Dubai mourns loss of well-loved British expat George Chapman, who spent 73 years in Gulf

He was the former chairman of Port Rashid, ex-general manager of Gray Mackenzie, and played a crucial role in establishing the first English school in Dubai

by

Mazhar Farooqui

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Khaleej Times edition from May 23, 1980 featuring George Chapman on its magazine cover
Khaleej Times edition from May 23, 1980 featuring George Chapman on its magazine cover

Published: Thu 9 Nov 2023, 3:22 PM

Last updated: Thu 9 Nov 2023, 10:59 PM

As the date for George Chapman's funeral service on November 14 approaches, anticipation grows among those who knew and admired him. Fondly remembered for dedicating seven decades of his life to the Gulf region, the beloved long-time UAE resident left a lasting legacy in Dubai and beyond.

Chapman, who passed away in Dubai on October 29 at the age of 98, was a distinguished figure in the UAE.


He served as the former chairman of Port Rashid and held the position of general manager at Gray Mackenzie, now known as Maritime and Mercantile International. His career achievements were nothing short of outstanding, earning him the prestigious MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) award twice, first in Oman in 1959 and later in Dubai in 1978.

However, Chapman was not only known for his professional accomplishments but also for his vibrant personality, sense of humour, and dedication to his passions. In a statement to Khaleej Times, Vanessa, his eldest daughter, reflected on the broader impact of her father's life, stating: "Our father was a remarkable man who was a great communicator to people, all of which was helped by his tremendous sense of humour. He remained young at heart and even at the age of 70, he completed a bungee jump! We shared a common bond in our love of Land Rovers, homing stray animals, exploring and documenting history, and I will miss the twinkle in his eye and his easy charm.”


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Katherine, his other daughter, said: "My father's passing sees the end of an era for Dubai and almost a century of life for him. Dad was a very kind and generous man and a renowned networker who would go out of his way to help connect people socially and in business. Apart from his busy work life, he helped establish the Dubai English Speaking School (DESS) and the Dubai International Seafarers Centre (DISC)."

From left to right: DISC founders Jack Briggs, George Chapman, Bill Duff, Arthur Jarman
From left to right: DISC founders Jack Briggs, George Chapman, Bill Duff, Arthur Jarman

'A true Dubai legend'

In memory of Chapman, a service will be held at Christ Church, Jebel Ali, on November 14 at 2.30 pm. A further gathering to celebrate his life will take place from 6pm onwards at the Dubai International Seafarers Centre, an institution he once chaired.

The news of Chapman's passing has left his friends and former colleagues saddened, with many fondly remembering him as an incredible gentleman and a true Dubai legend. Scores took to the popular Facebook group 'Dubai - The Good Old Days', which boasts nearly 24,000 members, to pay their condolences and reminisce about their time spent with him."

Meri Lloyd Miller expressed her heartfelt condolences, saying: "Sad to hear of the death of another Dubai legend! Our heartfelt condolences to George's family." She recalled the time she first met Chapman in 1987 when she opened the George and Dragon pub at the Ambassador Hotel. "He became one of our lunchtime regulars. Such an incredible gentleman with so many interesting stories to tell about his life and times in Dubai. We felt very privileged to be invited by George to join him at his little oasis home some Fridays."

Kamal Khiara, who cherished his friendship with Chapman, last met him in March 2022 and had hoped to see him again during his upcoming trip by the end of this month.

Chapman's former colleague Tim Cassey shared his thoughts, saying: "I had the privilege of working for George for many years. He was a larger-than-life character, and his wit, charm, and enthusiasm truly stood out. A really astute businessman, his stories of his early days in the Emirates and Oman were fascinating."

Cassey added: "Apart from being a director of Inchcape, Gray Mackenzie, and MMI, he was a pioneer for the Emirates."

Paul Davies, another colleague, fondly recalled his time working with George at the Gray Mack building on the Creek when it was new in the mid-'70s.

He wrote: "Although very lowly in the hierarchy, whenever I bumped into George, he always had a kind word and astute comment to make about my beard and dress sense! Those were happy days and will stay with me forever."

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Gordie Ratcliffe remembered Chapman as "a top bloke" and shared, "I used to spend many an hour chatting either at Pancho's or The George and Dragon. He was also a great supporter of K9 friends and gave up his time and house sometimes for garage sales. He will be missed."

Jackie Ratcliffe reminisced about how Chapman had helped them many times at K9 Friends garage sales, where he would turn up with his dog and sometimes even scare the buyers.

Jayant Gajria expressed his deep sorrow at Chapman's passing, saying: "A great advisor and a respectful entity are lost. I have known him since my childhood and used to meet him at Ambassador on some Thursdays. Today, I feel I lost my father again."

Born in Falmouth, England in 1925, George Chapman had a diverse career. He briefly served in Civil Defence and Home Guard during World War II, later joining the army and being commissioned into the Devonshire Regiment in 1948. He was attached to the Maratha Light Infantry, serving in the Arakan and northern Burma.

For the majority of his last 73 years, he resided in Dubai, with brief stints in other Gulf countries. In addition to his role as resident director for Gray Mackenzie and Company in the UAE, he also chaired Dubai Port Services and Ras Al Khaimah Port Services. Later, he established his own consultancy firm and played a crucial role in founding the Dubai English Speaking School (DESS), the first English school in Dubai.

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