Mark Skipwith 1944-2017



Mark Skipwith’s funeral was held at Basingstoke Crematorium on Tuesday 14th February 2017 at 1030am.  The entrance music was the Lark Ascending by Vaughn Williams and the following hymns were sung: The Lords my Shepherd, Abide with Me and Guide me O thou Great Redeemer.  James Skipwith read the poem ‘Not how he died but how did he live’, Pete Skipwith read Matthew 4:16-20 and Revd Alex Pease gave the address.

The following two tributes were given:

By Stephen Skipwith:

Before I start Dad’s tribute can I simply say thank you to my brothers, James and Peter, and my sister Juliet for giving me the honour of doing this. We would all have wanted to do it.  Our Dad would also be immensely proud and touched that so many of his recent and past colleagues are here today. On behalf of my family and I, you are all officially the second family here today.

On our Dad’s last day, I was with lucky enough to be able to be with Mum and Dad.  Relaying the fact Saints (Southampton FC for anyone uncertain) had beaten Liverpool and were going on to Wembley to face Manchester Utd in the League Cup Final. Our, Dad, so so so fondly remembered the 1976 FA cup final when Saints beat Manchester Utd (1-0 against the odds). He always happily recalled that he sat next to Billy Wright and the Beverley Sisters and every time you mentioned that game in front of him you would see a slight watery glaze in his eyes.  I did tell him I’d bag tickets for this year’s final and that he was coming and we knew he believed he had a gutsy effort of doing the same.

Whilst he loved the Saints, cricket was his game, Hampshire CCC, and this was his biggest sporting love.  Most of us ended up sat next to him, at cricket grounds somewhere in England, over the years and his endless enthusiasm and hope, often forlorn, that Hampshire would prevail, was truly infectious.  I did watch Hants CCC pick up a trophy with him at Lords and remember his pure sense of joy on the day.

Our Dad was a master of timing, after relaying the Saints result and keeping him up to date with a victory in the T20 against India (Cricket again sorry) he may have decided that it was a high point on the sporting stuff.  Saints lost their next four games and England suffered probably their most historic batting collapse ever. GENIUS DAD, ABSOLUTE GENIUS TIMING!

Our Dad was also a world class fisherman and truly lethal with a fly rod, to the fish only mind.  We appreciate, however, that fishing is a bit niche so if anyone wants to hear those stories please catch me at the Wake later!

But for us the times we saw our Dad at his best were the family holidays.  Starting with the lot of us getting loaded, with all our stuff, into the car with near military precision, by Mum and Dad. Then driving through the night to Salcombe.  When we got to the Happy Eater on the A30 for breakfast the excitement started for sure.  Whilst I suspect he had a few Martini’s in the evenings, he just gave himself to us all for those two weeks.  When you got our Dad, you got all of him, no second measures with the man. There are several myths in Celtic mythology about going past the ninth wave, a journey from one world to the next.  As children we remember those wonderful holiday afternoons spent on the beach with Mum and Dad. The other children’s Dads were out swimming at about wave 5 or 6.  You’d have to look for hard to spot our Dad, and there he would be, a dot at about wave 15 or 16, he’d swim effortlessly back and we, as children do, would look at the other children and think THAT’S OUR DAD!

Our Dad laughed loud, cared deeply, was always a gentleman, formed his own highly intelligent opinions and was fearless.  The fearless bit may have passed on as we do end up in the odd scrape, but we have been more than equipped, by him, for the challenges life presents us.  Our Dad has not gone, we see this in his grand children who unsurprisingly are the ones pulling their wetsuits on, smacking cricket balls, jumping off quay walls, showing kindness at their own expense, climbing any challenge presented and generally believing in themselves first and the opinions of their peer group second.  OH DAD, I’M NOT SURE HOW MANY DISAPPROVING LOOKS WE’VE ALL HAD OVER THE YEARS FROM MORE RISK ADVERSE PARENTS.

Our Dad has embarked on a journey ahead of us all, and whilst Mum has lost her best friend and his children, grand children and sister, will miss him deeply, we know he is still with us all. I’ve tried to imagine what it was like when Dad met his maker a couple of weeks back and the image I have is that it was like a scene from the film BABE, and yes the irony will not be lost on a number of us, that BABE was the film I thought of!  So, there is Dad in front of his maker, and as we know in this room Dad’s maker can only really come to five conclusions:






Safe travels Dad, from us

Robert Watson OBE CEO of the Hilton Food Group plc

I would like to say a few words on behalf of Mark’s other family (The Hilton family)

I would like to begin by reading part of Marks last email to me:

“Hilton is more like a second family than an employer to me and I have been immensely proud to have contributed to its rapid and sustainable growth over the last 13 years and I really hope to contribute more going forward”.

Mark joined us in 2003 as the interim Financial Director in a role that was to last around 4 months.

Mark, as I was told, had just retired for the second time when our Chairman, the late Gordon Summerfield who had previously worked with Mark, knew exactly what we needed as we had parted ways with our current FD.

Gordon did relay to me that when he phoned Mark’s home and Denise answered he thought he might get some flak for trying to coax Mark out of retirement again, but his fears were quickly put to rest when she said “Gordon I hope that you are ringing to offer Mark some work as he is getting under my feet”.

The 4 months became 13 years and we had hoped that this relationship was going to continue in some form for many years to come.

Although Mark had joined us as an interim FD,  reflecting on the many roles that Mark carried out for us I can only say that he became our special advisor or as I believed our secret weapon!

To name some of his duties:

The accountant , the solicitor

The HR manager ,the negotiator

The mentor and the honest broker

Those who knew Mark would know that he was a man of routine, such as being at an airport for a morning flight before the airport had even opened!  Mark was never going to miss a flight as to him three hours before take-off was the norm.

Sometimes I wondered who was right as I would arrive at the last moment only to find Mark relaxed at the head of the queue. Mark was never going to chance that they may had oversold the flight and that the last few people would be refused boarding.

I sometimes shared a lift to Heathrow with Mark and on one occasion I was curious about the addition of a little box that had been fitted the dash of his car.  I quickly learned its function when we arrived at the speed limit of the first village on route when a very loud alarm went off which I could only likened to the sound of an air raid siren. Once my hearing had returned Mark explained that he had been caught speeding a few times and he wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again, slight overkill but nothing was left to chance.

Mark’s second home was the Stukeley Country House Hotel and I know the owner Claire is here today and she with her staff will miss their best client and friend.

Mark had his own room there and had been known to be on both sides of the bar on occasions and had become very proficient at pouring a pint. On one such evening when a local started to give Mark grief, four sturdy builders immediately intervened to ensure their new best friends wellbeing. My point being is that it didn’t matter who you were, Mark always had time for a chat, made friends easily and could relate to everyone. He was quick to put trust in others but I am in no doubt that if you had ever crossed him that was a road of no return.

Mark drove up from Hampshire to Huntingdon every Sunday afternoon and would depart on a Thursday mid -day, as these had been worked out to be the optimum time to avoid traffic.  It was taboo for a meeting to be arranged on Thursday afternoons or god forbid a Friday, or between the hours of 1.30 to 3pm Monday to Wednesday as Mark disappeared back to the Stukeley for his lunch and the crossword puzzle had to be done!

Over the last year Mark had to face some big challenges but to Mark he saw these as a minor inconveniences and would brush them off with “I am alright” but regardless we never expected to be here today.

To get Mark to change his routine when we felt he was a little under the weather, the phrase “wild horses” comes to mind, so Julia (Mark’s no 1 fan at Hilton) and I had to work together to achieve change but not always with success.

It was a good cop – bad cop routine, Julia would float the idea such as “maybe Mark you should go back home early, or even work from home for the next week”. After she was dismissed but the seed had been sown, I would come in with a more forceful approach and so on until a compromise was agreed. Mark always saw through us, but humoured us and  on a few occasions he would reflect and admit that we had been right.

Mark’s mind was as sharp as ever and his reasoning and thought process never diminished and in all the years there was only a few occasions that I had seen Mark close to losing his cool, so if you took cricket out of this equation, I can only recall one time when at a heated meeting about our future direction which had gone on for some time  Mark packed up in mid flow and walked out of the room

When I met him at breakfast the next morning even before I had broached the subject, Mark apologised for his actions and said that the only time he felt stressed was when his “to do list” got out of control and this he had felt had happened the previous day.

So anytime I wanted Mark to do something for me I would always ask him how his “to do list” was and overtime I plucked up the courage to ask him to do a shorter response to my questions, no more than one page on the subject in question.  To be fair to him he did this  but the one pager always had between 5 and 15 pages of back up notes!

Over the last few years’ most of us at Hilton knew blow by blow what it was like to have a hip replacement, a knee replacement, DVT, stents fitted in sometimes too much detail!  Mark was an open book, what you saw is what you got, so all the details regarding his various operations needed or not were communicated around the world.

Mark always spoke very fondly of his wife Denise, and was very proud off all his family and especially his time spent with his grandchildren on all the various family occasions and outings, and about the odd dent that this had made on his wallet!   Indeed, listing his hobbies on his CV on joining us these were cricket, fishing, meddling with computers and helping with the growing tribe of grandchildren who I am sure will miss him dearly.

Mark’s contribution to our company has been immense and indeed our plc board thought that at one point the January board meeting was heading to the intensive care unit of Marks hospital and I believe business emails being done from there was a first !

In our mind there will only ever be one Mark and his influence on our business will live on for many years to come. The office is now so empty without his wisdom, charm and of course his laugh which caught many off guard around the world and many a tough negotiator was quickly cut down to size.   We at Hilton want to pay Mark the highest tribute possible, he will be sorely missed by all of us.

His workload will be carried on but the Mark we knew and loved will never be replaced and personally I will miss his council and mentoring.

Finally, it has been an honour and a privilege to have known Mark Skipwith. A true gentleman in all respects.


Robert Watson, OBE, CEO

Hilton Food Group plc

February 2017






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