The remarkable life of a ‘captain of industry’ who loved his city of Sheffield

Arnold Johnson on becoming Managing Director of GR Stein (Genefax) 1975
Arnold Johnson on becoming Managing Director of GR Stein (Genefax) 1975
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A Sheffield ‘captain of industry’ who grew his empire out of the smog and haze of 1920s Attercliffe has died, aged 90.

Arnold Johnson lived life to the full – embarking on globe-trotting adventures as an RAF airman during World War II and rubbing shoulders with golfing professionals on the lush fairways of Gleneagles.

Arnold Johnson in a Phantom FA flight simulator near Leeds in 2011

Arnold Johnson in a Phantom FA flight simulator near Leeds in 2011

As a wide-eyed youngster, to escape the industrial environment of Attercliffe, Arnold walked around the leafy suburbs of Dore and Fulwood and was determined to live there one day.

And he did just that – ending up on Slayleigh Lane in Fulwood from his working days until he died.

At one time, popular business mogul Arnold employed more than 10,000 staff, in South Yorkshire, Scotland, Cheshire, Spain, Belgium and the USA.

As a young man, Arnold played his part in the Second World War and served with the RAF in Palestine, Cyprus, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Arnold Johnson, RAF'Palestine 1944

Arnold Johnson, RAF'Palestine 1944

On his return to Sheffield, he met his wife, June Watson, a school teacher at Hillsborough Boys and later Greystones. The pair met playing tennis at Norfolk Park.

They had two children, Richard and Rosie, who were born in 1957 and 1959 respectively.

In 1975, after a meteoric rise from the pollution of Sheffield’s industrial east end, he became managing director at GR-Stein. The firm became known as Hepworth Refractories in 1982.

Arnold enjoyed a five-star lifestyle, jet-setting across the globe – but his humble start had rooted his heart in Sheffield and he had a burning desire for all of the city to do well.

Arnold Johnson (aged 2) in 1926

Arnold Johnson (aged 2) in 1926

Son Richard, now 58 and living in London, said: “He loved Sheffield and had a real passion for the city, for the people and the things that went on in it.”

It was due to this passion that after retirement in 1989, Arnold began working as a consultant for Sir Hugh Sykes’s Sheffield Development Corporation re-generating the Lower Don Valley – the area where he was born.

Richard said: “It gave him so much pride to see the east end of Sheffield start to rebuild from the collapse of steel and coal.”

Arnold also raised £500,000 for premature baby incubators at the Jessop Hospital and some £2million for ExtraCare Brunswick Village Care Home.

Arnold Johnson - 'GR Stein Refractories was re-branded to Hepworth Refractories in 1989

Arnold Johnson - 'GR Stein Refractories was re-branded to Hepworth Refractories in 1989

Away from the world of business, Arnold was a golfer and a passionate Wednesdayite, who loved to take Richard down to Hillsborough.

Richard said: “We had many good memories watching Sheffield Wednesday.

“The standouts were the FA Cup Wembley trip against Sheffield United in 1993, promotion in Cardiff in 2005 and, even though dad’s health was deteriorating, we shared Wednesday’s promotion finale against Wycombe Wanderers in 2012.”

Owls mad Arnold lived next door to former Wednesday chairman Arthur Broomhead in the 1970s.

Richard said: “My father was such a personable character that he left a positive impact on all who knew him, especially his carers, initially at home and then the team from Bridgedale House where he spent his last year.

“He was a one-off, a totally modern man who only looked to the future.

Arnold Johnson holding umbrella with professional golfer Tommy Horton at Pro-Am Tournament

Arnold Johnson holding umbrella with professional golfer Tommy Horton at Pro-Am Tournament

“He wanted a better world than he’d grown up in for his family and everyone in general and had a deep sense of duty and social conscience.”

Arnold died on July 31.

His funeral was to be held today at 9.30am at Hutcliffe Wood Crematorium, with a gathering afterwards at Abbeydale Golf Club.