Simon Offen, who has died aged 60, was a member of a select group that attained a sporting blue from both Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

He retained a strong link to both the City and University of Oxford throughout a varied and successful career in teaching, management, fundraising and business, which he combined with a love of gastronomy.

He was schooled first at New College Prep School and then at St Edwards School, Oxford, where he was marked out as a gifted all-rounder on and off the sports fields. 

His confidence and potential was spotted by Cambridge who offered him an unconditional place to read History at Selwyn College.

Simon, a talented goalkeeper, was man of the match in the Varsity Hockey match in 1985.

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Facing a stronger Oxford team, he saved so many shots on goal that the Daily Telegraph reporter described the match as “the greatest act of daylight robbery ever seen on a hockey pitch”.

He got his degree but he made more of a mark at Cambridge cooking lunches for his friends, and eventually the College Fellows as word spread.

His reputation as a bon viveur was not diminished when his car crashed onto a bowling green, and he expressed more concern for a salmon in the boot than for the car’s bodywork.

His interest in cooking had been nurtured by a French road trip to famous restaurants with his godfather, and then a stint in Raymond Blanc’s kitchen in the original Quats’ Saisons in Summertown.

After Cambridge he returned to Le Manoir aux Quats’ Saisons to hone his skills.

Oxford Mail:

Raymond Blanc still regards him as one of the two most talented chefs he taught and has a deep regret that instead of a career as a chef, Simon was accepted by Christ Church College, Oxford to gain a teaching degree. Inevitably a second hockey blue followed, and in 1987 he accepted a job teaching history at Bryanston School in Dorset.

His six years at Bryanston saw him rise to become Head of History and Master in Charge of hockey. Colleagues remember a tireless orchestrator of events around the school and on foreign tours.

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He instigated a very popular gastronomy course and cooked banquets for delighted friends, pupils and staff. One friend asked if they could take a bath in his private rooms, only to find it full of live crayfish. He proved an inspirational school master, as opposed to just a teacher, and showed exceptional dedication in everything he took on.

Simon left Bryanston in 1993 to set up an artisan food company. Stroff’s Sausages was based in Oxford’s Covered Market selling handmade free-range products.

Following a successful launch, the company expanded into Cheltenham and Reading, but then ran into the BSE crisis of 1996. When an exit was offered by a butcher willing to buy the machinery, it was accepted.

Simon then gained management experience at Waddesdon Manor near Aylesbury. His work ethic and attention to detail, married with his knowledge of catering, saw him appointed Assistant Chief Executive in charge of three restaurants and the Five Arrows Hotel. However, the Christ Church college development office had been targeting him for a number of years, and eventually persuaded him to join their team in 2009.

Simon’s organisation skills and panache saw him become Christ Church’s major breadwinner, raising funds to enable the restoration of the boat house, and the setting up of educational scholarships.

He embraced the bonhomie of Oxford College life, indeed he was perhaps made for it.

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“Simon truly loved the House, and the alumni loved him”, noted one of his bosses at Christ Church.

Somehow he also found time to work for the University Sports Club, Vincent’s, in the High Street, where he eventually became Bursar, and helped secure the club’s financial future. He organised a particularly successful series of events in North America to raise funds and promote Vincent’s sports scholarships.

Simon was a long-time partner of Kathryn, who pre-deceased him in 2017. She brought two children from a previous marriage whom Simon adored. They made beautiful homes in Oxford, and then at Carrick House near Bicester. Carrick became a mecca for myriad neighbours and friends across the globe. There was always good food, laughter, and startlingly small amounts of tonic in the gin. His sense of humour has been variously described from “mischievous” to “outrageous”, depending on sensibilities, and it was a central part of his warm character and his popularity.

Diagnosed late with cancer, Simon made no complaint, and instead set himself major targets over his last year, both at work and with his family, before he made his farewells.

All of those goals he achieved with characteristic bravery and typical good humour. He died on February 4.

There will be a Service of Thanksgiving for Simon’s life to be held at Christ Church Cathedral on May 20 at 2.30pm.

Obituary by Philip Blanchard

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This story was written by Andy Ffrench, he joined the team more than 20 years ago and now covers community news across Oxfordshire.

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