John Newton

Post date: May 12, 2013 9:48:42 PM

Following on from the SCARA announcement about the sad passing of former OCL and P&O Containers Limited director John Newton, we are able to publish this eulogy written by Martin Hindley:

John Thompson Newton 1939 - April 2013

My name is Martin Hindley and I am proud to say I knew John for many years, as a colleague and later as a friend. We all have our memories of John.  It is my honour to tell you some of mine. 

John was a special guy, a good boss and friend to all who crossed his path. He  was not about self aggrandisement, he worked and gave of his best for the benefit of all. I think your presence here today is a testament to that.

John set high standards for himself and for those with whom he worked, yet, he had a care for the common man. He helped those around him resolve their personal or professional issues and gave a willing ear and advice to those who sought it. Having good Christian and community values, his door was always open, and he would give you his time and advice freely.

I first met John in the Bell public house in the late 70’s. It was an event I will always remember. I knew of John, his face was familiar as we had both spent some years working for OCL, but not in the same departments. He had served both in the technical services area and as Regional General Manager in the North West. 

It was lunch time. John walked into the pub alone, engrossed in his thoughts. He must have recognized someone in the group as he joined us and fell immediately into animated conversation.  We were a bunch of ex seafarers charged with scheduling ships and instructing terminals in cargo exchange. John enjoyed talking shop; he loved ships and shipping and had an educated opinion on all such matters and he was in his element.  His knowledge of the history of British shipping was unsurpassed, and he had a tale to tell of many of the former north east shipping families: Runciman,  Souter,  Furness come to mind.. Like John, I too, spent my childhood and schooldays in Yorkshire and we shared many a tale of the region, and the history of a declining fishing industry.  He was proud of his heritage and eager that it should flourish.

John knew what he wanted quite early in life. After finishing school he arranged, without his parent’s knowledge, an interview in London, seeking an engineering apprenticeship.  He  had his interview and made his way back to Whitby, to be greeted by his father, who,  well known in shipping circles and had been telephoned from London, to be told of the events of  the  day!  Father was not convinced and John was promptly packed off to Durham University, I think much to John’s disgust!

John was however, destined to go to sea and armed with a degree joined Furness Withy as an engineer in the early 1960’s. It was, I think one of his happiest times, as he always kept a photograph of his ship, the Queen of Bermuda, on his office wall and was always willing to beguile a listener with his tales of his ship. It was also during this time that he met and married Catherine on Trafalgar day, 1967.

When we met, John was on secondment from OCL as Managing Director with Shaw Savill, a subsidiary of Furness Withy based in the offices of Andrew Weir.  John found his time here both stimulating and enjoyable. He spoke later, happily, of this period, a time spent with shipping people familiar with his roots. He had great respect for them, and they for him. Due to containerisation, he had the thankless task of closing the company’s un-profitable pacific services. It was perhaps fitting that John was given the task of closing this particular chapter. 

On leaving the Queen of Bermuda and having spent  a short spell in New York, John soon found himself on secondment from Furness Withy to the newly formed OCL in the research and development division, under R.B Monteath.  He always spoke highly of ‘ MONTY’ his former boss, and I think he had a lasting influence on John’s outlook and planning.  

Containerisation was a shipping revolution, needing specialist ships, terminals and equipment.  In association with others, the division was at the centre of all this design  and commissioning work.  He specialized in the carriage of frozen and chilled cargoes designing and patenting a conair system used in the early Australia bound ships. John worked alongside many luminaries of the shipping world and was held in high regard by all .It was an exciting time and the company flourished, working cohesively on this enormous project. 

Our paths crossed again in the 1982 when John was given the task of merging the then two fleet managers, CFL based in London and Ocean Fleets based in Liverpool,  into our own Fleet Management Division.  Merging two fleet managers into one unit was not any easy task since both had different concepts from their differing origins. However, through John’s ability to negotiate with the unions, the professional competence of his senior managers and hard work it soon became a contented and successful division. I certainly enjoyed my time working in a commercial capacity for the division, reporting to JTN as he affectionately became known.  At this time he became  a main board member.

As the fleet expanded the division had many events to deal with all over the world. Storms, collisions, groundings, John led on these events but always had confidence in his competent staff  to surmount incidents without serious implications. He would stoutly support and refute criticism from any source if he felt you were doing your best.

Ships were bought and sold under his guidance.  Our own,  in house,  ship building team designed, tendered and commissioned new buildings under John’s watchful eye. He was heavily involved with the design team and had a regular trail to his door from representatives of the worlds’ ship building yards. He was particularly pleased when Catherine was asked to name one vessel in Japan and he made many Japanese friends, who even to the end regularly visited and sought his views.

John saw the fleet as an integral part of the company’s success.  He fought hard within the company on behalf of ships personnel and their pension rights and was a good husband to the fleet, a fact of which he was tremendously proud…but only said so once in my hearing!

He would greet every ship’s Captain and Chief engineer during their outward interview, knew the detail of their lives and made efforts to ensure they, and their families, were supported in every way possible. He gained their respect which he reciprocated.

But he could be tough too! He did not tolerate shoddy seamanship or behaviour. The culprit would soon know of his contempt. 

He also gave a lot of his time to causes outside of the office, particularly charitable causes.  He was involved with the Seamen’s hospital at Greenwich and acted as chairman of our local Hospital board. John was a member of the Worshipful company of shipwrights, an anchorite and involved with the Marine Society and gave his time to youth training programmes, He was a member of the Institute of Marine Engineers, Lloyds Register and intently followed insurance matters. 

He remained  with the fleet division until he took on extra responsibility for Container Control and Building maintenance, as Operations Director. It meant a move away from the daily interest of the fleet to another floor within the building. He did not complain but was always ready to listen to shipping gossip from outside the building,  which in my capacity I was able to provide. I know also that many a senior officer would make their way to the top floor for a chat whilst visiting Beagle House.

John never lost his ability to mix socially with everyone. Early in his Beagle House days he took to the Still and Star, a local pub for a pint on his way home. He had a good friend in Harry Perring, the original company secretary. They met, with many others, most weekdays for a glass or two of Worthington E, taken in half pint goblets. Many years later, when goblets were not easily obtained the bar kept a supply exclusively for John, Harry and their friends. Unfortunately, Harry died a few years ago, an event that John felt heavily and the goblets are no longer available. 

John retired from P&0 Containers in 1994 and was thanked personally for his services by the group chairman, Lord Sterling. 

It was the start of a new chapter. He became a successful marine consultant, travelling to some of the most hostile regions of the world. He had a deep understanding of things maritime, a sharp and inquisitive brain and a flair for report writing. He found himself much in demand.

John compiled exacting commentaries on many aspects of maritime affairs, researched molasses carriers, ship design,  new reefer systems and gave much time to Fastship researching JET engines and fuels with Roll Royce and BP.

The Still and Star was to become a magnet for those seeking John before and certainly after he left the company.  Since that time, many ship staff and ex colleagues have sought his company early in the evening and he found friends amongst the regulars. The subject of the conversation was invariably industry related but roamed over many subjects and opinions.


We will miss him. But I think, in looking at John’s time with us, he enjoyed his life, he did many good things, he gave succour where needed and those who crossed his path are the richer for it. His contribution made a difference.

A good friend, a respected colleague.  May he rest in peace.

John Thompson Newton

1939-April 2013