John Marston obituary | Engineering

My father, John Marston, who has died aged 87, was a dynamic and inspiring businessman, civil engineer, adventuring sailor and longstanding educational governor. His drive was always to find ways for individuals to fulfil their potential – he managed this through the running of the family businesses, promotion of apprenticeships and support for numerous charities.

Born in Wandsworth, south-west London, he was the son of Elsie (nee Shepherd) and John Marston, who ran the family construction company WJ Marston & Son, set up by his grandfather, William Marston. John Jr went to Dulwich college, in south London, then Rugby school.

After completing an engineering degree at Manchester University in 1957, he worked as a young engineer for Costain. Diverse projects ranged from laying out the new M20 motorway in Kent to building an aircraft refuelling stop in the middle of the Indian Ocean, on Gan in the Maldives, with a runway longer than the island itself.

John Marston on the island of Gan in the Maldives
John Marston on the island of Gan in the Maldives

After joining the family company, John managed many of WJ Marston’s diverse construction projects for the next four decades: schools, hotels, Tottenham Hale tube station, the Kingston School of Architecture, London Oratory school and numerous residential and commercial developments in south London.

Concurrent with his work career, John enjoyed a social and playing life as a tight head prop with Shirley Wanderers Rugby Club, whose members distinguished themselves by stealing the Twickenham crossbar after the 1965 Varsity match in an incident that made the national papers, before negotiating its safe return.

His achievements include guiding Marston Hotels to become the largest independent hotel group within Best Western UK, winning AA hotel group of the year 2004, before the company was sold in 2006.

He served for 25 years as governor at the further education institution Hammersmith College (now West London College), for which he was appointed MBE, and was chair of the Putney Sea Cadets.

A lifelong sailor – both racing and cruising – he owned the 20-ton classic Clyde yacht Tigris long before her glamorous St Tropez race triumphs; in John’s ownership she was cruised to Africa and back.

Later in life his enthusiasm for others to succeed was channelled into a passion for philanthropy – support for the Woodland Trust that saved many ancient woods and created new ones; for Manchester University, who created a Marston doctoral scholarship in audiology, as well as funding pioneering graphene research; and for the Jubilee Sailing Trust to launch their second sail training ship Tenacious.

John was a believer in enterprise and not all his investments were successful. “I am more of an opportunist than a long-term planner,” he wrote. “Once you have completed something, move on.”

In 1964 he married Mette Dahl. She survives him, along with his children, Nicola and Andrew, and five grandchildren.