One of Exmouth’s best known employers and community figures has died.

John Pankhurst, who was 94, grew the company that bore his family’s name into a business which, at its peak, employed nearly 300 people. He was also a member of the Rotary Club of Exmouth and District for more than 50 years.

John first joined the Pankhurst engineering company, founded by his father Victor Hayes-Pankhurst, as an apprentice, before taking over when his father retired in 1950.

Winding down the garage side of the business to concentrate on manufacturing, John led its growth as a major employer, and its move from the town centre to a site in Littleham, now Pankhurst Close, in 1969.

He was popular among his many employees, and took pride in having good relations with them, with a Journal report from 1970 quoting him as saying: “It is not about the working of management and employee, but of people and people.”

Son David said: “He tried to engage everyone and to listen to their concerns and stories as well.”

John married his wife Christine in April 1945, and they had two sons, Paul and David.

Away from his business, Lympstone resident John took a keen interest in the community, and having previously been a founding member of Exmouth Round Table, joined the Rotary Club of Exmouth and District in 1963.

He served as club president in 1968/69, and remained an active member for the rest of his life, taking a leading role in projects such as the sale of Rotary emblems, and the provision of fundraising wishing wells. He was awarded honorary membership of the club in 2015.

Rotary Club honorary secretary Malcolm Pressey said: “He was a great mentor to other Rotarians to ‘lead the way’ and follow the Rotary motto ‘service above self’. He will be fondly remembered for having a point of view that was worth hearing.”

John’s other interests included music – he was a keen organ player - and illustrating, including producing material for his company’s catalogues from scratch.

He was also known for travelling the lanes of Lympstone with his dogs, at first cycling, and in his later years in an electric buggy.

David said: “He was very generous. He had a big sense of humour and was very knowledgeable.

“He was a real character.”

John is survived by his wife and sons, six grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and his twin sister Jill.