Banker leaves £2.3m to keep resort beautiful
An investment banker has left £2.3 million in his will to a small British seaside resort – with instructions the money is spent on a million flowers.
Canadian Keith Owen, 69, made his fortune in the financial industry and travelled the world – but always returned to his favourite place – Sidmouth in Devon.
Mr Owen was born nearby and spent most of his holidays in the coastal town, admiring its beach, blooms and Regency architecture.
But when he was told he was suffering lung cancer and had just eight weeks to live he left the parish his retirement fund, pension and a string of properties.
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Mr Owen's £2.3 million estate – £1.5 million in cash and £800,000 from properties – was handed over with a stipulation it had to be spent keeping Sidmouth "beautiful".
Before he died he also told officials some of the money should be spent on planting one million flower bulbs in the town. Mr Owen, who was divorced with no children, left all the money to the Sid Vale Association (SVA), Britain's oldest civic society. The group has now decided to honour one of his specific suggestions by planting a million bulbs in verges, gardens, lawns and flowerbeds.
Rev Handel Bennett, SVA president and chairman of the Keith Owen Fund, said: "I only met him briefly but he was clearly a very kind man.
"He kept himself to himself but was particularly interested in the association because of the amount of voluntary work we do.
"The first time I met him was when he asked for us to visit him to discuss his will. He told us he was ill and that he had some money he wanted to leave us.
"I thought it would be in the range of a few hundred thousand, so when he told us it was more than a million we were very shocked. He loved Sidmouth so much he wanted to leave enough money to ensure it could be preserved."
Mr Owen was born in Totnes in Devon and became an RAF pilot, leaving the service in 1976 to start a new life and career in finance in Canada. He moved to Ottawa and became a Canadian citizen but returned for regular visits to Sidmouth, where his mother had retired.
After her death he regularly stayed in her small flat and described Sidmouth as the picture-perfect English resort.
But on one trip in October 2007 he was told he had cancer and, being a member of the Rotary club and supporter of the Sid Vale Association, urgently gathered together civic leaders to discuss the massive gift before changing his will.
His will stated that the capital should remain untouched but each year the estimated £120,000 interest should be spent on schemes to spruce up Sidmouth and neighbouring villages Sidford and Sidbury.
He also told them to spend a part of the cash planting a million bulbs in the resort's flower beds and pots.
Volunteers will now plant £166,000 worth of daffodils, snowdrops, crocuses and other flowers in several waves so locals and visitors can enjoy an eruption of blooms.
About 153,000 flowers will be planted at a special community day on October 26. Around £400,000 of Mr Owen's money has already been spent on various youth schemes, including a new scout hut.