Obituary: Car salesman to Nikita Khrushchev was ‘funny to the end’

David Maier

David Maier - Credit: Archant

My father was an engineer by trade, but his long and varied life as a literary scholar, violinist and car salesman to Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev took him all over the world.

David Ludwig Maier was born on December 19, 1921 in Freiburg im Breisgau.

When Nazi anti-Semitic legislation reached schools, 15-year-old David was sent to England in 1937.

He scraped together the money to buy his father out of Dachau concentration camp in 1938 and found him a teaching job in a grammar school near Harrogate, without which his parents would not have been granted a UK visa.

His parents moved to Leeds and it was there that David met his first wife, Laura Rosenbaum.

David, Laura and their son Simon moved to London in 1952 where David worked for David Brown Engineering as a designer and draftsman.

When the couple divorced in 1954, David became a marketing manager for the Standard Triumph Motor Company in Coventry.

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Shortly afterwards, he married Margit Woolf and Michael was a new addition to the family in 1957.

David’s job regularly took him abroad, increasingly behind the Iron Curtain through his fluency in east European languages.

On a trip to a trade fair in 1962, he sold a Triumph TR2A to the Soviet Union’s First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev, although apparently Mrs Khrushchev argued with her husband over the colour.

In 1965 they moved to Leicester when David became CEO of Newage Engineering and in 1976 he became a lifetime fellow of the Royal Institute of Mechanical Engineers.

He got a law degree through home study in 1977, and from 1978-81 served as director general of charity Young Enterprise, which forges links between schools and industries, working closely with the founder, Sir Walter Salomon.

The organisation grew exponentially under David’s zeal, vision and management.

A highlight was a No 10 Downing Street dinner where the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, welcomed him as “Sir David”, although he been correctly introduced as plain David Maier.

He was tickled pink even though he pretended not to care that it didn’t become a reality.

Margit, died in 1981 after three years of illness but a year later he met Estelle Angel and moved to Kidderpore Avenue in Hampstead.

They joined Belsize Square Synagogue and married there in 1983. They took part in synagogue life with verve, vigour and relish, including David’s editing of the Our Congregation newsletter from 1986.

In 1994 he was invited back to Freiburg to be presented with the keys to his native city.

David was defiant, acerbic, pithy and funny to the end, but with it went compassion and a deep understanding of the human heart. He was kind and fair, righteous but never pompous. As so many of his family, friends and acquaintances have said, “I was proud to have known this man”.

He died on June 7, aged 91.