TRIBUTES have been paid to a navy-loving businessman whose ‘game-changing’ £25m donation secured the future of a world-renowned historic warship.
Sir Donald Gosling, who pledged the huge sum of cash to save HMS Victory in 2012, has died, aged 90.
The former Royal Navy officer, who made his millions as chairman of National Car Parks (NCP), died on Monday after a short illness.
Now heartfelt tributes have been paid to the philanthropist who was described as a ‘once-in-a-generation character’.
Dr Caroline Williams, chairman of the board of The National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) – which tends to Victory – said: ‘His amazingly generous support of HMS Victory was a game changer for the museum.
‘Adding her to our historic fleet with the sure knowledge of having a legacy to build on allowed us to change direction and transform perceptions of our work.
‘We are about to celebrate our 10th anniversary and it’s fair to say that without Sir Donald’s assistance, the museum would be in a different place.’
Sir Donald was born on March 2, 1929, and joined the Royal Navy during the Second World War, serving on cruiser HMS Leander in the Mediterranean.
After the war, he started his own business, founding Central Car Parks in London, before taking over NCP in 1959, eventually selling it in 1998 for a whopping £290m.
However, throughout his business life, the parking tsar remained proud of his stint in the Senior Service and would often give generously to naval charities and associations, serving as a trustee of the Fleet Air Arm Museum and vice-president of Seafarers UK.
He was appointed honorary Captain of the Royal Naval Reserve by the Queen in January 1993 and was subsequently promoted to the honorary role of Rear Admiral of the Reserve.
Close with royalty, Sir Donald dined with the Queen on his luxury yacht Leander during a surprise visit to Gunwharf Quays in May 2011.
The following year he turned his attention to securing the future of Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship after it transferred from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to the HMS Victory Preservation Trust.
His charitable wing, the Gosling Foundation, donated £25m to fund preservation work on the world’s oldest commissioned warship. The MoD matched the sum.
Professor Dominic Tweddle, director general of the NMRN, was saddened to hear of Sir Donald’s death.
‘He never forgot his navy service and was a munificent supporter of HMS Victory and many other national museum campaigns,’ he said.
‘More importantly he was a warm and great-hearted man. He will be greatly missed.’