Obituary: Donald Rider, Managing Director of Rassells Garden Centre, Earls Court Road

We were very sad to hear about Donald Rider’s death, albeit not totally unexpected. He had been ill for a number of years but in recent months it was evident that at 92, his usual six days a week working at his beloved Rassells was getting more difficult.

There are not many people who devote such service in their life to one business. Donald arrived at Rassells in 1935 as an apprentice on 5 shillings a week – and with the exception of the war period had been there ever since.  I first met him in 1999 when I would wistfully walk around the garden centre wishing I had more than a studio flat to do justice to his wonderful array of roses and camellias.   In 2007 he gamely agreed to be reviewed for the magazine and we had an entertaining time interviewing each other (the magazine was in its infancy – it was only the fourth edition).  He was a very kind supporter of this magazine, and was a creature of habit.  He would advertise, with a half page, every September and October, and occasionally in the May.  One year he was rather excited and thought he’d try advertising a rather rare tulip.  He was thrilled when he received an enquiry from Australia!

Donald had no immediate family thus the staff at Rassells, including Jocelyn who had worked with him for the past 47 years were his family.  Some years ago Mary came to live in the flat above the shop premises; she has been with him since then acting in all manner of capacities, a companion, a friend, a helper and everything else.  In memory of Donald she has arranged a wonderful ‘wall of tribute’ to him which is in the main entrance of the shop on the back wall (anticipated to be there during September and perhaps part of early October, dependent upon the bulbs).  Images and newspaper cuttings show a dapper Donald besides his various sports cars, Donald with various cats (particularly ‘Whiskers’ an ardant fan of the nursery and a very sociable resident of the square, who invited himself to parties and pretty much any event he thought would be fun!), and Donald with various girlfriends and friends over the years.  This small, simple tribute is very heart warming. It shows Kensington at its best.  As a village and a strong community.  There is a book to sign – the well known or unknown folk of Kensington – have signed and it is a tribute to Donald’s modest and charming nature that he touched so many folk in Kensington.

Rassells will continue to serve the community of Kensington – it is still the only garden centre in the area, and as such we should cherish it.  The staff – or ‘Donald’s family’, will continue to serve you with the courtesy, passion and expertise Donald gave each and every one of his clients.

Image copyright: Lucy Elliott/The Kensington Magazine