Damian Greenish was the eleventh chairman of the Society, from 1st April 2012 until 21st November 2016
Sarah Farrugia, former Vice-Chairman, pays her own tribute to Damian Greenish, and has garnered the thoughts of others
Damian has a style of leadership that works in an invisible, imperceptible way. He is not an overt, controlling character. He doesn’t demand attention nor push his own-personal views in any loud way. He allows. He forms. He considers. He is thoughtful.
Let’s be in no doubt that the role of Chairman is not an easy one. To lead the Chelsea Society demands something fairly unique. It blends friendship with policy and difficult discussions amongst friends, neighbours and those in local government. Competing interests and conflicts arising from external change have to be managed. Crossrail2 was a particularly difficult moment in which to be on the Council. I know there have been other difficult times in the past and there will surely be more to come in a fast-changing London.
To have a view on things from the ground floor whilst taking up a long term perspective is virtually impossible. Yet something that must be done. For everyone’s sake.
Damian was regarded by one and all as someone who epitomises the qualities of a timeless Chelsea – qualities not forgotten by those in the know and not unnoticed by those who come to know. It is often hard to make sense of many of the unspoken rules and regulations that build up over the generations. He has been, for me, and now we see for many others, a guiding light in demonstrating the very best of these. He speaks well, with poise and grace. Has a presence of character, a quick wit, a sharp mind, a genuine interest and a kind word. He is open and generous with everyone, always. He is forever curious.
Many members and onlookers like to think of Chelsea as a world apart. An old village full of traditions and quirks, which are as alive today as they have ever been. Beyond any architectural delight or infrastructural dilemma, a pleasant society is about the people and the way they live, the values by which they live.
It’s the manners and everyday encounters that go to make a place feel like home. Damian reflects them and lives them in a congenial manner, unconsciously but with tremendous skill. For Geoffrey Matthews, Secretary of the Chelsea Arts Club, Damian seems to be the archetypical Chelsea gent: “kindly, courteous and liberal; thoughtful and wise; but also informal and lively-minded with a wicked sense of humour.”
Roddy Baldwin of Green and Stone, observes, “It has been really refreshing to liaise with someone who is passionate about Chelsea and its environs.” Sue Medway of the Chelsea Physic Garden explains: “When my career brought me to Chelsea, Damian immediately set about helping me to settle in, ensuring that I understood the organisations and the people that go into making the area so vibrant and unique, and gently stewarding introductions along the way. That help and support was invaluable to me.”
One issue that dominated the latter part of Damian’s leadership was Crossrail2, which in fact threatened to derail the 2015 AGM, as feelings were running so high. Council member Michael Bach says, “He dealt diplomatically with the conflicting views on Crossrail2 and steered the Society through the challenges. He managed to avoid any potential conflicts of interest and maintained a consensual approach within the Council.”
The Society’s Council members had the pleasure of seeing Damian’s style in action. Nigel Stenhouse observes that during his tenure, there were considerable changes including the modernisation of the website and membership data. We are grateful to him for his role in achieving much of this and for his help in promoting the Society’s work.”
According to Michael Stephen, Damian steered the Society with care and skill. ” It has been a great pleasure to work with him and we hope that he will continue to take an interest in the Society as a Vice President.”
For Camilla Mountain, the producer of two of the very best exhibitions the Society has ever delivered, Damian has a talent – “expressed very quietly”- for seeing the bigger picture. “While at the helm, he has always managed to see beyond the detail to understand what is right for the long-term future of the whole of Chelsea.”
Jane Dorrell notes that he has been an extremely hardworking chairman and delightful to work with: “I am sure he charmed many people into joining the Society. And his farewell flourish- the cricket match- was a triumph.” Another Council member simply texted “I will miss Damian.”
I finish with contributions from two people who know both Chelsea and Damian very well. Society President, John Simpson, observes: “For me, Damian Greenish is Chelsea: not the noisy, clattering, overpriced place it has become, but the Chelsea of my boyhood, many decades ago, when it was quiet and arty and highly civilised and people wore ties and suits to work. You can have an excellent conversation with Damian about anything, from the distant foreign travel he loves, to painting and the state of the country. He knows a great deal about a lot of subjects, but wears his knowledge lightly and pleasantly; and yet you can see the lawyer in him when he makes a speech or sums up a debate. Then he is as sharp as a knife, but witty and charming at the same time; and everybody listens, and knows that the discussion is over.
“But there is another side of Damian which only made itself felt in September, when he went in to bat almost last at the Society’s cricket match against the Chelsea Arts Club and laid about them like Attila the Hun in battle. He turned out to be the best batsman on the team, but he didn’t tell us that beforehand; and if some of us-me in particular – had batted more effectively, and hadn’t thrown their wickets away, he might not have batted at all. That was Damian as I have come to know him: quiet, modest, self-deprecating, yet immensely effective when the moment came. ”
Hugh Seaborn, Chief Executive of the Cadogan Estate, notes, “Looking back it seems dear that a pre-requisite for being Chairman of the Chelsea Society is to have a certain style and flamboyance. In this respect Damian has been eminently suitable for the role but there is much more besides. Damian has demonstrated many of the characteristics for which I know him so well – these include his flair and eloquence, immense charm, highly civilised manner and willingness to hold his own views with conviction even when contrary to consensus and to express them eloquently and objectively. All these are important characteristics for a leading lawyer practising in a contentious arena and who is senior partner of his firm.
It turns out that they have proved valuable characteristics for the Chelsea Society at a challenging time in its history. Above all, it is that Damian meets brilliantly that unspoken requirement for flamboyance and panache whether it be expressed by a bright pastel scarf, Le Corbusier round spectacles or his long stride as he heads along King’s Road, that somehow is so very much of the essence of Chelsea.”
All that remains to be said is that we all wish Damian a very enjoyable retirement from the daily business of The Chelsea Society. For he really is a jolly good fellow, and so say all of us.
Damian Greenish with John Simpson CBE (President of the Society)