Galen Weston, businessman behind Brown Thomas and Arnotts, dies aged 80

Galen Weston, businessman behind Brown Thomas and Arnotts, dies aged 80

Galen Weston and wife Hilary Weston attend the Gucci Hosted Private Screening And Cocktail Party With James Franco To Present "The Director" during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. Picture: Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Gucci

DANIELLE BOCHOVE

Galen Weston, the entrepreneur who built an Atlantic-spanning business network, which includes Brown Thomas and Arnotts,  has died. He was 80.

Mr Weston died Monday “peacefully at home after a long illness faced with courage and dignity,” the Weston family said in a statement last night.

“In our business and in his life he built a legacy of extraordinary accomplishment and joy,” his son, Galen G Weston, chief executive officer of George Weston Limited, said.

His daughter, Alannah Weston, the chairman of Selfridges Group, added: “The luxury retail industry has lost a great visionary.”

Mr Weston oversaw and expanded a high-end family retail empire that includes Brown Thomas in Ireland, Britain’s Selfridges, Canada’s Holt Renfrew, and de Bijenkorf of the Netherlands.

Through George Weston Ltd, the company named for his grandfather, the family holds the biggest stake in Canada’s largest food retailer, Loblaw Cos.

Willard Gordon Galen Weston was born in Buckinghamshire, England, on October 29th, 1940, the youngest of nine children in a prominent family.

Galen Weston and wife Hilary Weston attend the Gucci Hosted Private Screening And Cocktail Party With James Franco To Present "The Director" during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. Picture: Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Gucci Picture: Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Gucci

His father, Willard Garfield Weston, had helped expand the family’s bakery company into a multinational food empire, and served as a member of the British Parliament during the Second World War.

One brother, Garry H Weston, who died in 2002, was one of the richest people in Britain, and chairman of Associated British Foods Plc.

In 1962, Mr Weston graduated from the University of Western Ontario and moved to Ireland where he met Hilary Frayne, a fashion model from Dun Laoghaire. They married in 1966.

With financial help from his grandmother, he bought a grocery store, building it into the Power Supermarkets chain, and then began acquiring clothing stores.

He also reportedly gave luxury retailer Brown Thomas to his wife as a present, just as his father had bought Fortnum & Mason for his mother during their marriage.

Ms Weston was put in charge of revamping the Brown Thomas fashion department, as well as that of Todd Burns, an Irish department-store chain that later became Primark.

At his father’s request, Mr Weston returned to Canada in the early 1970s, taking the helm of Loblaw Cos., which he is credited with saving from near-bankruptcy and subsequently turning into the country’s largest grocer.

Mr Weston, who had two children, continued to make business a family affair. His son Galen G Weston became executive chairman of Loblaw in 2006, and chief executive of George Weston Ltd in 2017 — the fourth generation to lead the business.

Entrepreneurial spirit

In a statement recently released by Brown Thomas and Arnotts they said: “With sorrow, Alannah Weston(Cochrane) and Galen G. Weston announce the passing of W. Galen Weston, on April 12th, 2021, at the age of 80, peacefully at home after a long illness faced with courage and dignity.

“A dutiful son, a beloved husband, a proud father, a devoted grandfather, a loving brother, W. Galen Weston dedicated his life to the service of his family, his businesses, and his community.

“His leadership and entrepreneurial spirit built food, retail, and real estate companies across two continents.

"These include Loblaw and Choice Properties in Canada and Selfridges Group, which includes Selfridges in the UK, Brown Thomas and Arnotts in Ireland,” it said.

More in this section