Former Tyrone businessman went from door-to-door salesman to millionaire

Former Cookstown businessman and entrepreneur, Ram Rattan Bedi, has died. He was 89.

Ram Bedi was a door to door salesman when he came to live in Northern Ireland.
Ram Bedi was a door to door salesman when he came to live in Northern Ireland.

Family friend Terry Pattinson looks at the extraordinary life of the former Slough Rotary Club president who was one of it longest-serving members.

Ram Rattan Bedi escaped with his life while still in his pyjamas during sectarian violence in The Punjab after the disastrous Partition of India in 1947.

He became a railway clerk in Bombay, now Mumbai; emigrated to Northern Ireland in 1959 and sold clothes door-to-door; became a millionaire businessman in Windsor after moving to Slough in 1976.

Ram Rattan Bedi who was the first Indian resident of Cookstown.

He sadly collapsed while enjoying the leisure facilities at the Copthorne Hotel, Chalvey, on Wednesday, November 23. Medics tried to save him but he was pronounced dead at Wexham Park Hospital.

Ram Bedi was one of the most popular residents of Farnham Common and had lived there for 35 years. He was known for his generosity, humour and dedicated charity work at home and abroad.

For decades he organised 'eye camps' in India, where hundreds of poor people were offered free cataract operations funded by the Slough Rotary Club and other benefactors.

This gift of sight for destitute people will remain his legacy, but he worked tirelessly for people in need everywhere. His classic rags-to-riches journey is a story of how a penniless teenage victim of religious strife in the Punjab region of Pakistan became a millionaire businessman in Slough.

Ram and his future wife Subi (Shubhashni) both survived the violence and atrocities that engulfed communities after the British quit India.

Ram, a Hindu, was 14 years old then and he recalled how he and his family escaped after being tipped off that a mob was on its way to burn down their house and everyone inside.

He said: "We escaped by train but it was so packed that people sat on the roof, while some passengers threw our possessions out of the train windows."

The Bedis met in Bombay, where he worked for a railway company, and later settled in Northern Ireland after he had started work as a door-to-door clothes salesman with a van.

Ram was so successful that he was able to buy a new house, of his own design, for cash after only seven years. His secret? Taking only a small amount of payment every week and offering customers more clothes after they had paid up in full.

His entrepreneurial skills and wealth enabled him to open a popular fashion house in Cookstown, where he was the first Indian resident. His store was bombed three times in 17 years by the IRA.

During his spell in Cookstown he tried to bring warring factions together and founded the Cookstown Traders Association and a branch of the peace-seeking PACE - Protestant and Catholic Encounter.

He was elected Organising Secretary of PACE and he became one of the most respected figures in Ulster.

After moving to Berkshire in 1976 he set up a factory in Windsor, making wire coat hangers. It turned out to be very profitable and Ram's coat hangers can be found worldwide.

Ram was one of four brothers. Two have passed away.

He leaves three daughters - Meena, Poonam, and Rita, and a son, Raj.

His funeral will take place at 11am at the Slough Crematorium on Wednesday, December 14.

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