John Cornell, one of the leading lights of the Kennet Valley Arts Trust, has died following a short illness, at the age of 81.
Brigadier Cornell, who died on May 5, served as chairman of Kennet Valley Arts Trust for many years. He leaves a wife, Caroline, three sons, Mark, David and Tom, and 11 grandchildren.
KVAT colleagues said this week that due to his determination and tenacity the charity is building up a very strong audience base for popular movies and exciting live performances, such as The National Theatre and The Glyndebourne Season.
John, who lived at Sharcott, near Pewsey, never wavered in his enthusiasm for promoting the aims of KVAT to bringing arts events to the local community, they said.
At a packed Town Hall on May 23 for the showing of Quartet, Rosie Hill, a fellow board member of the arts organisation, gave a tribute to the late John Cornell “We owe him a big debt of gratitude and he will be very much missed.”
Diana Turnbull who worked closely with John said: “It is deeply regrettable that he left us just as our film programme is becoming so successful, and before the final development of a cinema, on which he had spent so much time.
“It was his vital interest to re-establish the development of a new cinema for Marlborough, and in keeping the idea alive, he enabled us to achieve all that we have accomplished to date.”
Born in London and educated at Winchester College, Brigadier Cornell was commissioned into the Rifle Brigade in 1952, serving in Kenya, Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong and India.
He was made a CBE in 1981 and retired in 1986. His last posting was as military advisor to the High Commission in New Delhi.
After retiring from the Army, he took over the charity Gap Activity Projects, the body dedicated to international volunteering.
Jenny Gibbons, GAP Project director from 1989-1995, recalled: “When John became the first salaried Director of GAP in 1988 he inherited a small low-key organisation which had been run mainly by volunteers.
“He was inspirational in his leadership and vision, and his enthusiasm inspired young and old alike. Recruiting both salaried and volunteer staff with specific skills and knowledge of the countries where GAP was operating, he quickly expanded the organisation from around 10 countries to 35, always looking for new and challenging opportunities for gap year placements.
“GAP was unique in establishing a two-way reciprocal scheme enabling young people from overseas to benefit from short placements in the UK.
“Moving from dingy first floor offices in central Reading, sandwiched between a department store and a language school, to new premises in Queen’s Road made this rapid expansion possible.
“He had great charisma and curiosity and a huge network of friends and contacts which he exploited with great charm when he thought they could do something for GAP.
“His fundraising skills were incredible and as a result GAP was supported by many businesses, trusts and individuals. Princess Anne came on board as a patron – I could go on and on.
“His brain never stopped and although it was at times exhausting and difficult to keep up, there was never a dull moment with John at the helm! It was a real privilege to work with him.”
A sold-out live screening of The Audience from the Gielgud Theatre in the West End, and starring Helen Mirren as the Queen, will be presented in tribute to Brigadier Cornell on Thursday, June 13.
A second screening will be shown on September 4. A thanksgiving service will be held at Winchester Cathedral on Monday, September 23 at 11am.