John Silk
John Silk
 

Tributes have been paid to a Midland businessman who held a manufacturing dynasty together in the face of tragedy – but will be best remembered for his work at West Bromwich Albion.

Faces from the business and football worlds described club president John Silk as an honourable man after he passed away aged 89 on December 31 following a short illness.

He also served as chairman at Albion, and a minute’s applause was held in his memory ahead of the game against Newcastle on New Year’s Day.

Mr Silk founded law firm Silks Solicitors in 1953 and went on to run giant engineering firms Hampson Industries and Hill & Smith after the death of brother Tom in a plane crash in 1980.

Nephew Graham Hampson-Silk said John became a father figure to him following the tragedy, in which his mother Catherine also died, and held together businesses employing thousands of people.

He told the Post: “After my mum and dad’s death he kept everything together to run the companies and look after me and my brother.

“He did it all for his brother, who he loved so much. He wouldn’t let us do a thing for him in return – he did it all because he was such a good man.

“I have had so many calls and texts and the words ‘honourable’ and ‘true gentleman’ keep being used.

“He was the most wonderful man, and my brother and I will never be able to repay his kindness.”

He added: “It was a mixed New Year’s Eve for us, as we raised a glass to him but each of us had tears running down our faces.”

Mr Silk, who is survived by wife Jean and children Karen and Mark, followed his brother onto the board of Albion in 1984 before going on to serve as chairman between 1988 and 1992.

He succeeded Sir Bert Millichip as club president in 2003, and such was his impact the flags at The Hawthorns were lowered to half-mast as a mark of respect following his passing.

He took over as chairman of the club at a time of financial difficulty and restored comparative stability to its finances.

He was forced to sell star striker Don Goodman in 1991 to balance the books, but will be fondly remembered for sanctioning the £300,000 purchase of Bob Taylor shortly after, who went on to achieve legendary status at the club.

Albion’s publications editor Dave Bowler said work done by Mr Silk had paved the way for future success.

He said: “John stepped down as chairman at the end of the 1991/92 campaign and was replaced by Trevor Summers.

“He left the club in a healthier financial state than when he was appointed chairman, allowing it to continue through the nineties before flourishing into the Barclays Premier League club it has since become.”

Current chairman Jeremy Peace paid tribute to Mr Silk, and said he remained a familiar face at The Hawthorns.

He said: “John was very proud to be club president and took his duties very seriously.

“Until his illness, he was a constant presence at home and away matches. Notably, he was in attendance for our 2-1 win at Old Trafford in September.

“John was a quiet but very honourable man and he will be greatly missed. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.”

Mr Hampson-Silk said as well as holding the family together emotionally, his uncle was also a force to be reckoned with in the business world.

“He never stopped,” he said. “He started Silk Solicitors in 1953 and never stopped from there.

“He was involved with both Hampson and Hill & Smith in the days when my dad was running the business.

“Dad was obviously keen to have someone he trusted dealing with the corporate law.

“Then on September 24, 1980, when mum and dad died, I went to the office to see what was happening and came away crying my eyes out. But he didn’t. He stayed and took over from day one.

“There were issues there, just like every other business, but he just got on and did it.”