Obituary: Lord Wolfson

Birkbeck Fellow

Lord Wolfson of Marylebone was Chairman of former British retail group Great Universal Stores (GUS) and Chairman of the Wolfson Foundation - a charitable foundation for the advancement of health, education, the arts and humanities.

Born Leonard Wolfson, he grew up in Worcester. His father, who started life as a cabinet maker in Glasgow, was responsible for transforming GUS from a small Manchester mail-order company into one of the biggest retail businesses in Europe. Leonard Wolfson became a director of the company in 1952 and oversaw a period of intense expansion, ensuring the place of GUS as one of the century's great business dynasties.

The Wolfson Foundation was set up by Leonard and his family in 1955, starting with £6m worth of GUS shares. Since its inception the Foundation has awarded more than £600m in grants - there is scarcely a university in the country that does not gratefully bear witness to Wolfson's generosity, with a named laboratory, library or accommodation block. A significant grant for Birkbeck (there were many) was £800,000 towards relocating the College's Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development to its present home, next to the Clore Management Centre, in the Henry Wellcome building.

A passion for history led Lord Wolfson to establish, in 1973, an annual Wolfson History Prize for books which combined scholarship with accessibility for the general reader. Over the years, four members of Birkbeck's History department have won the prize - Joanna Bourke, Orlando Figes, Richard Evans and our President, Eric Hobsbawm. Lord Wolfson gained his peerage in 1985, and was made a Fellow of Birkbeck in 2006.