Bernard Sunley was a pioneer in the post-war reconstruction of Britain and an entrepreneur in the legendary mould. A self-made man from modest origins, he was an individualist, a powerhouse of energy and ability, and larger than life in every way.
Throughout Bernard’s career, his wife Mary was a formidable figure in the background, and she played an important role in his success. Together they worked as a team to build the three financial mainstays of Bernard’s life: Blackwood Hodge, the Bernard Sunley Investment Trust and, ultimately his most enduring legacy, the Bernard Sunley Charitable Foundation.
On 28 July 1960, Bernard and Mary signed their names to the Trust Deed establishing the Bernard Sunley Charitable Foundation. The move was not a surprise. Bernard was a spontaneously generous man throughout his life and made frequent personal donations to charity for a number of years. Now he was thinking of philanthropy on a grander and more formal scale. In the early 1960s, the new Foundation made very large donations to medical and educational establishments.
Bernard died suddenly on 20 November 1964, aged 54. Under his Will he bequeathed the residue of his estate to the Foundation. He had chosen his founding trustees well and the Foundation prospered. Sir William Shapland was Chairman from 1964 until 1989, when Bernard’s son, John Sunley, took on the role of Chairman. John had been a trustee from the outset and actively steered the Foundation from an initial gift of shares in the Bernard Sunley Investment Trust to the Foundation’s current portfolio.
In their 2011 annual report, it was the trustees’ sad duty to report that John Sunley (1936–2011) died unexpectedly on 14 February 2011 after a short illness. They record the enormous influence John had in bringing the Foundation to where it is today and his legacy will endure for many years.
The work of the Foundation continues with the same energy and commitment as before under the chairmanship of John’s daughter, Mrs Anabel Knight.