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Surrey County Cricket Club are mourning the loss of Derek Newton, who has died aged 88 following a short illness.

Derek, a much loved member of the Surrey family, was one of just four people who have been both Chairman and President of the club. The Club flag that flies over The Kia Oval will be flown at half mast for the next two days.

Richard Spiller reflects on his life and contribution.

When Derek Newton became chairman of Surrey in 1979, he inherited a club rich in history but close to the breadline.

Both the greatest asset and biggest drain on finances was The Oval, England’s oldest Test venue but desperately shabby and swallowing large amounts of cash while earning little outside big match days.

Over the next 15 years, Newton and his great friend Raman Subba Row – who led the executive board, running affairs on a day-to-day basis – spearheaded a charge towards ensuring Surrey could head into the 21st century assured of a future. Today’s Kia Oval owes much to that work.

Derek Newton became a Surrey member in 1955, in the midst of Surrey’s great run of seven successive County Championships, his own cricket played at Old Emanuel where he became captain. Along with Subba Row, he was in the vanguard of forming the Surrey Championship competition in 1968 – later chairing the management committee – and joined the Surrey General Committee that year.

New ideas were badly needed for the ailing game, although they were not always welcomed. In the 1970s, he was one of a quartet labelled the “gang of four” by a disaffected former secretary, accused of attempting to “run the club like a business”.

It’s a comment which still makes Bernie Coleman, another of the group and whose marketing expertise revolutionised both Surrey and England cricket, smile broadly: “We couldn’t have put it better ourselves! That was exactly what we were trying to do because we realised that without it Surrey had almost gone bust once and probably would have done at some stage.

“Derek was a wonderful administrator who did a huge amount for Surrey at a crucial stage in the Club’s history.

“He gave people jobs and he let them get on with them, which is so important. And he played an important role as Surrey’s representative at meetings, working with the other counties.

“He and Raman Subba Row did a remarkable job to ensure the club modernised. His contribution has been enormous.”

The Honours Board for Surrey CCC Chairmen in the Committee Room at The Kia Oval

Newton admitted one of the most precarious moments came in 1988 when the wooden west wing of the pavilion needed to be demolished and replaced to avoid The Oval losing its safety certificate – and with it Test status – but with funding falling £1million short.

“We just didn’t have the money – it was a simple as that,” he recalled, but his contacts in the City of London – he was an underwriter who rose to become chairman of CE Heath – ensured he was an accomplished networker long before the term had been invented.

Enlisting the support of Michael Sandberg, recently retired as chairman of the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank, to head the ‘Save The Oval’ appeal, the target was achieved in six months.

Newton had definite ideas on how things should be run. Experience of serving a term on Esher Urban District Council gave him an aversion to meetings which overran. And when it was proposed, in 1987, that the former Sussex and England all-rounder Ian Greig should be the next Surrey captain, he insisted on the pair meeting before giving his approval. That meant Greig flying from his home in Brisbane to have dinner at Gatwick Airport, before making the return journey, which the latter maintains was the foundation of a “pretty special relationship” over the next five years.

Having stepped down as chairman in 1994, Newton remained heavily involved in Surrey cricket, whether it was work with the Surrey Cricket Board (later Foundation), overseeing the rebuilding of a Sri Lankan village following the tsunami with funds raised by Surrey, his duties as President in 2004 or hosting his grandchildren and their friends at T20 games at The Oval. While he admitted instant cricket was not to his taste, he relished seeing the ground he had done so much to create packed to the rafters.

The Pavilion at the cricket ground in the heart of Magonna, the Sri Lankan village rebuilt after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami

Newton and his first wife Judy, who died in 1994, had two daughters – Katie and Amanda – and it was common for Derek to supervise family Christmas lunches before hopping on to a plane for Tests in Australia and South Africa, where he had the knack of arriving just in time for play and looking fresh as a daisy. He visited most countries, enjoying touring with his second wife Dingle, always a fine ambassador and generous host and friend. Many can attest to his kindness and generosity, always delivered in an understated manner.

He believed that it was the duty of every county to produce players for England and took particular delight from watching Surrey win the County Championship in 2018 with a team built on a home-produced core.

Richard Thompson, chairman since 2010, paid tribute to Newton’s contribution, explaining: “I can think of few, if any, who quite loved and lived their lives through Surrey CCC as Derek did. He was Surrey to his bones. To many former county chairmen, Derek was often referred to fondly as Mr. Surrey. Affectionate and certainly apt.

“He lived life to the full and travelled the world watching cricket, he was Surrey’s greatest ambassador.

“The words of wisdom he shared with me over two decades were invaluable. Always close to the politics of the game, even into his late eighties, he was so sharp and erudite on all matters either domestic or international, gaining insights and leveraging friendships to the club’s great benefit.”

Among the permanent reminders of Derek Newton at The Oval are a bookcase he had made for the Committee Room, containing a set of Wisdens, in which he took great pride.

The Committee Room bookshelf, containing a full set of Wisdens, that Derek Newton donated to the Club

Even until midway through last season, Derek’s typical summer Saturday would see him follow a dip in his swimming pool with a few holes of golf and then visit one of many cricket clubs in Surrey, where he would inevitably meet old friends and hope to spot new talent which might one day flourish for county and country.

For him, the future of the game and its participants were even more important than the past.