The death of a philanthropist and businessman was described as a “sad day” for Sussex.

Derek Hunnisett, the former chairman of the Hanningtons department store in Brighton, died after a short illness on Monday aged 79.

Mr Hunnisett, who lived near Lewes, was a deputy Lord Lieutenant for East Sussex and awarded an OBE in 2007 for his services to charity.

He was involved with Sussex charities for more than 40 years, including The Argus Appeal and the Martlets Hospice in Hove.

He was given the Contribution to Sussex award at The Argus Achievement awards in 2007 and was a director of the hospice for several years.

Mr Hunnisett was also a member of the development council of the University of Sussex and a supporter of the Brighton and Sussex Medical School.

Mr Hunnisett started his career as a barrister and became involved in buying property in London with his father.

In the Sixties he diversified into retailing and when the famous Hanningtons store in Brighton hit financial trouble he stepped in.

The store traded successfully until 2001 He was a lover of astronomy, a black belt in judo, a racehorse owner and a steward at Brighton Racecourse for more than 20 years.

In a statement, Mr Hunnisett’s family said: “We are absolutely devastated to have lost a loving husband and devoted father. We shall miss him desperately.

“He was also a much-respected philanthropist and supportive of local issues and local people.”

Martlets Hospice chairman Roger French said: “We owe him a huge debt of gratitude over the years. He will be very much missed.

“He was a very unassuming man who did a huge amount behind the scenes.”

Mr Hunnisett was a regular customer at Donatello’s restaurant in Brighton, for more than 20 years, often visiting several times a week.

Owner Sue Addis said: “He was a lovely man and always a pleasure to serve.

“He had his own table in the corner of the restaurant and he will be very much missed.”

Peter Field, the Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex, said: “Derek was a great philanthropist and a terrific supporter of institutions like the University of Sussex.

He was very quiet about what he did but he supported many local charities and I was delighted when he was awarded the OBE for services to charity.”

Appeal co-ordinator Elsa Gillio said: My fondest memories of Mr. Hunnisett have to include Hanningtons and the magical Christmas grottos he created.

“This is indeed a sad day for Brighton.”

A funeral date for Mr Hunnisett, who leaves a wife and six children, has yet to be set.

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