ONE OF the best known business owners in Bognor Regis has passed away.
Keith Jay died peacefully in his sleep at mid-day on Sunday, aged 82.
He had been a prominent resident of the town since 1965.
Keith was born in London to Sam, who became the inspiration for Sammy Community Transport, and Gwen and spent his early years in Minehead where his father had business interests.
After attending prep school in Market Drayton, he was educated at Millfield in Somerset and Blundell’s in Tiverton.
He was not academically gifted but possessed a photographic memory, which served him well in his very successful business career.
After his National Service, he entered the retail furniture trade in Birmingham, without family help, as a van boy/trainee.
He worked for several retailers in the next few years before he secured a job in 1960 as the manager of a store in Sutton Coldfield and soon worked his way up to the top of the business as an employee.
In 1965, he bought a small lock-up shop near Bognor Regis railway station with £2,000 and opened a small furniture and carpet retail business in London Road.
Within 15 months, he had acquired premises on either side of his shop. His success continued and, by 1969, he managed to obtain the lease on the site where his very popular showrooms were situated and became a name synonymous with Bognor Regis.
One of his friends, Joe Putran, said: “Keith always treated people and customers the way he liked to be treated.
“By selling high quality goods at a reasonable price, under his ownership, Keith Jay Ltd developed a reputation unsurpassed in the area.
“In 1990, after 25 years of great success, Keith sold out to his staff as a co-operative and retired. The business continued to prosper until two years ago when the building was destroyed in a major fire.”
Keith supported many charities without publicity. He and his partner of 50 years, Louis Hunter, would visit hospitals, the fire station and St Wilfrid’s Hospice to give out hundreds of presents for Christmas, new year and Easter.
He also regularly donated cash and food to the town’s foodbank.
“His passion was motor cars,” said Joe, “especially old classics and, over the years, he owned many very desirable and award-winning cars.
“In 1980, he joined the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club where he became actively involved first locally, then through the central southern section and finally, nationally, when he became the first registrar of the 20hp Register.”
Keith also set up the Paphos Pajero Club for all 4X4 enthusiasts on Cyprus where he and Louis had a winter home.
Joe met them there more than 25 years ago and moved to Bognor Regis in 2015 to take care of Keith. Louis died in February, 2016, and Keith has followed him after a monumental struggle to get well and to stay positive and cheerful.