Family remembers businessman Brian

TODAY marks the tenth anniversary of the tragic day Suffolk lost a much loved business leader and family man.

TODAY marks the tenth anniversary of the tragic day Suffolk lost one a much loved business leader and family man. Brian Cowie, managing director of the Tolly Cobbold brewery died suddenly, sending shockwaves across the county and devastating all those who knew and loved him.

For his wife, Jean and his three children, Ruth, 27 Linda, 24 and Alan, 22 it is a landmark anniversary, summing up a decade of grief, hurt, anger, devastation, but ultimately extremely happy memories of this larger than life man they loved so much.

Brian was just 47 years old when he took his own life at the Tolly Cobbold brewery in Ipswich where he was joint managing director.

The flood of tributes that came in both to his family and The Evening Star and the hundreds of mourners who packed into St Andrew's Church in Melton for his funeral bore testament to the man who loved to have fun and was so passionate about Ipswich and his work.

Born in Glasgow he arrived in Ipswich after starting his career in beer at Scottish and Newcastle brewing company and also having worked at Ansells' Brewery in Stoke on Trent.

Mrs Cowie, 62, who lives in Woodbridge, described her husband as a workaholic who was passionate both about Ipswich and beer.

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When he was not at work, Brian loved to relax with his wife and children. He also loved poetry, particularly Scottish poet Robbie Burns.

Always full of fun, Mrs Cowie said her husband could make the simplest thing into a great pleasure even making a game of giving the children their holiday money.

And he loved to party. New Year's Eve 1999 would have been the couple's 20th wedding anniversary.

Mrs Cowie said: “That was a difficult time but we managed. Our neighbours all got together and did a different meal in each of our houses and we had a big party.

“My husband always loved a party. It was almost a question of well, he would have loved a party, so let's have one.”

To everyone who knew him Brian was a kind man with a good sense of humour.

Mrs Cowie said: “His employees absolutely loved him. When he died we had so many cards and phone calls saying how kind he had been. One guy had cancer and he said how much Brian had supported him.”

With the closure of Tolly Cobbold Linda said she often wonders what her dad would be doing now.

Mrs Cowie said: “My instinct is that he would have had a distillery somewhere up in Scotland.

“He doesn't strike me as someone who would have put his slippers on and retired.”

Send your memories of Brian to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, email or have your say online at


Alongside all the memories of this man who everyone thought the world of, his wife is quick to point out that he was no saint.

She added: “He had a wicked sense of humour.”

Many Christmases and birthdays the family would end up with strange presents such as cellotape, blank video tapes and even one memorable Christmas morning, a washing line.

Linda added: “He was also a real practical joker. Every year mum and dad would play practical jokes on April Fools Day.

“One year he told all us kids that there were loads of presents hidden under our beds but when we all ran up there, there weren't any.”

She still finds it difficult to see the funny side of that one today!

This normally, happy, jolly, outgoing man had been ill with depression for just seven weeks before he died.

His family and friends did not see it coming and were utterly shocked at what had happened to the man who so loved, his work, family and life.

Mrs Cowie, now 62, said: “I think he just worked too hard and his brain thought 'I can't do this any more.

“I know that he would not have put his family through this trauma if he had, had the choice.

“He knew the pain of losing a parent at a young age (his mum). That is why I know that he was not thinking straight at that stage.”

Today Mrs Cowie wants to use the anniversary of his death to help others.

She said: “If anyone is worried about someone do something about it. If they show signs of irrational behaviour or anything is different about them, do something about it.”


1723 - Thomas Cobbold began brewing in Harwich but shipped water from Holy Wells in Ipswich because the Essex water was too salty.

1746 - Business transferred to Cliff Brewery in Ipswich where it remained until 2002.

Mid 1950s - The brewery adopted the name Tolly Cobbold when Cobbold Brewery merged with Tollemache's Brewery which was then based at Ipswich Brewery beside Upper Brook Street.

1980s - The future of the brewery began to look shaky so Bob Wales (finance director) and Brian Cowie (sales and marketing director) were brought on board.

Patrick Cobbold and Lord Tollemache left the company when it was swallowed by the Brent Walker leisure group and Cliff brewery was closed after the company in charge transferred the brewing of its beers to Hartlepool.

A year later Mr Wales and Mr Cowie staged a successful management buy-out and the Ipswich business re-opened.

1992 - The pair made another stand when Sir John Harvey-Jones featured the brewery on his Troubleshooter programme and advised the two joint managing directors to pack up brewing.

Instead they brought out Tolleyshooter bitter and secured the future of the brewery until its closure in 2002.

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