Michael Passmore, former managing director and chairman of Alabaster Passmore & Sons, has passed away.
Born on 18 September 1928, Passmore died on Saturday (13 October) after a short illness at the age of 90.
After a short stint in the Royal Navy, in 1948 he joined the family printing business, which was founded by his great grandfather in 1844. He initially trained as a letterpress compositor at the Maidstone College of Art before going into sales and estimating.
In the late 1950s Passmore had an exchange with a Swedish litho printer. Here he saw the benefits of this new method of production over traditional letterpress and on his return he became known to his colleagues as ‘Mr Litho’.
In 1963, he became managing director of Alabaster Passmore & Sons’ printing factory at Tovil near Maidstone. The business employed more than 300 staff, printing mail order catalogues, annual reports and house magazines all utilising the letterpress process.
In the late 1960s he oversaw the installation of four sheetfed litho presses and two-colour quad Roland presses.
Production was shared between both litho and letterpress in the early 1970s, as letterpress still outperformed litho at the time for the crispness of mono text. The company later decided used a two-unit Albert heatset web offset press to print mono text by litho.
With a number of the older managers retiring, Passmore slowly created a younger team of managers who transformed the company into a major heatset web offset magazine printer during the 1970s and 1980s.
The plant grew quickly during the 1970s and a number of new web offset presses were installed, the bindery was constantly being expanded and the business also moved into mailing.
Passmore was keen to work closely with major publishers to share the benefits of the new processes and established trusting relationships with many of them. This helped the factory through times when production schedules were being disrupted either by trade union chapels or by the occasional machine breakdown.
The site at Tovil became increasingly inefficient with presses and binding equipment being placed where there was space, rather than maintaining a good workflow. To ease this congestion the business acquired Ambassador Press, in Radlett, Hertfordshire, in 1982.
This further strengthened the position of what became Passmore International as one of the country’s biggest magazine printers; as such it was granted The Queens Award for Export Achievement.
Passmore’s son Chris Passmore said: “I think my father was considered a real gentleman. His underlying approach was to be as honest and truthful to his customers and staff as he could so that when things did go wrong, as inevitably they do in printing, he didn’t have to pull the wool over people’s eyes.
“That’s why he was keen to have a very positive relationship with certainly his key publishers, because we might think that introducing new technology is tough today but it wasn’t any easier in the past.”
During his 65 years in the printing industry, Passmore participated actively in most of the trade organisations.
He retired in 1990 and, with several printing colleagues who had also trained on letterpress, he set up a small composing and letterpress operation in his garage in Barming, which became known as the Monday Club.
This ran for 25 years producing letterheads, an annual Christmas card and a wide range of other attractive items.
“He was also a very keen sailor – he had a yacht that he sailed effectively from the end of the Second World War through until about 2015. And he was quite actively involved in voluntary work in the church and youth work,” said Chris Passmore.
Passmore is survived by his wife Anne, his three children Chris, Stephen and Stella, who all worked with him at Alabaster Passmore and Sons, eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
The Passmore family said anyone he worked with in the printing industry is welcome at his funeral, which will be held at St Margaret’s Church, Barming at 1.30pm on Wednesday 7 November and afterwards back at Scraces, his family home since 1963. Family flowers only but donations can be made to St Andrew’s Club, Westminster, a youth club that Passmore was involved with.
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