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John Peter Clay

26 June 1934 – 24 June 2013

John Clay was born in Paterson, New Jersey – a fact of which he was very proud. While this was mere happenstance – his parents had planned to settle in the US, but subsequently returned to London – it had the fortunate outcome of giving him dual British / US nationality, which was an invaluable asset in his later career.

In 1947, John won a scholarship to St Paul’s School for Boys, London, part of a stellar cohort that included: Jonathan Miller, Edwin Pomeroy, Oliver Sacks and Michael Simmons. A high-flying classicist from the start, he was given every support and encouragement, winning an exhibition to read Greats at Balliol College, Oxford, at the age of sixteen. He turned this down, aspiring to a scholarship, but when he reapplied a year later, Balliol would not consider his application. The Queen’s College, Oxford offered the scholarship, and reaped his undying loyalty and, in later years, considerable generosity.

Before going up to Queen’s, John enlisted in the Royal Air Force for his National Service. While this was an obligation, it was also a pleasure, and an opportunity to indulge his love of speed and beautiful machinery. Seconded to the Royal Canadian Air Force, he won his wings as a navigator, specialising in Arctic navigation at the time of the Distant Early Warning (DEW Line) patrols.

Once at Queen’s, John decided that he had gone as far as he wished with Classics, and toyed with a transfer to the Mathematics school. However Oriental Languages piqued his interest, and he applied his intellect and his prodigious capacity for concentration to learning Sanskrit, Old Persian and Avestan (the language of the Zoroastrian holy Scriptures). He achieved a First with two years’ study – while at the same time continuing to fly with the University Air Squadron, becoming a leading light of the Motor Club and making lifelong friends.

On leaving Oxford, John joined Vickers da Costa, a firm of stockbrokers based near Pudding Lane in the City. He claimed that, at his interview, the senior partner remarked, “I never know what to ask on these occasions. But I see you were a classicist – if you can translate the inscription on the Monument, you can have the job.” He spent 25 years at Vickers, becoming deputy chairman to Ralph Vickers, and being instrumental in introducing international investors to the Japanese equity market. He also valued his time as an elected member of the Stock Exchange Council.

By the early eighties, with deregulation of the City on the horizon, John was itching to run his own show. He left Vickers and returned to the land of his birth, founding the investment management company Clay Finlay in New York in 1982, with business partner and longterm friend Francis Finlay. As with any fledgling business, the early years demanded extraordinary feats of work, travel and commitment, but success followed, and Clay Finlay eventually had more than $6bn under management.

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St.Paul’s School for Boys, London

Royal Canadian Air Force

The Queen’s College, Oxford

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By 2002 several of the partners wanted to realise their investment, and the firm was sold to Old Mutual. John was regretful, but realistic, and enjoyed some years as Chairman Emeritus, with a seat on the Old Mutual board. However, semi-retirement allowed him to exercise several of his longstanding interests: medical research programmes; philanthropy, of which St. Paul’s and Queen’s were substantial beneficiaries; and Sanskrit. He founded the Clay Sanskrit Library (, dedicated to making the key Sanskrit texts available in English. The beautifully produced volumes,in their distinctive turquoise jackets, echoed the format of the Loeb Classics series, with the English translation facing the original, but transliterated, text. John believed that these Sanskrit works were as culturally important as the great Greek and Latin texts, and deserved a wider readership among the Indian diaspora and in the West. 56 volumes, each freshly translated to the highest standards of scholarship, are now available, and an anthology is being developed by The Bodleian Library, Oxford University. This unique collection will prove a lasting legacy.

John’s achievements are made more remarkable by the fact that he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at the age of 28. His response was largely to ignore his illness, and indeed he played squash, rackets and real tennis into his fifies, as well as driving a series of low-slung sports cars and maintaining a punishing work schedule. A passionate Francophile, he loved good food and, particularly, wine, and was a most generous and amusing host.


His last years were marked by increasing infirmity, but he continued to travel widely, attend functions and entertain family members, friends and colleagues, Old Paulines (OPs), Queen’s alumni (he was proud to be appointed an Honorary Fellow of the College) and business associates from around the world.

John’s first marriage produced three treasured daughters, Teresa (who became a Paulina), Lalage, and Xanthe. His second marriage, to Jennifer Coutts, lasted 41 years to his death, and was a loving and successful partnership which brought him great happiness.

Lalage Clay, daughter

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Vickers da Costa

New York Mets

Clay Finlay Inc.

In Loving Memory