John Shemeld went from rags to riches, leaving a donation in excess of £6 million to St Catherine’s Hospice after he died in 2013.
The hospice, which provides care for those with life-limiting conditions, has confirmed the legacy is the biggest it has ever received and the money will go towards its latest project to build a new centre in Pease Pottage, estimated to cost £12-14 million.
The charity, along with Billingshurst-based developers Thakeham, is looking to submit a planning application which will also see 600 new homes built.
Five acres of land east of the Brighton Road at Pease Pottage has been given to the hospice by Crawley businessman Bill Bridges, who lives in Horsham, and the charity said the donation, along with the money left by John, had made the project possible.
John’s daughter Sally Gonzales expressed her pride at her father’s generosity.
“He was very eccentric but never bragged about his wealth. You would never have known, he didn’t even have a wallet,” she said.
“He didn’t have fast cars and he lived in the same house in Blunts Way from the 60s. He didn’t go on many holidays and he still shopped at second hand stores.”
Sally explained her father had a difficult upbringing. She said at the age of nine he was living in a tent in Durfold Woods, in Plaistow, while his father built the family’s home.
Sally continued: “When the bungalow was built it wasn’t big enough so his bedroom was the chicken coop. He used to get bullied at school for living in the woods.”
John started working when he was 14, taking on jobs such as cleaning, plumbing and bus driving.
However, it wasn’t until he started buying and selling caravans that he started earning his millions.
After moving to Horsham in the early 1960s John moved into property development and due to the amount of money he was making was able to retire at the age of 40.
“That lasted a few months because he was completely bored and his life had lost its meaning,” Sally said.
“It was all about earning money not about having it.
“People saw him as being quite mean and stingy but he was incredibly generous with his time. If my car broke down or my boiler broke he would be the first person I would call. He was an incredibly kind and helpful man.”
John continued to work until the day he died.
But his life wasn’t all about work. He had four different partners in his 84 years, all of whom he stayed very close to, his daughter explained.
He ran many clubs in the town including Horsham’s Unattached Club and was also a member of the Samaritans.
Sally said he had no connection to the hospice but always wanted to leave his money to a charity.
“As he got older he probably appreciated end of life care more,” she said.
“He left his family enough, he made sure we were okay.
“He never wanted to change everyone’s future. He didn’t believe in inheritance in that way.
“I am massively proud of him. He really had nothing and died with millions.”
Sally’s daughter Amy Spencer, 20, said she had been inspired by her grandfather’s story and has recently set up her own business.
She said: “It is just one of those stories that shows you can do it. I know it’s a different time but he did everything from nothing.
“If you work at it you can do it.”
Giles Tomsett, chief executive at St Catherine’s Hospice, said: “We are extremely grateful to Mr John Shemeld for leaving St Catherine’s Hospice this generous gift.
“His legacy will help to fund a new hospice facility enabling us to care for the growing number of people living with a life-limiting illness in our community.
“We are currently submitting a planning application, for this new facility in Pease Pottage, so that hospice care is readily available for the local community for many years to come.
“The estimated cost of this new facility is £12-14 million so, even with Mr Shemeld’s generous gift and other kind donations, we still need to raise around £6 million.
“Without the support of local people, such as Mr Shemeld, we would not be able to continue to provide our care services as donations currently fund over 70 per cent of our running costs.
“We would like to thank Mr Shemeld, his family and the community for their continued support. Without them there would be no St Catherine’s Hospice.”