RIP Sir Peter Harrison (1937-2021)
It is with a heavy heart that we share the sad news that Sir Peter Harrison KGCN CBE, founder of the Peter Harrison Foundation passed away on 18 June 2021.
Shaun Fenton, Headmaster, said:
“Sir Peter was an RGS parent, friend and generous supporter of the school for many years, helping over 80 students benefit from a bursary and, of course, making a major donation to enable the Harrison Centre to be built. We celebrate Sir Peter every day in the incredible Harrison Centre, a fitting legacy to a man of such warmth and generosity who will be much missed by all who knew him.”
Andrew Ross, Director of The Peter Harrison Foundation, added:
“The Harrison Scholars programme at RGS was one of Peter Harrison’s proudest achievements and will remain an important part of his legacy. He took great pleasure in meeting young Harrison scholars and hearing about their interests and ambitions at the annual tea party which the school gave for him. His charitable Foundation will live on and will continue to invest in talented young people who might otherwise not have the chance to benefit from the educational opportunity which RGS offers.”
Our condolences go to the Harrison family and the team at the Peter Harrison Foundation.
We will be holding a memorial – please email email@example.com if you would like to attend.
Sir Peter Harrison KGCN CBE (1937-2021)
RGS parent and benefactor
Peter Robert Harrison was born in 1937 and grew up in Cheadle in Cheshire. His father, Bob, was a bus driver in Manchester who had been evacuated from Dunkirk, his mother, Molly, a seamstress. Peter attended Cheadle Primary School, Broadway County Secondary School, then Stockport Technical College, where he was the only boy in his year who played in the Ist XI in both football and cricket. It was during a Scouts trip to the Norfolk Broads when he was 15 that Peter fell in love with sailing.
He trained as a chartered accountant before an early career with the Ford Motor Company. He moved to Firth Cleveland then Crest Nicholson, which had acquired a marine instruments company called Chernikeef. Peter spotted an opportunity and mortgaged his house to buy out this specialised business. He had seen the potential for its instrument technology to be applied to wider business communications and used it to successfully develop the efficiency of Telex messaging. In 1987 he saw another opportunity and managed to acquire the UK rights to distribute internet routers developed by Cisco Systems. This business grew so dramatically that a little over 10 years later he was able to sell Chernikeef for a total of £300 million!
With some of this new wealth Peter and his family set up first the Peter Harrison Foundation and subsequently the Peter Harrison Heritage Foundation. In the intervening years these two philanthropic organisations have given away well over £50 million to hundreds of charities, with a particular emphasis on the development of sport for people with disabilities, on education of children from disadvantaged backgrounds and the provision of care for children with special needs.
One area where the Peter Harrison Foundation has made an emphatic and lasting impact is that of disability sport: developing facilities and widening opportunities for participation at grassroots club level; sponsoring young Paralympic hopefuls through the SportsAid Trust; investing in Sports Science at the Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport at Loughborough University; and supporting the highest level of performance at successive Paralympic Games through the British Paralympic Association. Peter will be remembered as a champion of disability sport and for using his success to create opportunities which would otherwise not exist.
He was also rightly proud of some substantial investments in education. He initiated a bursary scheme for pupils with academic ability whose parents could not afford the school fees. Through the 20-year partnership between RGS and the Peter Harrison Foundation, 80 current and former Harrison Scholars have benefitted from his generosity. In 2018, Reigate Grammar School received a grant of £4 million from the Peter Harrison Foundation to build the beloved Sixth Form centre which bears Peter’s name. And countless more school pupils can visit the Peter Harrison Planetarium at Greenwich to set their sights on the stars.
In 2012, the Harrison Foundation’s trustees helped Peter to establish a separate grant-giving charity, the Peter Harrison Heritage Foundation, with a capital endowment of over £7 million. This allowed Peter to pursue a more personal range of philanthropic interests, particularly in military and naval history, which fell outside the scope of the older Foundation’s objectives. This led to substantial donations to the Imperial War Museum, to the National Army Museum, to the Fly Navy Heritage Trust for restoration of its historic Swordfish biplane, to the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, to the Bletchley Park Trust, for the restoration of Hougoumont Farmhouse on the battlefield at Waterloo and of historic Clarence House on the island of Antigua, where Peter had enjoyed so much of his sailing.
Sailing was a passion of Peter’s. He sailed across the Atlantic 15 times, won races at Cowes and in the Caribbean, sponsored and led the 2002 British challenge for the America’s Cup in New Zealand. Much of his leisure time was spent aboard his 35m racing yacht, Sojana.
Sailing was not his only sport. He played football as a young man in Cheadle but, coming to Reigate at the age of 40, he turned to rugby and joined the Old Reigatian RFC, for whom he played first as a wing and then as a somewhat heavier prop forward well into his 50s. Through The Peter Harrison Foundation and personally he eventually contributed over £5 million to fund the development of new pitches and a splendid clubhouse which the local community is rightly proud of. It is not surprising that he saw sport and exercise as a way of unlocking human potential and believed so much in the value of removing barriers to participation. He maintained his early love of football, too: a passionate supporter of Chelsea FC he became one of the club’s Vice-Presidents. Happily, he lived just long enough to watch his team win the Champions League for a second time.
In 2005 Peter was made an Honorary Doctor of Technology by the University of Loughborough in recognition of outstanding service to business, sport and disability. In the Queen’s Birthday Honours of 2010 Peter Harrison was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in recognition of his philanthropic work. In 2013 he was knighted (Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Nation) by the Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda. His late wife Joy died in 2012.
Peter died peacefully at home in Reigate on Friday 18 June. A passionate sports fan all his life he was watching an international football match on television at the time. He was 84 years old. He is survived by his daughter Julia (RGS 1981-83), son Nick (RGS 1976-82) and his three grandchildren.