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Obituary: Mike Bown – Milford tennis champion and founder of the Wentworth Motor Company

MIKE Bown, the founder of the Wentworth Motor Company and a Milford Tennis Club champion, has died at the age of 84.

Well known as the face of the Southbourne-based car dealership for many years, Mike only retired in his early 80s.

He died suddenly while playing tennis at Milford on 6th June – a week before his 85th birthday.

Mike Bown
Mike Bown

Born in Kettering in 1936, Mike and his family later moved to New Milton where his father Ernest worked at Lloyds Bank and his mother Gwendoline ran a women’s outfitters in Old Milton Road.

He attended Brockenhurst Grammar School where his Latin teacher inspired a lifelong love of languages. He became fluent in French and could readily converse and read in Spanish and German. This love of learning continued into his 70s, when Mike decided have private lessons to learn Italian.

His wife Gail recalled: “He couldn’t wait for the next holiday to Italy to see how well he could make use of what he’d studied. Rarely would he read a novel; more often he toted a language grammar book or dictionary on a plane or at the beach."

After finishing school Mike undertook national service in the Royal Navy, based at Portsmouth – a period of his life that held many happy memories.

After demob, his interest in motoring led him to begin in a sales job with Edward’s Rolls Royce & Bentleys in Bournemouth. In 1964 Mike established the Wentworth Motor Company based in Southbourne which is now run by his sons Andrew and Christopher.

Mike moved to Milford in the 1970s buying a modest home which he set about converting with eight additional bedrooms to become the Kingsland Hotel on Westover Road.

Nearby St George’s Hospital had in those days a steady influx of patients from the continent, and Mike’s ability with languages proved invaluable with assisting family members.

Having played at Hale Gardens in New Milton, Mike decided to join Milford Tennis Club, where he initially faced some difficulty because people who worked in trades were not generally accepted as members.

However, after gaining support from friends, his membership was accepted and he went on to win the men’s singles championship eight times, the men’s doubles championship eight times, and the mixed doubles several times – the last of which was in 2001 when he was 65.

Mike married for the second time in 1986 after meeting his American wife Dr Gail Benes, a chiropractic doctor, when she popped into Wentworth Motor Company to buy a car.

Although Gail returned to the America for a couple of years, she and Mike continued their courtship and decided it was the real deal. They married in Chicago and returned to live together in Milford.

The couple spent many happy holidays visiting the US, particularly to see Gail’s parents and son Craig, who all thought the world of Mike.

Gail said: “My friends never tired of listening to his British accent and were charmed by his impeccable manners and decorum.”

He is survived by his wife, two sons and two granddaughters.

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