Obituary: Shire Health co-founder Patrick Benson dies at 89

A pioneer in healthcare comms, and known as one of the nicest men in PR, Patrick Benson died last week at the age of 89. He was a man who made a big impression on those who knew him.

Patrick Benson, former chairman of Shire Health PR, who died last week
Patrick Benson, former chairman of Shire Health PR, who died last week

Patrick Benson was born in Glasgow in 1931 and grew up in Warrington, Cheshire. He left school at 16 and spent several years in the army, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant in the Parachute Regiment and was deployed during the Suez crisis.

Once he left the forces in his 20s, he embarked on what was to be a remarkable career encompassing marketing, advertising and public relations.

Benson worked for big businesses such as the haircare and beauty brands owner Alberto-Culver, and in the 1960s was at advertising agency McCormick Richards and worked on the branding for designer Mary Quant.

He set up on his own in the 1970s and worked for blue chip companies such as Boots, where he worked on the No7 product range and went on to mastermind the company’s highly successful launch of pain-relief brand Nurofen in the 1980s.

In the late 1980s, Benson set up Shire Health PR with Margot James. Over the next decade the agency grew to become the UK’s biggest healthcare comms firm – which resulted in it being acquired by WPP in 1999.

By that point, with Benson as chairman and James as chief executive, the agency had 70 staff and clients such as Glaxo Wellcome, AstraZeneca, SmithKline Beecham and Bristol-Myers Squibb, with revenues of more than £4m a year.

Below: Benson pictured with Jenny McGregor, creative director at Shire Health, in the 1990s.

Patrick Benson and Jenny McGregor, creative director, Shire Health, in the 1990s
Patrick Benson and Jenny McGregor, creative director, Shire Health, in the 1990s

'Self-made man'

Benson’s son, Mark, described him as a man who was “energetic, intelligent, sociable, and helpful to others”, as well as being “a very keen amateur rugby player”.

Mark summed up his father as being a “lad from Warrington” whose determination drove him to become a “self-made man”. He added: “We all loved him and are all very proud of him for who he was and what he did.”

Bon viveur

Former colleagues, friends and family remember Benson as an ebullient personality and one of life’s bon viveurs.

Jessica Storr, who worked for him as an account manager in the 1980s, described him as a “legend”. She said: “I remember one day at about 3pm he waltzed into the office. Cradling many Champagne bottles. Clanking away. 'Stop work, girls,' he said. 'It's time for Champagne!' And we did!”

Benson was a “very special man”, according to Jackie Elliot, chair of Cathcart Consulting. “He was such fun. He was just the nicest man, and his hospitality was legendary. His clients loved him. He loved rugby and he would take them to Twickenham.”

She added: “He was a mentor to many and was one of those people who didn’t mind picking up the phone to other people on behalf of someone he’d only just met and making things happen for somebody else younger or just coming into the business.”

Knack of being indispensable

Benson's former business partner, Margot James, said: “He was a remarkable man in so many ways.

“He had a very, very good understanding of consumer behaviour allied to a streak of creative brilliance, which made him a formidable marketeer.”

Benson also “had a very good knack of making himself indispensable” to clients and they would “end up hanging on his every word”, she said.

James recalled his “passion for rugby” and said: “I think he’d want to be remembered as a man who inspired so many people. He got the best out of people. I learnt so much from him, a huge amount.”

She added that she had been “really shocked and very saddened” to learn of Benson’s death. “My heart goes out to Mark and the family.”

A widower, in recent years Benson suffered from Alzhiemer’s disease and lived in a nursing home in Kensington, London.

A funeral will be held on 1 November. If you would like further details, contact funeral directors JH Kenyon, Kensington High Street, on 0203 8113 117.


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