Two new art funds worth a total of £200,000 were unveiled yesterday, bringing a former vice chancellor of Newcastle University back to the city to tell an extraordinary tale.
Prof Sir Laurence Martin held the top job at Newcastle University from 1978 until 1990 when he left to become director of Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs.
While living in the North East, Sir Laurence was made an honorary member of The Pen and Palette Club.
At a lunchtime celebration at the Mansion House he admitted he had never attended events organised by the club but he continued to receive reports of its activities.
He said that when he heard it was to establish an art fund to support groups, individuals and organisations associated with literature, music and the visual arts, “a light bulb went on in my head”.
Sir Laurence, now aged 85, said he had been looking for a way to commemorate his wife, Betty, who died a few years ago.
“Because I’m an honorary member of The Pen and Palette Club, I got the papers and saw that they had decided to give money to create a fund to benefit the arts in the North East,” he said.
“I decided it was the answer to my problem. I called the people running the art fund and said I wanted to do this and, not entirely to my surprise, they said yes.
“But it was a total accident really. If I hadn’t been an honorary member of The Pen and Palette Club, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Sir Laurence said that because his wife was a teacher he thought it appropriate that the Lady Betty Martin Fund should support arts activities benefiting children and young people in the region.
A few years ago Sir Laurence also gave money to Girton College, Cambridge, to set up the Jane Martin Poetry Prize in memory of his late daughter.
Both The Pen and Palette Club and Sir Laurence were able to double their money through Arts Council England’s Catalyst scheme aimed at encouraging philanthropy.
Therefore, in each case, a £50,000 donation became £100,000 from which grants will be awarded.
Both funds are being managed by the Community Foundation through its North East Fund for the Arts.
Ellie Turner, culture partnerships manager at the Community Foundation, said: “When the North East Fund for the Arts was founded we wanted to emphasise the importance of the arts in North East communities and reach out to donors who, like Sir Laurence, have links to the region but no longer live here.”
Sir Laurence, who said he often visits a friend in Wooler to go fishing, said he had a house in Suffolk and a flat in London but had considered moving back to the North East.
Peter Wallace, secretary of The Pen and Palette Club, said it set up in 1900 by a group of professionals to promote the arts and sciences.
In the 1920s club members acquired a base in Higham Place, Newcastle, “and we were happy there for nearly 100 years.
“But as the 21st Century dawned we found we couldn’t really afford to keep up the building any more.”
Members voted for part of the proceeds of its sale to be used to establish the fund and continue the legacy of the Pen and Palette Club. Meanwhile the 75 members now meet regularly at the Mansion House.