Prominent Welsh business figure, philanthropist and supporter of the arts, Robert Maskrey OBE, has died aged 76, following a short battle with cancer.
Robert Maskrey was at the helm of the iconic furniture retailer, Maskreys, which had outlets in Cardiff, Newport and Bristol before the business closed its doors in 2011 after 112 years of successful trading. Freshwater was responsible for handling Maskreys’s public relations for seven years.
In its heyday, Maskreys was the go-to independent, design-led furniture store in Wales and the West, stocking brands such as Flos, Kartell, Rosenthal and Villeroy & Boch, so that shoppers could purchase them easily on their doorstep, without having to travel to London.
Robert Maskrey didn’t simply follow furniture trends – he led them. He brought blond wood from Scandinavia to the UK in the fifties, long before it was popularised by Ikea, and also introduced stylish brands Ligne Roset and hulsta to the UK in the late sixties and seventies.
Robert Maskrey also became heavily involved in influencing furniture product design, taking an active role in adapting British and continental furniture to suit UK markets. He often used to enhance product details – improving proportions, comfort and design – to create a final piece of furniture that was uniquely Maskreys.
Aside from his business interests, Robert Maskrey was a keen supporter of the arts and was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours list in 2015 for his voluntary and charitable services to arts and the community.
Robert John Maskrey was born in 1940 in the flat above the Maskreys’ shop, which was located on Whitchurch Road in Cardiff.
After studying Textiles at St Martin’s School of Arts in London, Robert Maskrey joined the family business in 1960. He started learning the trade from the bottom, working in the warehouse for a year sweeping floors, driving vans, fitting carpets and cutting curtains. He became manager of the Newport store in 1961 and sales director of the Cardiff store in 1964, before assuming control from his father, Leonard Maskrey, in 1970.
Robert Maskrey used his retail expertise to help transform Hereford town centre as vice chair of Hereford Futures and chair of its task group from 2006-2014. Despite the economic uncertainty caused by the financial crisis, the taskforce was successful in opening a £90 million retail and leisure scheme in Hereford in 2014 – the only inner-city retail and leisure development to open in the UK that year. The scheme created more than 1,000 new jobs locally and welcomed circa six million visitors in its first year.
Robert Maskrey supported the arts through voluntary roles that were of considerable benefit to Wales and the West. He was chair of Cardiff Arts Marketing (1992-1998); Trustee of Cardiff Old Library Trust (1995-2002) and chair of the Lower Machen Festival (2005-2010).
From 2007, Robert Maskrey was chair of the Malvern Theatres Trust, having to contend with the challenging times caused by the financial crisis and withdrawal of financial support by the Arts Council and Malvern Hills District Council. Despite this, the theatre complex is thriving with a busy programme of events.
From 2008, as a member of the Arts & Business Cymru Investment Panel, he directed investment of public money to enable business to work in partnership with those in the arts community.
In 2012, the renowned international opera bass-baritone, Bryn Terfel, asked Robert Maskrey to chair the Bryn Terfel Foundation, a charity providing support for singers, instrumentalists, conductors and composers at the threshold of their careers.
Shelter Cymru was also a cause that was close to Robert Maskrey’s heart and he felt strongly that the profits of the sale of high-end furniture used to furnish people’s homes should be recycled to assist the homeless. In 2002, Robert Maskrey became Vice President of the charity and, together with his wife Samantha, raised over £150,000 over a 10 year period through a variety of events, including hosting an annual Christmas carol concert held in Cardiff Bay.
Steve Howell, chief executive of Freshwater, said: “Having worked with Robert over a number of years, we were full of admiration and respect for him and the way he approached business. It was always a pleasure to work with him.”
John Puzey, director of Shelter Cymru, said that everyone involved with the charity was deeply saddened by the loss. “Robert was a passionate supporter of Shelter Cymru and, with Samantha, raised tens of thousands of pounds for the charity.
“But more than that, he was source of wisdom and advice on how we could raise income to provide more services for people facing homelessness or in housing need. He will be sorely missed.”
Robert Maskrey is survived by his wife, Samantha, and his two children, Simon and Michele.
Robert Maskrey was born on 2 August 1940 and died on 14 September 2016.