Posted by: the watchmen | January 6, 2009

TBF Thompson. Smuggler to Saint.

TBF Thompson: From smuggler to a great benefactor

Published Date: 06 January 2009
By Staff reporter
TBF Thompson – the philanthropist and prominent businessman who died last week – almost pulled out of multi-million pound company acquisition because of his abhorrence of alcohol, his biographer has revealed.
The Garvagh-born man, who benefited charitable causes in Ulster and around the world, was intolerant of alcohol partly because he had liked to drink to excess when he was younger.

The former owner of Charles Hurst, Farrans and McLaughlin and Harvey died last Thursday and was buried on Sunday in the Co Londonderry village which came to a stop as hundreds followed his funeral cortege.

The author Professor Derick Bingham, who over 18 months in the early 1990s travelled to TBF’s home in Garvagh every Friday to record his life, yesterday paid tribute to the man who rose from being a cross-border smuggler to receiving an OBE and honorary doctorate.

And, chuckling as he recalled anecdotes from the colourful businessman’s long life, Prof Bingham said that his unconventional approach to business had led to him insisting that he would walk away from big commercial deals if alcohol was to be purchased by companies after they came under his control.

“He was famous for being very anti-drink and he banned the use of drink in his companies,” he said.

“When he was buying Farrans, he said ‘No representative of the company will be allowed to buy drink in order to ply business.’

“A former boss of the firm said to him ‘You couldn’t run a company like that’.

“He said ‘Then there will be no deal.'”

“When he established the Jaguar franchise at Charles Hurst, they wanted drink at the opening of it and he said no. They said ‘You can’t do that’ and he said ‘Well, there will be no Jaguar franchise with me then.'”

Charles Hurst was sold in 1996 to Lookers Group for almost £20 million, decades after TBF’s initial involvement with the firm.

Prof Bingham said that TBF’s attitude to alcohol had been formed because of the damage excessive drinking had done to him in early life.

“When I was writing his biography, he said that he wanted it to be warts and all. He was involved in smuggling across the border during the war.

“He also began to drink quite heavily and had a case of whiskey in the back of his car.

His life began to go on the skids and he plunged through whiskey – it was destroying him.”

After becoming a Christian when he read an evangelical tract, TBF abandoned smuggling and began to studiously pay his taxes, Prof Bingham said.

But his decision to ban alcohol was not borne out of mean spiritedness: “He had over 2,000 employees and at Christmas he would send them out a turkey rather than a bottle of whiskey.”

TBF’s philanthropic vehicle, The TBF and KL Thompson Trust, has funded hospitals in America, Africa and Asia, as well as Christian work around the globe: “He did a lot of that charitable work anonymously in his life but when he established the trust he had to declare it and it became better known.”

Recalling that TBF had been a “shy” man.

Prof Bingham said: “I recorded the various sections of his amazing life on tape and promised him that nobody would ever hear the tapes but that I would draw from them for the book.”

Echoing what others have said in recent days, Prof Bingham said that TBF was extraordinarily proud of Garvagh.

“When he bought Farrans, there was property on Park Lane in London which came with it.

“I said to him one day ‘TBF, did you not fancy going to live in Park Lane for a while?’ He said ‘Why would I ever leave Garvagh?’

“He used to say that a lot of his friends in business had made a lot of money and then went off to live abroad but became alcoholics because they were so lonely and cut off from their roots – he didn’t want to do that.”

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