The College is deeply saddened to announce the death of Winston Churchill Fellow, Benefactor Fellow and Chair of its Development Board, Michael Cowan. Michael was an undergraduate student at Churchill from 1970-73 and read engineering. He became the College’s first Winston Churchill Fellow in 2020.
This Fellowship was awarded to him in recognition of the incredibly significant financial support he had given the College in the preceding twenty years, as well as his invaluable insights from his fund management background. In 2016 Cowan Court was opened, thanks in a large part to a substantial contribution from Michael. From 2015 he also became Chair of the College’s Development Board, a committee of major donors who contribute to College fundraising projects and provide guidance on fundraising strategy.
Michael Cowan first developed an interest in and began investing in the UK stock market whilst an undergraduate. He came up to Churchill from a comprehensive school and his father died when he was a young child. Upon graduating he joined Rothschild’s, then went on to Lazard’s and Morgan Stanley before co-founding Silchester International Investors in London in 1995. His primary role was to manage international equity portfolios for large US endowments, foundations, pension funds and private family offices. He was a Fellow of the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment.
He was the College’s most generous benefactor since Mr AP Møller. His most recent gifts were for the College endowment and in greatly supporting the Think Forward campaign both financially and with his ever-sage advice. Added to this he generously gave time and non-financial support to the College for many years, having served on the Investment Committee, and its forerunner, the Investment Advisory Committee for over 20 years.
On becoming the first Winston Churchill Fellow of the College he and his wife Hilary attended a socially distanced tree-planting ceremony in October 2020, and with typical modesty he did not wish to have a large party at a later date. He remarked:
‘Hilary planted a Cercis reniformis ‘Texan White’ at Cowan Court…This is Metasequoia Glyptostroboides ‘Gold Rush’. Is this a hint?!
‘We are both very honoured to do this, sixty years after the foundation of Churchill College with the motto FORWARD… I was a Fresher here this month fifty years ago. There was a Hall, Offices and some Courtyards, but very few trees and little foliage. No Archives Centre…College is now altogether a better environment and has gained some back gardens along Storey’s Way, beautified them and so we make our contribution towards net zero carbon aspirations.’
His wife Hilary commented: ‘Michael had always said he had the first place in his philanthropic heart for this College of science and technology. He hugely vaIued his association with College, particularly his Winston Churchill Fellowship.’
Grange Park Opera, which he also supported, created him their Honorary President last summer in view of his mentoring and advice as well as considerable generosity. He has also made many large donations to the Yehudi Menuhin School in Cobham over the last 20 years and was about to be made their first Fellow in recognition of this.
Alongside this, he was incredibly generous, financially and with his bottomless advice, to so many family members and family friends, always helping to make this go along smoothly.
He will be very much missed by all members of the College community and will be remembered for his generosity and kindness. This includes the many alumni that he met as he was a frequent attendee of Development and alumni events in London and abroad, hosting them on behalf of the College.