Clothing retailer and patron of the arts;
Born: June 7, 1929; Died: December 30, 2012.
MUSIC was never out fashion for Walter Wolfe, the Glasgow-born clothing retailer and patron of the arts who has died aged 83. He loved listening to it; as a pianist, he loved playing it. He talked about it with knowledge and passion and he worked tirelessly to ensure a thriving future for it in Scotland.
His love affair with the keyboard began in 1938 as junior member of the Glasgow Athenaeum (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland). It was the beginning of a close mutual friendship which continued until his death. He suffered a sudden stroke in December and never regained consciousness.
Professor John Wallace, the Conservatoire's principal, acknowledged his contribution in a warm tribute. He said: "There can be few institutions who are able to identify a 'Walter Wolfe figure'. Walter spent much of his life with us over a number of generations – he was a student, a governor, a trustee, a benefactor, an audience member. Students, staff and visiting artists knew Walter well, we knew 'his seat' in the theatre, he was a weel-kent face and it was a privilege to have shared so many Conservatoire moments with him."
Mr Wolfe was appointed a governor of the RSAMD in 1981 and elected a trustee in 1992. Two years later he was awarded a cherished fellowship for his services to the then Academy.
His charitable work was extensive – much of it focused on music. He was on the committee of the Scottish International Piano Competition. The Rachmaninov Quartet's first Scottish concert was at his home in Glasgow's south side which he shared with his devoted wife Fe, whom he married in 1954, as well as a Steinway concert grand, an organ and an electric keyboard.
Elsewhere, he served as a trustee of the Glasgow Jewish Community Trust, the Bloch Trust and as a founding member of the Jewish Blind Society, of which he became honorary president. He was for many years musical director of the Avrom Greenbaum Players.
The son of Lithuanian and Latvian emigrants, he was educated at Glasgow Academy and Whittinghame College in Brighton. Leaving school, he first joined the merchant navy as a barber's assistant before becoming a dishwasher on cruise liners such as the Queen Elizabeth.
He supplemented his wages playing the piano in his own inimitable fashion and was fond of entertaining the crew. Occasionally guests and stars would come down to hear him play and he found himself accompanying celebrities like Sophie Tucker at impromptu parties. He loved a party.
His music, like the man, was stylish and occasionally flamboyant. Weaned on the works of Porter, Gershwin, Kern, Lerner and Loewe and Rodgers and Hart, he was an incurable romantic, as well as having a passion for jazz.
One of his cruise liner perks was showing passengers around the ship, but this was withdrawn when he put up his own advert offering tours. It demonstrated his sharp eye for a financial opportunity. After his time at sea he joined the family business, Morrisons Associated Companies, which owned a chain of fashion retail outlets including Graftons, Paige, Slendos and Irene Adair, among others. His mother ran Morrison's in Buchanan Street until she died.
He had a deceptively relaxed manner which disguised a shrewd business brain. This was balanced by a dry and insightful sense of humour and fun which could lighten the most awkward situations.
Eventually the family business was taken over by Great Universal Stores. He carried on as deputy chairman until retirement, when he retained a consultancy role for Burberry.
He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2001, but his appetite for work and enthusiasm for music remained undiminished. His wise counsel delivered in his warm and engaging manner was always in demand.
He represented the Wolfson Foundation in Scotland where he lent his wisdom and experience to grant requests.
One of his last duties was to accompany the foundation's chief executive Paul Ramsbottom on a visit to the Royal Scottish National Orchestra to discuss their new headquarters. Speaking for many, Mr Ramsbottom said: "Walter was a great champion of the charitable sector both in Glasgow, and more widely in Scotland, and, above all, for the arts sector. He was every inch the gentleman and whether advising a charity or lobbying on their behalf, he always did it in his own instinctive style: managing to be colourful and lively as well as understated. We will all greatly miss him."
His dapper figure, generally topped with a fedora and cravat, was rarely absent from his favourite seat at the Conservatoire's Friday lunchtime concerts. It is a seat which all who knew him would acknowledge will be hard to fill.
He is survived by his wife Feodor, sons Barry and Nicky and granddaughters, Francesca and Jaimie Lee.
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