Obituary – Don Stephen

Published on: 31st May 2019

One of the longest serving members of the Fence Club, Don has passed away at the age of 89. 

Don’s good friend Clive Jones penned the following obituary in his honour with the help of Don’s family.

“Don Stephen, one of our longest serving Fence Club members, has sadly passed away just short of his 89th birthday.

Don joined the Fence Club in 1960 and was chairman in 1966. He served on the committee on a number of occasions. He was only 30 when he joined the club and was a member for an incredible 59 years. He was one of the youngest people to be asked to join the club. Don and his wife Pat, who sadly passed away last year, were great supporters of the Fence Club, attending many Ladies Parties and Zoo Parties, as well as enjoying the members’ weekends away.

Don attended many of the Wall Members’ lunches until illness stopped him travelling into London on the tube. He was delighted to attend in 2010, when he received some cut glass in recognition of his 50 years of membership. Don was also a director of the Harrogate Toy Fair, which is now the Christmas Fair. He was chairman twice in the 1980s and 1990s, when it was still a significant toy fair.

He was commissioned into the East Lancashire Regiment and served in Khartoum from 1950-52. Following this, Don worked briefly in the agricultural services industry, before joining the family toy business F. Levy & Co, which had been started by his maternal grandfather.

He went on to set up the toy division of Laurie & Co, and in 1982 became the managing director of Cowan, de Groot (toys & giftware). This was a transitional time for the company; it had been the largest toy importer in the UK for a number of years and was buying toys from the Far East, East and West Germany, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Russia. Don visited most, if not all of these countries.

Don was one of the first British businessmen to travel to Hong Kong and China to buy toys in the 1950s, a journey which at the time took over a day – not the short hop that it is today. He left Cowan, de Groot in 1988 to become the deputy chairman of Robenau, the countries’ largest toy wholesaler, which was owned by his great friend and fellow Fence Club member, Paul Caspari.

In retirement, Don and Pat enjoyed many cruises, this mode of travel being a bit easier than flying to Hong Kong in the 50s. The cruises were also more enjoyable than Don’s voyage to New York onboard the Queen Mary in 1958. He was travelling to attend a toy fair; it took six days to get there, and the storms crossing the Atlantic were the worst for 31 years.

Don, who was born in India, was an accomplished Rugby player, playing for ‘Old Cranleigians’ from 1954 until 1970. By all accounts he was a decent scrum half, often on the winning side against top teams such as Exeter. He was also a fine spin bowler. Old Cranleigian peers described Don as ‘an inspirational character and a true motivator of men’.

Later he turned to golf and bowls. One of his regular golf partners was the mother of Tennis star Tim Henman. A church warden at St James Church in Weybridge, Don also enjoyed Freemasonry, and was a high office holder in a couple of London lodges.

In retirement, Don and Pat loved to spend time with their family including their two great grandchildren. Don was one of the nicest people you could ever meet; as one member said earlier this week “he was a lovely, lovely man”.
A former colleague at Cowan, de Groot and Robenau described Don as a proud upstanding citizen for whom his family came first. He possessed the utmost probity, was very principled and always kept the same temperament, even in difficult commercial times. He was knowledgeable and well respected, patient with colleagues and customers alike and a possessor of sound common sense and clarity of thinking. He was a very good nurturer of talent.

I had the pleasure of working with him at Cowan, de Groot. He was a fantastic MD and a great influence on my early career. Our thoughts are with his two sons, Clive and Jeremy, their wives Anne and Jaana, and with Don’s five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren at this very sad time.”

Don’s funeral/thanksgiving service will be held at 11am on 12th June at St James Church, 27 Church Street, Weybridge, KT13 8DF. Don’s sons, Clive and Jeremy, ask that those wishing to attend let them know so that they can ensure there are enough sausage rolls.

Clive can be contacted on 07919 287925 or email and Jeremy on 07340 570729 or email


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