Roy Townsend, who ran Norwich Winterthur, dies at the age of 76

Roy and Gwen Townsend pictured in 2014. Pic: Archant Library.

Roy and Gwen Townsend pictured in 2014. Pic: Archant Library. - Credit: Archant

One of the world's biggest settlement companies of massive insurance risks was headed by Roy Townsend, who has died aged 76 at his Norwich home.

He started as a 17-year-old in the investment department of Norwich Union's Marble Hall headquarters in Surrey Street. When he retired in 2001, his career had spanned six decades.

But his leadership in an industry niche – re-insurance – had a global reach.

He ran Norwich Winterthur, which until the early 1990s employed more than 220 staff. It had one of the biggest turnovers of any company in Norfolk as it handled re-insurance claims from around the world.

Born on October 10, 1941 at the Stork House Nursing Home, Thorpe, Roy Edward Townsend went to the City of Norwich School (CNS) before joining Norwich Union (now Aviva). He rose quickly and in 1970 was given a two-year posting to Cape Town, South Africa.

This success overseas brought further responsibilities at home and in 1976 he became the first (and ironically almost the last) member of staff at Norwich Winterthur. The specialist re-insurer had been formed by Norwich Union, Swiss-based Winterthur and Chiyoda of Japan.

From his office in Rose Lane, the company secretary had one of the best uninterrupted views of the cathedral.

Most Read

But after a spate of hugely costly global natural disasters generated almost £200m of losses, it was decided in 1993 to close the business.

But ever-resourceful, he fought off tough competition from the City of London to launch a successor specialist insurance firm, Cavell Management Services, in 1995.

Within four years it mushroomed, and Norwich was soon hosting 350 insurance firms settling billions of claims, often from long-forgotten accidents including the Exxon Valdez disaster in March 1989 – then the world's biggest oil tanker spill in Alaska.

He was a respected manager, partly because he inspired and liked people. So he was a popular compere of social events including the Miss NU competitions in the 1960s.

His sense of humour was to the fore. Interviewed by the EDP in 2001 and asked what he would like to have been, replied: 'Norwich's answer to Terry Wogan.' And his favourite holiday destination? The USA because it is English-speaking, well almost, he added.

In June 1993, he was elected president of the Insurance Institute of Norwich – marking his 35 years in the industry. He was a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries and also of the Chartered Insurance Institute.

A keen City follower from a lad, he had a season ticket and was also a great enthusiast for the silver screen. He was chairman of the Cinema City Trust for several years until ill-health forced his retirement.

His voice was another asset and he supported Chatterbox, the Norwich Talking Newspaper, for many years.

He married Gwen Howell in September 1967 and the couple was able to mark their golden wedding.

He leaves a widow, Gwen, son Mark and daughter, Suzi, and four grandchildren, Ellen, Anna, Felicity and Samuel Roy. An older sister predeceased but an older brother, John, survives him.

After a private funeral, a celebration of his life will be held at Great Hospital, Bishopgate, on Monday, December 11 at 12.30pm.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter