In May 2007, Keith (the name he preferred), whilst visiting Sidmouth from Canada, found that he had a terminal illness. He had set aside money for his retirement, after a busy life as a Canadian investment banker and globe trotter. It was his intention to spend a long and happy retirement based in Sidmouth. When he contacted the Association in May 2007 he said he had less than 8 weeks to live. The money he had saved for retirement he now wished to place into the care of the SVA, so that it could be invested in a permanent endowment. Thus was created the KEITH OWEN FUND (SVA). The capital was to be a permanent endowment, and the income generated, was to be administered through the Association.
Keith wished proceeds of the Fund to be used to support local projects, which made use of voluntary labour, and in particular to sustain the ambience and way of life, recognized in Sidmouth and its surroundings. He felt Sidmouth reflected “England as it used to be”. To some extent he felt this was due to the work of the SVA, which he greatly admired. Keith recognised how the SVA had been consistently supported by the voluntary action of its members over more than 160 years. At the same time, he wished to encourage philanthropy amongst SVA members and residents, in order to conserve and preserve all that the local community holds dear.
After further discussion the Officers of the SVA accepted the responsibility for administering the Fund for the furtherance of Keith’s ideas and the work of the SVA. The Association hoped that his example would encourage philanthropy in others, to fulfil some other goals, where significant contributions would be welcomed. Who was Keith Owen?
Keith was a private person who loved to share other’s experiences, but seldom talked about his own! He was born in Totnes on April 17, 1938. His father was Headmaster of Totnes King Edward VI Grammar School. Keith was educated at Montpelier Preparatory School, Paignton, and at Canford Public School near Wimborne (Dorset). He went straight from school to train for the RAF. He entered RAF Henlow Technical College (1956–59), followed by flight training (1959–62) at RAF Tern Hill and RAF Swindersby. Later he had postings to RAF Valley, Anglesey; to Singapore (flying Canberra aircraft on reconnaissance), and in Saudi Arabia. Latterly he was based in Canada, a country in which he was happy.
He married in 1970 but this lasted only a few years and there were no children. In 1976, after 20 years RAF service, he retired with the rank of Squadron Leader. He set up home in Ottawa, Canada, and became a Canadian citizen. He also became a Financial Advisor with Dominion Securities in Ottawa for the next 10 years. He owned a log cabin at Partridge Lake, (near Ottawa), which finally burnt down in 2006.
In 1986, he became a world traveller and ‘a free spirit’, on trips that sometimes lasted years, touring Mexico, Africa, the Far East, and Australia. It was said he had seen ‘most of the world except for the North and South poles’. In 1998 Keith made his home in Britain in a narrow boat named “Bilbo Baggins” and, over the next two years, he virtually completed the Grand Tour of UK canals, with friends being invited to join in at any time. In the end, he sold the boat and returned to Canada.
His mother lived at Barton House, Sidmouth, and when he visited the town, he was active in Rotary, the SVA, and the Bridge Club. He always enjoyed conversations with people who had had interesting experiences. His life was extended by medical treatment, but he passed away on December 3, 2007 in the Victoria Hospital, Sidmouth.
Keith believed in the wise use of money, and those who were critical should consider who had worked for it. It was his to spend, and at the end of his days he decided in his Will that his money should be made available for the benefit of the community of Sidmouth. We applaud his generosity, and hope that others will follow his example.