‘If you think you can, you can’: Philanthropist Sir Jack Petchey OBE dies aged 98

Sir Jack Petchey enjoying a game of table tennis. Photograph: courtesy the Jack Petchey Foundation

Philanthropist Sir Jack Petchey OBE, whose charity foundation supported thousands of children across east London, died last week at the age of 98.

The former businessman passed away on 27 June at his home in Wapping, and a private funeral service will be held for family and friends.

Petchey grew up in Manor Park and left school aged 13 without any qualification, but went on to become one of Britain’s most successful businessman.

His entrepreneurial spirit saw him start out delivering fruit and vegetables for a greengrocer.

According to a tribute on his foundation’s website: “One day a member of his school board saw him on a delivery run, and the school took the greengrocer and Sir Jack’s parents to East Ham police court to charge them with underage working.

“The evidence used was that Sir Jack was carrying vegetables, but the case was dismissed under the technicality that he was carrying tomatoes, which are, in fact, a fruit.

“Sir Jack said for the rest of his life that this encouraged him to think outside the box.”

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Petchey enlisted as a police messenger in East Ham before joining the auxiliary fire service two years later.

In 1943, he volunteered for service in the Royal Navy, joining the training ship HMS Collingwood. He rose to the rank of Chief Petty Officer, and later had a brief stint in the Air Force at RAF Dunmow. 

More than 20 years after the war, Petchey, with the help of investors, created a successful leisure development in Portugal.

Its success, along with shrewd investments, brought him huge wealth, but the way he gave away his riches is how most will remember him.

Petchey at the 2010 unveiling of a ship he donated to the Sea Cadets. Photograph: courtesy the Jack Petchey Foundation

He set up the Jack Petchey Foundation in 1999, and to date, it has invested over £170 million in youth projects throughout London and Essex.

The charity’s website states: “It was always Sir Jack’s intention to ensure that the Jack Petchey Foundation should continue as his living legacy.

“In an interview with Third Sector magazine, he indicated that there are enough resources to carry on forever, and there’s no reason why the Jack Petchey Foundation shouldn’t.”

Petchey’s outside interests included squash, which he played until his mid-80s, and bridge. His passion for football led to him being appointed as director of West Ham.

But he worked hard, coming into the office until he was 93 years old as he continued to help run his charity.

Petchey used his entrepreneurial skills to deliver a number of innovative schemes involving public speaking, dance, sport and music.

He would tell young people: “If you think you can, you can.”

In 2004, Petchey was awarded an OBE by the late Queen Elizabeth for services to young people.

He later became a CBE, before being knighted in 2016 in recognition of his charity work.

In 2006, Petchey sponsored a secondary school in Hackney. The Petchey Academy bore his name for a long time, but later became the Excelsior Academy.

Petchey is survived by his wife Lady Frances Petchey, his daughters Jackie, Susan and Amanda, and his grandchildren and great grandchildren.  

An event to celebrate his life is to be announced in due course.

Those wishing to leave a message of condolence can do so by visiting https://sirjackpetcheycbe.muchloved.com/.

Contributions in memory of Sir Jack Petchey can be made via the condolence page or via the Jack Petchey Foundation website here: https://www.jackpetcheyfoundation.org.uk/news/in-memory-of-sir-jack-petchey-cbe/.