Banker leaves £2.3m to Devon town
An investment banker has left £2.3 million in his will to a small British seaside resort - with instructions the money is spent on a million flowers.
Canadian Keith Owen, who was 69, made his fortune in the financial industry and travelled the world, but always returned to his favourite place - Sidmouth in Devon.
Mr Owen was born nearby and spent most of his holidays in the coastal town admiring its beach, blooms and Regency architecture.
When Mr Owen was told in 2007 he was suffering lung cancer and had just eight weeks to live he left the parish his retirement fund, pension and a string of properties.
His massive £2.3 million estate - £1.5 million in cash and £800,000 from properties - was handed over with a stipulation it had to be spent keeping Sidmouth "beautiful". Before he died he also told officials some of the money should be spent on planting one million flower bulbs in the town.
Mr Owen, who was divorced with no children, left all the money to the Sid Vale Association with instructions that the income from his legacy's investments should be spent locally.
The group has now decided to honour one of his specific suggestions by planting a million bulbs in verges, gardens, lawns and flowerbeds.
Rev Handel Bennett, vice-chairman of the Sid Vale Association, said: "Keith Owen saw voluntary action as evidence of a community at peace with itself. The SVA, through Keith's gift to the people of Sidmouth, has in the last five years provided many grants to local voluntary organisations totalling over £400,000. Today we are asking the local community to respond to the Plant a Million Bulbs challenge, by volunteering to enhance our natural environment with additional colour. Once planted, we expect the results will become evident in spring 2014 but subsequent springs should be better, as the bulbs multiply. Who knows, perhaps one day people will travel to see 'a host of golden daffodils', in the Valley of a Million Bulbs? We hope it will fulfil Keith's hope of an iconic spectacle to be enjoyed by both residents and visitors."
Mr Owen was born in Totnes in Devon and became an RAF pilot, leaving the service in 1976 to start a new life and career in finance in Canada. He moved to Ottawa and became a Canadian citizen but returned for regular visits to Sidmouth, where his mother had retired. After her death he regularly stayed in her small flat and described Sidmouth as the picture-perfect English resort. Mr Owen died in the town in December 2007.
Sidmouth Garden Centre is currently stockpiling the massive number of bulbs needed to complete the Plant a Million Bulbs challenge. The first wave will see 153,000 flowers planted at a community day on October 26.