Weekly Local Biography

  John Morgan

By Rebecca Lomax, Ph.D.

My friend John Morgan is a child of the ‘50s. Born in southern England into a middle class family, he was the middle child of three boys. His family was almost too comfortable, he says, but certain expectations went along with that comfort. Expectations as to his education, his vocation, and his personal choices were part of the picture. He went with the flow. It would be a long time before he began to question these societal expectations or examine other options. And then he would discover, to his amazement and delight, a whole new world opening up to him.

John’s first job was working on a chicken farm when he was home from boarding school. He was only 15 or 16, maybe even too young to work chasing chickens, but chase them he did. After he caught them, he had the uncomfortable task of holding onto the fighting birds while they were given injections of some type. It was distasteful work, but he earned spending money. Both of us wonder just what was being injected, and are grateful for the option of organic foods. And, yes, he does occasionally eat chicken today.

John’s next career path led him to the geriatric ward of a hospital, where he had the unpleasant task of cleaning up. The cleaning chemicals and sprays were not pleasant, and he remembers the smells to this day. But it was another step along the path to adulthood, and he learned from it. He didn’t choose medicine for a career, though, and the next job he had was in a supermarket. Here things get funny, and he admits he was “sacked”. Actually he was sacked for being a teenaged boy with limited experience. A huge bag of sugar that he was carrying sprung a leak and left a substantial trail of sugar on the floor. Then he took a wet mop to clean it up, and the customers’ shoes stuck to the floor as they walked through it. The vision leaves us both laughing.

John did not go to university. His father, who was with the Bank of England, suggested that instead he should join that honorable establishment for his career. So, at the age of 18, John took a position with the bank and there he stayed for 14 years. He got married; he had a daughter. He worked. Life went on. And on.

Then his marriage fell apart, and for the first time John began to question his life choices. On a holiday with friends, they asked him, “What do you want to do?” He wasn’t sure but he began to consider other options. He was broke; divorces are expensive. So he took a second job at night in a wine bar. He worked his way up to manager. He left the Bank of England behind. The owner of the wine bar opened a new restaurant, Ransome’s, and offered John the position of manager. John had the people skills, the organizational skills to manage an upscale restaurant, and his banking career had also given him the financial skills. Ransome’s became quite trendy, often hosting celebrity guests such as Jack Lemon and Twiggy. Then came the 1989 property crash, and John began to think about his future. Did he want to work for somebody else for the rest of his life? The answer was a resounding “no”.

He left Ransome’s and bought an old restaurant in Kent, named the “Wife of Bath”. He began restoring it on a shoestring. He did much of the work himself, and that would become his pattern for the next 13 years. As the restaurant became established, he added guestrooms for overnight guests. Celebrities found this restaurant also, and Catherine Zeta Jones was among them. Meanwhile, John continued to do everything, usually sleeping for only about 5 hours a night. What are the most difficult things about managing a restaurant? Managing the people, of course, but that can also be very rewarding. John says that probably the most difficult, the most stressful thing is that it’s a little like the theater. When you open the doors to customers, it’s “curtains up” and you and your entire staff are on stage.

He experienced two profound losses during this busy part of his life. His brother died at the age of 40 of a brain tumor, leaving a widow and two children. And a waitress who had been a stalwart friend and employee died after being hit by a speeding motorcycle. He was stunned. Although he is very close to his brother’s widow and children, he says those two losses so close together were overwhelming.

As John approached his 50th birthday, the idea of retirement took shape. Two weeks after his birthday, he sold the restaurant for a tidy sum and invested the profits in real estate. He purchased an old house in England, reserving a bedroom for his occasional visits there and renting it out. His daughter had her 21st birthday about the same time that John sold his restaurant, so he gave her – and himself – a unique gift. They went trekking in South America together for three months. It was a time to get to know each other, and to explore their individual futures. His future began to be clear. He had been a visitor to Thailand for about twelve years. He would invest in condominiums in the country and move here to manage them. And he did, I’m happy to say. He returns to England for several months of the year to manage his investments there, and then he comes back to Thailand.

There is a board game named “Snakes and Ladders” that was invented in Victorian England. It’s a game of chance rather than skill. John says that it’s like life. Sometimes the numbers are right and you go up the ladder, sometimes you don’t. John Morgan isn’t chasing chickens any more. His numbers are going right up the ladder. Life is good.