevenson Ltd., in 1977, was to provide his first experience of Flavour Manufacturing.

White Stevenson Ltd, formed by the merger of the old London based flavour house `Stevenson & Howell’ with other companies within the Pauls Group, ‘White Tompkins & Courage Ltd’, at Reigate, Surrey, and ‘Gillman & Spencer Ltd’ at Bletchley in Bedfordshire, provided a diversity of products on two factory sites. Although he was with the company for just two years the experience would have prepared him for his next challenge at the Wellingborough factory of Barnett & Foster Ltd. John was first recruited as Deputy Managing Director in 1980, but after several changes at board level he assumed control of both the Marketing and Technical functions becoming a key member of a strong and successful management team. On the technical side he maintained contact with a number of scientific institutions and became a council member at BIBRA (British Industrial Biological Research Association) in 1984. During the eighties Barnett & Foster increased in stature returning growth and profitability year in and year out and John made good contribution to this success. Company rules dictated that Directors should retire at sixty and accordingly he had to comply in 1989.

My connection with John Gracey goes back to 1977 when I was Works Chemist at the Reigate factory of White Stevenson. Seeking more experience of production management I had moved to Barnett & Foster in November 1979, to take up the position of Distillation and Extracts Manager in charge of a new department designated for the production of natural flavouring products. Coincidently John arrived at Wellingborough six months later and we were once again working on the same site.John possessed an innovative and active mind, was a great lateral thinker and was always inspirational to those around him. I often think that much of what is expressed in Kipling’s poem `If’ could be applied to John. He could keep his head when a crisis was looming and had the ability to lead without losing the common touch. He is remembered for his humour, his astuteness and creativity in the workplace, ability as a manager, and of course, those twinkling blue eyes which complemented a quick mind and ready wit. From my point of view he was a very good friend and colleague.

Shelagh now lives at Poole, Dorset, where she is near to their daughter, son-in-law and the grandchildren. On behalf of the British Society of Flavourists our deepest sympathy is extended to all the family.

Barry Taylor