Growing up, we’re supposed to think our parents aren’t cool. With my father, Ron Stewart, Stew to his friends, who has died aged 80, this was impossible. He once returned home from a trip, casually mentioning he had just bought an entire country’s rug production. The country was Nepal, the rugs were made from nettles, and no one had brought them to Europe before. This was entirely normal for Stew, a quietly extraordinary man.
Stew started out with rugs and textiles that he sold first wholesale and then at Liberty in London, where he worked from 1989 until 2000, running the carpet department. In time “the shop” created the oriental department for Stew to sell items from around the world. Japanese pottery, Indonesian furniture, fetish masks from West Africa – he learned about them, sought them out, and sold them all in the shop.
Along the way his buying found him in Kabul in 1979 as the Russians invaded, or eating eyeball stew with the Bedu somewhere in the High Atlas. Nothing fazed him (apart from any technology invented after 1920), and neither did his lifelong diabetes, an illness he largely ignored despite it at times landing him in hot water – like having to be flown by helicopter to hospital from a train on the Ukrainian steppe, at night, in winter. Just another work trip, he said when he made it home.
Stew was born in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, to Jane, a hospital librarian, and Ian Stewart, an RAF pilot turned sewing machine salesman. He went to Tottenham grammar school and then the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies of London University (which is now part of UCL).
With a degree in Russian and “getting by” in seven other languages, Farsi and Arabic included, Stew was largely self-taught, and was still studying philosophy and French when he died. He was also highly creative. When he was not reading about the Abbasid Caliphate or the art of revolutionary China, he would be at his loom weaving carpets, hangings and, for the last few years of his life, a series of paintings in wool - landscapes, drawn from his imagination - that hang on the walls of many friends.
A polyglot but not a polymath, my father was not concerned with how things worked, but rather why things were. He loved cities and was happiest sitting in a hide birdwatching. He immersed himself in history and was a staunch modernist. He was leftwing and bought and sold luxury. He was fiercely clever and watched Bergerac on repeat. He was a committed atheist deeply moved by Orthodox liturgy.
And amid all the contradictions, complexity and often downright stubbornness, he was a loyal and caring father to his three children.
He is survived by his wife, Bev (nee Harries), whom he married in 1969, and their children – Rachel, Ruth (known as Hooch) and me – and six grandchildren.