Donald Rees OBE, who has died in the Algarve at the age of 91, was a much-acclaimed engineer and businessman. Ironically, many of his innovative engineering achievements remained hidden. Not so his devotion to his family, which throughout his career was always paramount.
He was born in South Wales, the youngest of three children. His father was an ambitious Cockney with a great sense of fun. His Scottish mother was warm and easy-going, a balancing force. Donald inherited all these characteristics.
Growing up in Cheltenham and London, he exuded enthusiasm despite the aftermath effects of the First World War, the hardships of the Great Depression and the approach of World War II. He revelled in the advent of domestic electricity, wind-up phones, Al Jolson on the wireless and dancing the night away to big bands in the Hammersmith Palais.
A mischievous student at Cheltenham College, he had hopes of studying engineering at Cambridge University. At his father's suggestion, he opted instead for the "university of life", a decision he never regretted.
During World War II, he commanded a unit of the Royal Engineers in India, Burma and Malaya. On returning home, he found that his father's road surfacing company had been decimated by wartime exhaustion and austerity. With typical forward-looking boldness, he took on the challenge of reinvigorating and modernising the business.
On first encountering Mary Smith, an "utterly gorgeous" nurse working in the General Hospital in Brighton, "I could not resist approaching her and inviting her to have tea with me," he recorded in his diaries. "She said she would be delighted." They married in 1947 and moved to their first "dream house" in Horley, Surrey.
Donald and Mary had six sons, and they needed increasingly large properties to accommodate the expanding family. The main family home for most of their time in England stood next to the 18th tee of one of the world's most celebrated golf venues, the West Course at Wentworth.
Meanwhile, Donald was greatly expanding his father's business by undertaking public works underground as well as at street level. Under his guidance, the company developed innovative methods of restoring old, and in some cases bomb-damaged, sewage systems. The traditional repair techniques involved roads being dug up, causing delay and disruption, but Donald and his colleagues developed "No-Dig" tunnelling techniques based on the Rees Mini-Tunnel; they also pioneered the use of close circuit television cameras in subterranean investigations. As the leader in its field, the company's services and products were much sought after not only across the UK and the Channel Islands, but as far afield as the United States, South America and Southeast Asia.
As a Liveryman and later Master of the Worshipful Company of Paviors, a Fellow of the Institution of Public Health Engineers and a Companion of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Donald was adept at cultivating business contacts and marketing. In addition to an impressive array of industrial awards including the Queen’s Award for Industry, he was honoured with an OBE for his services to British exports.
|Attracted by its mild climate, Donald and Mary built a charming house in the Algarve, near Porches, for their retirement in 1983. They were early members of the fledgling Afpop, and Donald was a regular supporter of local Royal British Legion events. After 55 years of marriage, Mary died here in 2002. She had been Donald's constant inspiration, and he often told friends: "not a day goes by in which I do not feel her loss sorely."|
After a period of increasingly poor health and with family at his bedside, Donald died at his Son and Daughter-in- Law's home near Algoz, in the early hours of 18th April, the day before his 63rd wedding anniversary. He will be sorely missed by his six sons and their families, including 11 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren.