Wednesday 20 September 2017

Leading businesswoman Gillian Bowler leaves €4m legacy

Businesswoman Gillian Bowler, who died last December aged 64, was the only chief of a major financial institution to survive the banking crisis. Photo: David Conachy
Businesswoman Gillian Bowler, who died last December aged 64, was the only chief of a major financial institution to survive the banking crisis. Photo: David Conachy
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Colourful Dublin travel agent Gillian Bowler left almost €4m in her will, according to documents lodged in the Probate Office in Dublin.

The founder of Budget Travel died in the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin on December 14 at the age of 64 after a long battle with illness. She was survived by her husband, Harry Sydner, who was executor of her will, and her step-daughter, Rachel.

'Gill', as she was known, grew up on the Isle of Wight. She suffered from a kidney ailment as a child and it was an illness that would plague her for the rest of her life.

But this didn't stop her leaving home at the age of 16 and going into the travel business. As a young woman, she arrived in Dublin in 1975 to set up Budget Travel, specialising in package holidays to the Greek Islands. She was one of the first to realise the value of marketing and her January campaign to launch that year's brochure was legendary for its saucy style and lavish receptions.

A striking-looking woman, she was always stylishly dressed with expensive sunglasses on her head. Over a number of years, she built the business from a basement office in Baggot Street into a nationwide chain.

She was believed to have made €9.5m when the business was sold to the British conglomerate Granada in the late 1980s.

She was dubbed 'Charlie's Angel' because she was one of the first non-civil servant/academic females to be appointed to State boards by the then Taoiseach, who not only liked to be surrounded by bright and beautiful women, but was also conscious of the need to shake up the dusty semi-state sector.

She was a director of the Irish Goods Council, the VHI, the Tourism Task Force and Failte Ireland in her time. She was also appointed chairperson of Irish Life & Permanent in 2004 and presided over the former building society when, like other financial institutions, it went into nosedive during the financial crisis of 2009. Ms Bowler was the only chairman or chief executive of a major financial institution to survive the banking crisis. She stepped down in December 2010. She was physically assaulted on the street by a pensioner in 2009 at the height of the public odium aimed at "the banks".

Harry and Rachel were content to avoid the limelight and the family lived quietly and spent weekends at their Wexford retreat where close friends were entertained.

The retired company director of Morehampton Road left estate, including property, valued at €3,920,451 in total.

Sunday Independent

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