NEVILLE Packett, author, businessman, philanthropist and traveller, who has died at 91, seized the opportunity to expand the family’s Bradford-based insurance broking business when decline hit its core region with the wool textile industry at its heart.
A man of formidable energy and drive, rather than attempt to soldier on, he searched out new clients – wherever in the world they might be found.
His interest in foreign lands and different cultures brought its own rewards, but combined with an easy personal style and charisma, and the integrity he brought to bear on his dealings, he won important new clients.
The elder son of Sydney and Maud Packett, his father having founded the Sydney Packett insurance broking firm of Bradford in 1920, he went to Bradford Grammar School, Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Kirkby Lonsdale, and Ashville College, Harrogate, leaving when he was 17.
He joined up and served for four years with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps as a warrant officer in the Middle East and North Africa.
Returning to civilian life, he went into his father’s business, becoming a director at 22; he qualified as Associate of the Chartered Insurance Institute, and was managing director from 1975 to 1987, when he took on a consultancy role.
While his interests were as diverse as writing – he was the author of more than 16 publications on diverse topics including guide books and the Lord Lieutenancy – theatre, genealogy, amateur cinema, and people and places, his real passion was for travel.
It began in 1962 with the first of his long-distance business prospecting trips from which he gained all the insurance work for the Australian Wheat Board.
He also visited China and on that occasion smuggled a cine camera into the country in order to film the country and its people, an offence that would have resulted in a prison sentence had he been caught.
Watching the Coronation in June 1953, he was enthralled by the affectionate display given by Queen Solotte, and decided to visit Tonga in the South Pacific. As a result he developed a lifelong friendship with the island and its people, the royal family to whom he became an unofficial adviser several times.
It was on a visit to the islands that he was asked to insure the as yet unfinished Dateline Hotel, and this began a successful business relationship across the South Seas which continued and developed for the next 30 years. He undertook numerous world trips, Fiji and Samoa adding to his client list.
An honorary crossbowman of the Republic of San Marino, he was an honorary admiral, Texas Navy, and he held the grand cross of the San Marino order of St Agatha, the Royal Tongan medal of merit, and the King of Tonga’s coronation jubilee medal.
Mr Packett was appointed a magistrate to the Bradford Bench in 1964. At about that time he presented a case to the main board of FH Woolworth that all of their stores should have a one-stop booth in it where customers could obtain the services of a lawyer, an estate agent and an insurance broker – a comprehensive service of a sort the larger supermarket chains began to see the advantage of some 30 years later.
In Bradford be became heavily involved with St John Ambulance, rising to become county commander for South & West Yorkshire.
In 1969 he married Audrey Clough, a family friend and neighbour. They originally lived in Guiseley, eventually settling in Ilkley. His wife died last year.
Mr Packett was awarded the MBE in 1974 for his services to the National Savings movement, and he was subsequently honoured by a number of other organisations for services rendered.
He was also a governor at his old school, Ashville College.
He joined the Ionic Lodge, Bradford, in 1954 and over the years attained leading ranks in Freemasonry.
A past master (1979/80) of the Worshipful Company of Woolmen, in 1990 he was made a freeman of the City of Bradford, and in 1992 was awarded an honorary degree by Bradford University.
Business interests in London saw him make connections there which resulted in his membership of the Worshipful Company of Tin Plate Workers of London, of which he was master in 1986/87, and he was made honorary historian to Her Majesty’s City of London Lieutenancy.
He was a life member of the City Livery Club, the City Livery Yacht Club and of the Royal Society of St George (City of London branch) and a life governor of the Royal Masonic Hospital.
A Knight of Justice of the Order of St John, he was a founder member of the St John Historical Society in London, and was a Freeman of the City of London.
Mr Packett is survived by his younger brother Duncan and his niece Susan and nephews Charles and Andrew, who continue to run the family business.