Shropshire Star

Ray Grocott: Tributes to Shropshire businessman who 'touched the lives of so many'

One of Shropshire’s most successful businessmen who 'touched the lives of so many' has died at the age of 89.

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Ray Grocott pictured at Prees Cricket & Recreation Club

Ray Grocott was the former owner of Grocontinental, in Whitchurch, one of the country’s leading storage and distribution companies and used his business success to finance countless community projects.

A much-loved ‘Shropshire Lad’, he made a difference to hundreds of local people both as an employer and philanthropist.

In 2015, he paid for a new medical practice in Prees, he built eight bungalows for older people in the village and supported Prees Cricket & Recreation Club for more than 35 years.

Daughter Linda Grocott said: “Dad will be remembered for the success he achieved in his working life, but we know that he will also be remembered for the support he gave to others through his kindness and generosity.

“He never saw barriers in life, just a clear way forward to get the job done, no matter what it was. He was intelligent, positive and always wanted to give people an opportunity and a chance in life.

“He touched the lives of so many people worldwide and was proud to support the staff we employed over the years at Grocontinental. In his own words, ‘it’s all about people’.

“He loved life and having lost his own parents so young, always made sure he lived life to the full. He had a special connection with young people to whom he always spoke honestly and openly.

“Having shared an office with him for 36 years, I can honestly say he was an inspiring boss and, most of all, a supportive and loving husband and family man.”

Ray was born on April 15, 1934 at Holly Farm, Prees, to Victor and Nellie Grocott who ran a cattle haulage business working with local farmers.

His father died suddenly when Ray was only five years old, which meant that Nellie brought up Ray and his six sisters alone while continuing to run the family’s cattle haulage business. Ray soon became his mother’s right-hand man.

He attended Prees Junior School and Adams Grammar School, Wem. When his headmaster at Wem enquired about his ambition, Ray replied that he wanted to be a driver.

The headmaster, who spotted Ray’s potential replied: “No Ray, you don’t want to be a driver, you want to be the boss!”

Ray took that advice and, on joining his mother’s business, soon showed the acumen, imagination and business flair that led him to become a successful and unique business leader.

After a two-year stint in the RAF for National Service, Ray returned to the business with renewed drive and a new perspective.

In 1956, he married local farmer’s daughter, Rose Sadler, whose loyalty and hard work helped to build the Grocontinental company. When praised for his achievements, Ray always acknowledged Rose’s contribution. Rose died in 2019.

In the late 50s, Ray and his mother expanded the cattle haulage business to include other agricultural work and by the early 60s, their partnership of N. Grocott & Son Ltd was well known across Shropshire and Cheshire.

When Nellie died in 1969, Ray took the reins and eventually joined Cheshire-based North Western Farmers by selling 60 per cent of his shares to the company. Over the next decade, he worked hard to establish the transport arm of NWF but, in 1981, severed his NWF connections to pursue his solo dreams.

Ray acquired a large site in Heathwood Road, Higher Heath, where he established his new business which he named Grocontinental.

The business grew into one of Europe’s most successful independent logistics companies.

In the 1970s, Ray took on pioneering and challenging work, including six-week trips to Iran transporting machinery produced by engineering company Rubery Owen, of Prees.

Following the Romanian refugee crisis in the early 1990s, he packed his lorries with emergency aid and headed east.

Alongside haulage, he established the storage side of the business and in the early 1990s linked up with Müller Dairy which was starting production in Shropshire. This relationship began when Ray read in the Shropshire Star about Müller’s expansion and a proposed move to Market Drayton.

Seizing the moment and spotting a great business opportunity, Ray jumped on a plane, flew to Bavaria in Germany and knocked on the door of Müller HQ to offer his services. Inevitably, he came away with the work.

Success meant expansion and Ray, with son David and daughter Linda working alongside him, extended the business to a new site in Whitchurch. The company established a reputation for flexibility and world-class customer service in the complex logistics industry.

When Grocontinental was sold in December 2017, its annual turnover had climbed to £40 million with a workforce of 450 people.

Ray had friends all over the world but his heart remained in his home village of Prees, where he was determined to improve the village’s facilities.

He made a £1m donation to build the new medical centre in Prees when the village GP surgery was threatened with closure following the retirement of Ray’s good friend, Dr Guy Carter.

Two years later, he donated £800,000 to build eight bungalows for older people next to the surgery. He’d long campaigned for new pensioners’ homes in the village and in the end, he simply made it happen.

His long-term financial backing and help-in-kind for Prees Cricket & Recreation Club created one of Shropshire’s finest sporting and social venues. He refurbished the nursery at Prees Primary School and provided a specially adapted bus for the Bradbury Care Centre in Whitchurch.

He was a keen sportsman, playing football and cricket for Prees when he was younger and later he developed a passion for golf. He was both President and Captain at Hill Valley Golf Club. He also loved flying and piloted his own plane.

Ray is survived by his children Ruth, David and Linda, son-in-law Hugues, daughter-in-law Kirsty, Linda’s partner Robin and grandchildren, Louis, Charlie, Alfie, Honor, Minnie, Mia and Natasha.

A Service of Thanksgiving to celebrate Ray’s life will be held on October 14 at the Grocott Heritage Centre, Brookdale, Station Road, Prees SY13 2DW at 1.30pm.