BILLIONAIRE businessman Albert Gubay joined a unique and very rare group of people yesterday when he was made a Knight Commander with Star of the Order of St Gregory the Great, awarded with the consent of Pope Benedict.
Only a handful of people in the world have been bestowed with the honour which is personally given with the authority of the Pope for extraordinary acts of generosity and to “gentlemen of proven loyalty to the Holy See.”
A small eight-pointed cross on a red and gold ribbon was handed to Mr Gubay by the Archbishop of Westminster, The Most Rev Vincent Nichols who travelled specially to the Isle of Man for yesterday’s ceremony in St Anthony’s church in Onchan - the church Albert Gubay built in memory of his mother - which was packed to the doors for yesterday’s brief ceremony.
The relatively informal ceremony allowed Archbishop Nichols the opportunity to pay tribute to the generosity of Mr Gubay in fulfilling his promise to donate half of his lifetime’s wealth to the church and to use the other half to create a charitable foundation in perpetuity.
“I hope that this may encourage other people in Britain in Mr Gubay’s position to see their way to creating charitable foundations and to also see the meaning of St Paul’s “generosity of gifts”.
He said Britain did not have the culture which exists extensively across the United States where wealthy people create charitable foundations for a wide variety of good causes. “You, Albert Gubay, have reflected the true meaning of St Paul’s words.”
Mr Gubay described yesterday as “the second most important day of my life”, reminding everyone that the marriage to his wife Carmel was “the first most important day of my life” and he spoke only very briefly later in the day to a silent audience at his hotel.
With a rare show of emotion, he added, “I have very many people to thank - too many to mention. I am grateful to everyone who has supported me but chiefly to Carmel and my family. Thank you.”
Television crews from BBC and Granada, together with local media, covered the brief ceremony which was a relatively low key affair at the request of Mr Gubay.
Amongst the guests was the Lieutenant Governor and Lady Haddacks, President of Tynwald Noel Cringle, Chief Minister Tony Brown, Attorney General John Corlett, Speaker of the House of Keys Steve Rodan, Bishop Robert Paterson, Economic Development Minister Allan Bell, and a number of politicians and prominent businessmen and women.
But the majority of the guests were simply long term friends of Mr Gubay and his family and fellow churchgoers whom he has come to know over this 30+ years on the Isle of Man.
Those guests were amongst around 200 people who attended a reception afterwards at Mount Murray Hotel - the Island’s biggest hotel complex and golf course built by Mr Gubay in the late 1980s.
The occasion gave an opportunity for a number of tributes to be made to Mr Gubay, most notably from President of Tynwald Noel Cringle who spoke of the “generosity of gifts” which had been mentioned in the official church ceremony in a bible passage written by St Paul.
Mr Cringle spoke with passion about Mr Gubay’s creation of his charitable foundation and the estimated minimum of £20 million a year which will be distributed to charitable causes.
He added, “None of us should take for granted the enormity of what Albert Gubay is doing. This truly is an act of remarkable generosity.”
Dating back to 1831, the Knight Commander honour is an order which is given for conspicuous service to the Church and society. The award is bestowed in Mr Gubay’s case for his philanthropic work which he has carried out over many years and in recognition of the establishment of The Albert Gubay Charitable Foundation which has been set up to provide a minimum of £20 million per year for charitable causes for eternity.
Albert Gubay came to live in the Isle of Man in the early 80s when he bought Greeba Castle and it was thought he had arrived to retire having made a considerable fortune in inventing the concept of supermarkets and creating the Kwik Save supermarket chain - an idea he later took to New Zealand.
However, Albert Gubay had other ideas and from his Isle of Man base has amassed a considerably larger fortune in the following decades, concentrating on the construction of numerous out-of-town shopping complexes mostly in the north of England.
Latterly, he has been involved in creating the Total Fitness chain of health complexes across the UK and Ireland and he is currently involved in another major shopping centre project at Edge Lane in Liverpool.
In the Isle of Man he has left a number of notable landmarks including the Mount Murray Hotel complex, the Mount Murray golf course, the Clinch’s building, the Celtic House office block and the shopping complex in Parliament Street, Ramsey.
His charitable bequests in recent years have included substantial donations to various charities and organisations including breast cancer research, the Manx Sports Aid Foundation, the Department of Education to fund students attending top universities and the Commonwealth Youth Games.
On his death, Mr Gubay has arranged for his business empire to be left intact to the charity. In this way, the companies which make up that empire will continue to grow in perpetuity. Based on current values it is estimated that they can conservatively generate £20 million per annum for the church and other good causes. 50% will go to the Catholic church and the other 50% to charitable causes.
His ambition is for the Albert Gubay Charitable Foundation to be worth at least £1 billion on his death.
Photos: Bill Dale www.isleofmanphotos.com