Mrs Mary Weston CBE
Mary Weston is a true figure of the commonwealth. She is the daughter of the distinguished New Zealand officer, Major-General Sir Howard Kippenberger and the widow of the great Canadian businessman Garry (Garfield) Weston, who died in 2002. Garry came to the UK in 1931 and in 1949 he joined Ryvita where he invented the Wagon Wheel. In 1952 he co-founded the Weston Biscuit Company in Australia, but his key career move was to return to the UK to manage Associated British Foods, the company his father established in 1935. He remained on the board until 2000. In 1958 he helped the family set up the W. Garfield Weston Foundation (named after his father) with money from his parents, siblings and himself. Since then the Foundation has made an incredibly important contribution to this country, offering support of almost £40m each year to a broad range of charities, including many in the arts. Today it is chaired by Mary and Garry’s son, Guy Weston.
Mary has played an important role in helping to shape how the family and the foundation continue to play a vital role in the development and encouragement of a thriving arts and cultural sector in the UK, especially the Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London, the Wallace Collection, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Oxford Philomusica. “She’s totally committed and those I talk to say Mary is a great figure” says Arts & Business CEO Colin Tweedy.
It is instructive to see the effect that Mary and the Foundation have had on smaller institutions, like the Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London, which she has supported since 1994. “She’s one of our leading patrons and one of the friendliest people you could imagine,” says Ian Dejardin, director of the
gallery. “The overwhelming thing about Mary is that she’s incredibly kind. She and her children are extremely approachable and people love her. That’s not always the case with major philanthropists, they can be quite grand and daunting.”
The Weston family’s support of the Dulwich Picture Gallery is comprehensive. They have contributed to the refurbishment and extension of the building itself and paid particular attention to the gallery’s award winning education and outreach programme, a subject close to Mary’s heart. “In order to reach as many people as we can, we do a huge amount of outreach,” says Dejardin. “I know that Mary has been particularly impressed with the work we are doing with the elderly and isolated in the community, and also with underprivileged youth. In South London you have every possible variety of social and economic background.” Specifically, the gallery provides school children with art education through the Garfield Weston Schools Programme which reaches around 23,000 children every year – a highly impressive number for an institution as small as the DPG.
The gallery’s relationship with Mary is hugely appreciated by Dulwich, “to have got to where we are in terms of our reputation as an educational establishment is largely due to people like the Westons,” says Dejardin, “the foundation has been extremely generous, but what is so valuable for us is that it
has been a sustained relationship.”
Mary is an enthusiastic art lover, faithfully attends all the exhibitions and takes parts in art appreciation trips organised by the gallery for their patrons. Philanthropists can not only offer financial support, they can increase patronage by introducing others to their passions. “She’s an absolute role model of how
to do this,” says Dejardin. “What it boils down to is getting people to fall in love with the gallery and that kind of commitment has been essential to us.”
Mary describes herself as “greatly honoured” by the arts philanthropy medal. “My enjoyment of the arts has continued to grow and takes me on a wonderful learning journey. The theatre and the arts are amongst my greatest pleasures. One of the great joys and privileges of my involvement has been
the expert insight that so many wonderful people have shared with me.”