Robert David Vincent Garnett

30th January 1939 – 17th October 2021

Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Surveyors

Freeman of the City of London

Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Art Scholars

It is with great sadness that the Trustees of the Zibby Garnett Travel Fellowship (the “ZGTF”) announce, that their founder, David Garnett, passed away peacefully on Sunday 17th October 2021.

A personal reflection on life of David Garnett by Martin Williams, friend and sometime Chairman, Trustee of the Zibby Garnett Travel Fellowship

I saw David first during the interval of a recital at Grimsthorpe Castle: he was, as always, elegantly attired with a glass of champagne in his hand. Knowing no one, I surreptitiously scanned the audience for someone to whom I might talk. David, with the natural courtesy and easy elegance that marked all that he did quickly spotted that I was in shoal water and drew me into conversation. We soon discovered a mutual enthusiasm for those indispensable features of the 17th century gentleman’s garden, the folly, the canal and the snail mound. I was briefly put out to discover that he had just constructed a fine example of the last, but after this effortless piece of gamesmanship, we became good friends and remained so for the next 30 years.

In 2004, I was fortunate to be a guest at the splendid dinner at a London club that marked David’s 65th birthday. Also present that evening was someone whose intelligence and wide-ranging interests matched David’s own. Sue’s warmth and infectious enthusiasm as well as her obvious love for David and his for her, gave all of his friends so much pleasure. Sometime later, David said to me that he felt he had been blessed more than most men in having enjoyed the love and shared the lives of two such very special individuals as Sue and Zibby. David’s subsequent marriage to Sue was in every sense an equal partnership: of interests; of intellectual curiosity; of style and above all, of fun.

There was a shared love of travel, of meeting new people, seeing new places and enjoying new sights, smells, food and wine, to countries such as Egypt, India, and Russia, though an outing in Eastern Europe to see an experimental hydroponic farm one Christmas Day may have stretched the envelope a bit. David brought to any gathering an unfailing interest in people and their doings, occasionally probing so as to really understand his interlocutor’s point of view. An incomplete answer would be teased out, never ignored or brushed aside.

I spoke of having met David at a party, one of his friends wrote recently that “David loved a party; and it was always a good one if he was present”. Those of us who enjoyed David’s hospitality know that he was also an excellent host, unobtrusively introducing people who had something in common; ensuring that glasses were always full and seeing that no-one stood alone. Coupled with this was an innate style, at parties, David was always the man with a colourful piece of clothing, never loud but always striking, always carefully judged, always stylish. Coupled with his height and in recent years, that carefully trimmed patriarchal beard, he was quickly to be spotted in any gathering.

As you got to know him better, you became aware that David was a man assiduous about keeping his friendships in good repair. The telephone would ring and with the quick introduction “David here”, he would ask how you were, always remembering how you had been when he last spoke to you. Enquiries about his health were always courteously but firmly deflected.

A telephone conversation with David was just that, a conversation: it was never just a call but always a measured and considered process constructed as carefully as any 18th century piece of music. Enquiries were made about neighbours and what was occupying your time, observations were made on areas of mutual interest and notes on local matters exchanged. David was not without his serious side, his interest in buildings and their repair and conservation was matured and developed by his conscientious stewardship of several large private estates and latterly, at the National Trust; it found a natural expression in the charity he founded in memory of Zibby.

It’s a tribute to David’s untiring efforts that over the past 21 years, the Trust has enabled over 140 young people to study conservation techniques abroad learning new skills and different way of working. Initially as chairman and Trustee and later as the charity’s patron, he kept a careful eye on its activities, its administration, unobtrusively guiding, encouraging and steering his colleagues. Above all, David assiduously kept in touch with former scholars and was always interested in their progress both professionally and personally. Some of the scholars have found the experience life-changing: all have said that it has been life-enhancing. Recipients can be either full or part-time students, craft apprentices and applications from those changing a career are just as welcome.

The Trustees who like David are very much hands-on include people with practical experience of the conservation sector, of tertiary education and the not-for-profit sector. Since the Fellowship was set up in 2000, alumni have been to some forty countries to study techniques in the fields of historic buildings, gardens and the man-made landscape, artefacts including textiles, ceramics, furniture, books, paintings, and sculpture. Many of the Fellowship’s students have gone on to take up conservation posts at national and international institutions including The Royal Collection Trust, The British Library and the National Trust.

The Trustees, together with his family and many friends, can take comfort in the many memories of a man who contributed so much to those of us whose lives he touched and whose deeds will live on through the charity he set up.

Our thoughts are with his wife, Sue, and his family.