David Thompson, whose great-great-grandfather George Thompson founded Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries in 1890, died peacefully on Sunday, his 67th birthday. He had been suffering from cancer.
He was the fifth generation of his family to run the business, and oversaw its dramatic rise from a provincial brewer to the UK's largest brewing and pub-owning group. During his time at the helm it grew to employ 12,000 people across six breweries and owned 2,100 pubs.
Mr Thompson joined the business in 1977, and nine years later replaced his father Teddy as managing director. In 2001 he became chairman of the company following the retirement of David Miller.
In 2001, the brewer was the subject of a hostile takeover bid from the Pubmaster group. After successfully fighting off the takeover, Wolverhampton & Dudley changed its name to Marston's, having acquired the Staffordshire-based brewer of the same name.
Mr Thompson was the last member of his family to hold a seat on the company board. He was also a director of the British Beer and Pub Association, and held positions on the boards of baking giant Warburtons, Persimmon Homes, and the Claverley Group which publishes the Express & Star and Shropshire Star.
Mr Thompson, who lived on a farm in Albrighton, stepped down from his role as chairman in 2013, but continued to be actively involved in the world of business.
Friend Charles Brims, chairman of Hertford-based McMullens brewery, said he had known Mr Thompson since they had been at school together.
"He was a good friend and always stimulating – sometimes provocative – company, with bags of energy and enthusiasm," he said.
"His friends knew that he was seriously ill with cancer but he brushed off sympathy, remaining positive and cheerful to the end. His many friends will miss him."
Mr Thompson was known for his encyclopaedic knowledge of the region's pubs. In an interview with the Express & Star on his departure from the company in 2013, he revealed why the brickwork changed halfway along The Roebuck on Wolverhampton's Penn Road.
"Work started in 1939 but after war was declared you weren't allowed bricks to build pubs," he said. "Work didn't start again until 1954 when bricks came off rationing."
Outside work, he was president of the Dudley Book Society, the UK's oldest book club dating back to 1732. He was also a keen game shot and fly fisherman, known for his distinctive fishing kit including a blue boiler-suit and a beret.
Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries was formed in 1890 after George Thompson, owner of Dudley-based Dudley & Victoria Brewery, took over Banks's brewery in Wolverhampton, whose owner was in debt to Mr Thompson.
In the 1999, the company took over Marston, Thompson & Evershed in Burton-upon-Trent, and in the same year took over the Mansfield Brewery of Nottinghamshire.
In 2005 the company acquired Jennings Brewery of Cockermouth, in the Lake District, and in 2007 it also took over Hampshire-based Ringwood Brewery.
He leaves a widow Marika, son George, and daughters Emily, Marina and Florence.