Thursday, March 17, 2022


 Dear Readers,

Julian with his mentor
Harry Oppenheimer

(Here is Julian Ogilvie Thompson’s account of his life as only he could tell it. If only we all could have had such a ‘fortunate life.’)

A Fortunate Life

I was born in 1934 and brought up in the Cape Peninsula, joined by my sister Virginia in 1937.  My mother traced her ancestry back to the three de Villiers brothers who came from France in 1689 with the Huguenots and were allocated large portions of Franschhoek. My father’s ancestors came out, presumably from Scotland, in 1809 i.e. before the 1820 settlers.  An ancestor was Mayor of Grahamstown in 1836 and presented Piet Retief with a bible on departure of the Great Trek.  (Commemorated in a lintel above a door in the Voortrekker Monument.)  My father’s father rose to be Chief Magistrate of the Transkei.  My father was a renowned lawyer who was finally appointed Chief Justice of South Africa against the odds.

My sister and I enjoyed all the facilities and beauty of the Peninsula.  She to Herschel.  I after two? years at Wet Pups (Western Province Prep School) to Bishops Prep and then College, absorbing all the Christian ethics and other fine standards of a great school.  I grew too fast and missed my second year at College, thus coming to compete with Christopher Lawrence as I had with Roger Whiting.  It meant I had good friends in two years.

I was particularly influenced by a great Headmaster, Hubert Kidd, an aesthetic classicist.  How lucky to have such a man as Headmaster, there are always enough masters to ensure sport flourishes.  I was Head of my house, Founders, in my last two years and Senior Prefect in my Post Matric Year.  I was fortunate to be chosen the Bishops Rhodes Scholar for 1953.  We had a good XV over four years of whom 6 ? went on in 1953 to the unbeaten U19A at UCT where I spent 9 months before going by ship up to Oxford.

I enjoyed Worcester College, reading PPE, making lifelong friends, playing rugby for the College and the Greyhounds (including in 1954 a tour of Germany including Berlin and twice only for the University plus its tour of Ireland in 1955).  Cricket for the College and the Authentics and I became a member of Vincent’s a sports Club predominantly for Oxford Blues. I was elected to Jim Swanton’s Arabs.  This cricket club was founded by Swanton, a pioneer cricket commentator and one of the best known cricket writers of his day. We skated on the Worcester Lake in January 1954.  I learnt so much from my tutors and built a special relationship with Asa Briggs, later Provost when our Anthony and Katharine went up to Oxford.

In our first summer 3 ODs, Anthony Landsberg, Roger Whiting and I toured France and Italy, camping just anywhere, not in camp sites.  I planned to repeat this in August 1955 when my sister was in England for a secretarial course.  We invited a son of a Rhodesian rancher friends of my parents whom we knew from UCT and he in turn invited Tessa Brand whom he had briefly met through his sister at secretarial college with Tessa.

We hired a Morris Minor (not a Mini), four suitcases and two tents (one large for the boys, one smaller for the girls) on the roof rack, sleeping bags and cooking equipment in the boot.  And so we went across to Munich, down to Venice, Naples, Rome and back through France.  All moods turn up in a month. Tessa and I found ourselves doing things together.  At the end we met Tessa’s mother at Le Bourget and my sister and I dropped the two of them to stay at the British Embassy.  I feared that was that.

Back in England I was organizing a reinstated ball (ultimately at the Festival Hall) for after the Varsity Rugby Match in early December.  My Cambridge counterpart and I would meet in London every other Friday and I would then spend the weekend at Mill Court (Tessa’s family home in Hampshire).  The other weekend Tessa would come to Oxford, happily being able to stay with her great aunt Dolly Feildon at Headington. And so we became engaged.  I got a job with Anglo American at £60 per month (chosen over Goldfields and Union Corporation).  We were married on 24 July 1956 the day the exam results came out and so began 63½ years of a glorious marriage.  Tessa’s father gave us £300 and his father’s Jowett Javelin and we travelled through France and round Spain and Portugal for 5 weeks – all on £300!  I started work in Anglo’s London Office on 3 September 1956.

Tessa was broadly educated.  Cheltenham Ladies College, a very select sort of finishing school in Merton Street Oxford (only 6 pupils, French and German), a trimester at the Sorbonne, the usual secretarial course and the Courtauld Institute’s Painting section.  She was a country girl, hunting and riding.  When we got engaged her mother rushed her to the London Polytechnic to learn “how to run a home without the servants their mothers had”.

Julian's wife Tessa

Tessa had written a memoir for family consumption of her childhood in London, the blitz, the two years in Washington DC (over in a flying boat sharing a seat with her sister, back in a convoy) when her father was head of North American supply for the UK during the war.  Nine months based on our London Office including a month sorting diamonds (at least I learnt the nomenclature), a month or so each in Rowe and Pitman (Anglo’s brokers) and Lazards who were helping train people for the new merchant bank in Johannesburg, U.A.L.

Back to South Africa in the Winchester Castle for a few days in the Cape and then Johannesburg.  Anglo Secretarial Department.  In 1957 we had two spells of 3 months in houses of assistant managers on long leave to the UK and moved into Froome in Atholl, Johannesburg on 1 March 1958 which has been our home ever since.  We were postal vote agents for cousin Oswald Newton Thompson standing for the UP in North West Rand.

Four children – boy, girl, boy, girl have given us so much pleasure and now 12 grandchildren (if only one granddaughter) and one great grandson.

In November 1957 Sir Ernest Oppenheimer died.  Harry Oppenheimer (HFO) resigned as a member of Parliament for Kimberley and returned to run Anglo/De Beers full time.  I was fortunate to be chosen as his PA in February 1958.  Thus began forty years of working for and with a most remarkable man of so many parts till his death in 2000.  What a privilege that was and how interesting.  It was so totally transformative too.  Harry had a profound influence on me.  Tessa and I were privileged to enjoy a great deal of travel with HFO and BDO and family.  I recall India, Israel, Iran, Brazil, Mexico, Australia and Siberia.  We were indeed spoilt and in other ways too.

        In 1964 I moved with Grey Fletcher (Military Cross) from E. Oppenheimer and Son to the Anglo Finance Division where Grey succeeded Maurice Rush who went to head our new Canadian Office.  In the late 60s I succeeded Grey as Anglo Finance Director.  I was spoilt in being appointed a Director of De Beers at the age of 32 in December 1966.  About 1972 I became effectively the co-ordinating director in De Beers (Peter Gush taking over the Finance Portfolio) and building closer relationships financial and otherwise with the De Beers London Office.  The 1970s and 1980s saw long and tedious negotiations, ably assisted by contemporary OD lawyer Pierce Newton King, in Botswana regarding the expansion of Orapa, the opening of Jwaneng and the increase in Government’s shareholding from 15% to 50%.  In the 1970s I also became the Head Office contact for South America where Mario Ferreira was building up Anglo’s interests.  In the 1970s several visits each year to South America, twice a year in 1980s and one week each year in the 1990s.  I tried to visit a project/mine on each visit.

There was much international activity following Kaunda’s nationalisation of and then paying out for the Zambian Copper Mines, increasing our holding in Charlie Engelhard’s group, the formation of Minorco  (initially in Bermuda later Luxembourg into which all Anglo and De Beers non South African non diamond interests were put), the dawn raid to 26% in Consolidated Goldfields etc.

Because of my involvement with Anglo and De Beers international activities I visited London many times a year (one year 11 weekends part or all at Mill Court, Tessa’s family home in Hampshire.).  Tessa’s sister in whose favour the Dacre barony was called out of obeyance between her and Tessa absenting after her father’s death, was married to William Douglas Home, the noted playwright, which brought a whole new world to our lives and politics to a lesser extent.  We spent many weekends at their home and several Scottish visits together.

(from the book Bishops Rugby: A History by Paul Dobson)

I was privileged to develop a special relationship with Tessa’s father, Hon. Thomas Brand later Viscount Hampden (and Baron Dacre) a senior partner and at his death Chairman of Lazards a leading London merchant bank.  THB taught me so much and was a major influence on my development as I plied him with questions.  He and my mother-in-law came to South Africa each year as THB was Lazards representative on the UAL Board which he had help set up.  Sadly he died at 65 in 1965.  Lady Hampden continued to live at Mill Court, Alton, Hants the house they had bought in 1947.  We gradually took over the responsibility and today our eldest son and family live there and our elder daughter and family in the nearby Oast House which we altered for them.  We have our own room etc.

So the 1960s – 80s were very active.  We all worked as a team of friends, if competitively.  At one stage of Anglo’s 8 departments 6 were headed by Rhodes Scholars!.  In the early 1970s HFO instituted an Annual Chairman’s Conference, soon always at Mbulwa near Sabie, at which the Board of Executive Directors and a few others reviewed the Group’s worldwide activities.  Thitherto only a few (HFO, Sir Keith Acutt and Bill Wilson) knew the whole.  Now we all got to know each other so well.  I succeeded HFO as Chairman of Minorco in mid-1983, of De Beers in January 1985 and after OD Gavin Relly’s 7 year chairmanship of Anglo in March 1990.

In the late 90s it was decided to separate Anglo and De Beers management for anti-trust reasons and Nicky Oppenheimer (NFO), HFO’s only son, took the De Beers Chair in January 1998.  I continued as Deputy Chairman. We then embarked on the complicated exercise, led by our Finance Director, Mike King, of undoing the S.A. Mining Finance house structure of tiered holding companies. This enabled us at a cost of “turning a unique mining house into a generic” one to merge Anglo American of SA Limited with Minorco (really Anglo International) as London registered Anglo American plc.  In mid-2000 I handed the CEO ship to Tony Trahar.  In 2001 we thought we had a new Non-Executive Chairman in Gorhan Lindahl but he got caught up undeservedly in the ABB bonus awards scandal and I continued as non-Executive Chairman until November 2002 when Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, formerly Chairman of Shell Managing Directors took over.

I stayed on the De Beers and E. Oppenheimer and Son Boards until NFO took De Beers private in the early 2000s thereby eliminating the 33% each way voting “control” the investors so disliked.

I was honoured and privileged to be a Rhodes Trustee from 2002 for 14 years, then Emeritus for 4 until 2020.  This was fascinating with a most interesting body of Trustees – ex-ministers, senior civil servants, Heads of Colleges etc.  I was also a Trustee for this same period of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation which offers scholarships on the same criteria as R.S to universities in South Africa.  I think I was able to help Shaun Johnson who so successfully built the MRF to set up a sound financial reporting system in the early years.

For me this Rhodes connection had a special appeal as a school’s Rhodes Scholar and, I think, the only person post Cecil Rhodes’ generation to be on the boards of each of his 3 great companies, De Beers, Goldfields and the British South Africa Company (Charter Consolidated).  I had also been privileged to reply on behalf of the scholars (presumably because I was then Deputy Chairman of De Beers) to Harold Macmillan, Chancellor of Oxford, at the dinner in Trinity Gardens in 1983 to mark the 80th anniversary of the scholarships.

From 2002 November Tessa and I had a wonderful 17 years of retirement with lots of travel, golf and more time at the Game Farm which we had bought in 1969 and 71.  The first farm with the proceeds of the sale of the share Tessa had inherited from her father in Hebron, a tree planation run by SAFI and owned by a group from Lazards ‘Private Fortune Department’.

We also took the children and later the grandchildren too on an annual family trip of which Antarctic over Christmas/New Year 2016/17 was the highlight, the East African migration (twice), Galapagos, India, Okavango (twice) and Uganda gorillas are also memorable.

Our visits to the UK were no less frequent but probably longer both at Mill Court and at the Flat in London, that I had bought from De Beers in 1999.  We enjoyed many visits to the opera and the Royal Opera House (originally in the Anglo/De Beers seats) and the English National Opera, dinners with friends etc.  In January 2020 Tessa had a successful heart double bypass operation but later complications set in and she died on 14 February.  We had a service in a nice Anglican church on the Strand and all the children and spouses and several grandchildren attended, Christopher taking the service.

Thus ended 63½ years of a special marriage – 46 years working and 17 in retirement.  Fortunate me.  Indeed a Fortunate Life.

Kind Regards,



1 comment:

  1. I emigrated to South Africa from Texas as an Anglo American “Management Trainee” in 1977. JOT was kind enough to take an interest in us. He became perhaps the most influential man in my life after my father. Brilliant man and a lovely family.