Michael Cox – 1951-2014


27 Mar  - Michael's brother David and widow Lynne announce that the reception afterwards for those attending the memorial service on 10 April will be held in the Great Halls of Vinopolis. I only hope they are big enough.

28 Feb – A memorial service will be held for Michael at 3.30pm on Thursday 10 April at Southwark Cathedral, London Bridge, London SE1 9DA. 

Lynne Whitaker and David Cox write: 'We plan to arrange a glass of wine locally after the service – the venue for this is not yet confirmed. Please note that we have been asked by Southwark Cathedral not to gather too early at the Cathedral as they have an earlier service – so please try not to arrive before 3 pm

A number of friends and colleagues have expressed a desire to make a donation in memory of Michael. Should you wish to support either of Michael’s two chosen charities, the details are:

Donations if desired to either ‘The Vintners’ Foundation’ or ‘St. Michael’s Hospice Basingstoke’ c/o Richard Steel & Partners, Alderman House, 12-14 City Road, Winchester SO23 8SD or via www.rsponline.co.uk

The British wine trade is much duller and sadder today for the loss yesterday late afternoon of Michael Cox, a year to the day after an operation to slow the spread of a rare bile-duct cancer that was diagnosed relatively recently.

Michael and his identical twin David are part of the greater Gordon Clark clan, the family responsible for the Clark bit of Matthew Clark, once an important family-owned UK wine importer, now the leading British drinks wholesaler with a two-century history. Matthew Clark himself was Michael's maternal great, great, great grandfather and his maternal grandfather was closely involved in the inauguration of both the UK trade association, the Wine & Spirit Association, and the Institute of Masters of Wine. Michael was deeply embedded in the British wine trade and it meant an enormous amount to him last year to be a particularly popular and unpompous Master of the Vintners' Company for its 650th anniversary. I was proud to sit on his right hand and deliver the after-dinner speech at the celebratory dinner for members of the international wine trade last May. Our photograph shows Michael in his Master's robes. He wore them well.

I last saw him at a lunch in Vintners' Hall for new liverymen of the Vintners' Company the week before last. He was in a wheelchair and was clearly suffering but, typically, had been determined to get to the lunch from his home in rural Hampshire, and kept apologising for the fact that, because of the swelling in his legs and feet, he was unable to wear his usual smart shoes. As usual, he was the most delightful dining companion, losing his composure only when worrying about how his twin brother, chief executive of The Benevolent, the UK wine trade institution, would manage without him – an unusual dilemma.

As his extraordinarily supportive, energetic and cheerful second wife Lynne Whitaker reported about Michael late last night, 'even in the last few months, with his health failing rapidly, he set himself a series of targets, each of which he has met. Incredibly, only four days ago, he and I went to Oxford for lunch at the Cherwell Boathouse and a spin round Oxford in his wheelchair. He was delighted to have achieved this latest target, but it seemed to sap his last reserves of strength and his condition has deteriorated rapidly since then.'

Somehow, through sheer determination, Michael managed to combine his heavy duties as Master of the Vintners' Company with six months of chemotherapy last year. He would sit in his robes, looking benign and taking in every nuance, but with his own jug of water with which to take his various medicaments. He still did his utmost to enjoy wine and only very recently devoted a Saturday to enjoying international rugby and some very special bottles with my wine-writing colleagues Oz Clarke and Charles Metcalfe.

His last job was running the generic organisation Wines of Chile in the UK. His canny steering of this category and the personalities in the Chilean wine business will be very much missed. There was a time when he represented the fortunes of Chilean wine in the UK while his twin brother had the same responsibility for New Zealand wine. Before that Michael worked for the family company Matthew Clark and in 1990 set up the UK subsidiary Negociants of Robert Hill Smith's South Australian wine company Yalumba.

My last professional involvement with him was the handing over of the running of the Geoffrey Roberts Award, made in memory of another New World wine merchant who died too young, to the Vintners' Company. (See here for how to apply for this travel bursary. Applications are accepted up to 31 March.)

Michael was very sporty, enormous fun, extremely efficient and efficacious but never took anything too seriously. His reputation as a dancer was legendary and I should imagine that his dinner jacket was one of Britain's most worn. I was amazed to learn at that recent lunch that he was born in 1951. Even in his painful last days he looked at least a decade younger.

Michael and David, and Michael's children, have had time to say their farewells and make plans. He wished for a private funeral for family and close friends in the next 10 days or so, followed by a memorial service for his huge circle of friends and colleagues within the next six weeks. The problem, as David told me recently, is to find somewhere for the latter with sufficient capacity for the hundreds of people who loved him.