Newspaper article International New York Times

Gerald Grosvenor, British Duke and Billionaire, Dies at 64

Newspaper article International New York Times

Gerald Grosvenor, British Duke and Billionaire, Dies at 64

Article excerpt

The sixth Duke of Westminster was the country's richest landowner, worth an estimated $12 billion, and a friend of the royal family.


Gerald Grosvenor was a 16-year-old student at Harrow when reporters arrived at the school to inform him that his uncle had just died, which meant that Gerald was suddenly an honorary earl and that his father had unexpectedly inherited the title of Duke of Westminster.

Wondering what prompted such a fuss, he phoned his father, who replied with characteristic British forbearance: "Ah yes, we need to talk about that!"

The ensuing conversation transformed his life. Within five years, he was dutifully managing a real estate empire that included 300 acres of prime property in the middle of London. In 1979, when his father died, 27-year-old Gerald Grosvenor officially became the sixth Duke of Westminster, a multibillionaire and Britain's richest resident.

And when he himself died on Aug. 9, at 64, he remained the country's richest landowner, worth an estimated $12 billion. (By then he was no longer the richest resident, having moved down the list to sixth, while placing second among the country's wealthiest citizens.)

He died of a heart attack at his 22,000-acre Abbeystead Estate in Lancashire.

Mr. Grosvenor was chairman of the trustees of the Grosvenor Estate, which through subsidiaries manages assets of about $15 billion, with vast holdings in the Mayfair and Belgravia sections of London, adjacent to Buckingham Palace, where he hobnobbed with the royal family, and around the globe. The company announced his death.

The duke overcame a crush of debt from death duties and taxes to restore the Grosvenor Estate with shrewd investments. He quit the Conservative Party in the 1990s to protest a law allowing leaseholders to buy their property.

But the duke was a begrudging billionaire. He often let it be known that it wasn't easy having green.

He was raised by a tyrannical nanny. He hated boarding school. He was rejected by Eton, the upper-crust school that educated 19 prime ministers. His father refused to let him accept an invitation to try out for the Fulham Football Club. ("He didn't like all the kissing they did when they scored," the son once said.) He drove recklessly and repeatedly crashed expensive cars.

Mr. Grosvenor suffered from depression and a nervous breakdown because of the pressures of business and the enormous number of appearances he made on behalf of his public advocacy for veterans and dozens of other philanthropic causes, including the founding gift of $50 million for a $300 million armed forces rehabilitation center, which is to open in Nottinghamshire in 2018.

He longed for a military career, but that ambition was overtaken by his business responsibilities. …

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