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Who was John van Geest?

The story of John van Geest and a gallery of archive photographs.

John van Geest was born in the Netherlands and came to the UK in the 1930s, along with his brothers Leonard and Martin, in order to expand the export of Dutch flower bulbs to Britain. This led to them growing the bulbs themselves in England and setting up Geest Horticultural Products in 1935.

The company diversified quickly into various other horticultural products. They then underwent a dramatic leap in fortunes in 1954 when John signed the company’s initial banana contract with four of the Windward Islands and agreed to ship and market the whole of their exportable crops for ten years. From this, the Geest shipping line was set up and the company rapidly established itself as one of the UK’s major fresh produce distributors.

During John’s lifetime his name became synonymous with these two empires and he constantly looked to expand his business into various new avenues. To this day the word 'Geest' still adorns the blue label found on a range of horticulture products, most famously bananas. 'Geest Line' is also still printed on the side of fleets of boats and shipping liners.

The John and Lucille van Geest Foundation has played a vital role in funding medical research since it was first established in 1976 as The John van Geest Charitable Fund. Upon her death in 2006, Lucille van Geest bequeathed the residue of her estate to the foundation. John and Lucille’s daughter, Hilary (Gussy) Marlowe, was appointed as Chair of its Trustees.

The foundation has given significant grants to a number of medical research charities, particularly in the fields of brain damage, cancer, heart disease, lung disease and sight and hearing loss. It also provided welfare grants to charities providing for those in need through illness, infirmity or social circumstances - primarily aimed at the elderly, as well as occasional grants to charities assisting victims of natural and man-made disasters.

In 2012 the Trustees decided the time was right to close the Foundation. In a final act of remarkable generosity a large proportion of the remaining capital balance was donated to NTU to support the vital research at our cancer research centre which now bears the name of the company founder.

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