ACB’s first question is always “How did you get here?”
I am Belgian - I was born in Uccle, but we soon spent time in Yorkshire (UK) to be closer to my mother’s family, before returning to Belgium in the mid 1950’s. After some time in boarding school and at ULB Brussels, I spent two years in Canada as a landed immigrant working as a “copy boy” on the night-shift at the Ottawa Citizen. Playing field hockey for the Outaouais Hockey Club was my recreation -- it was all very adventurous and satisfying.
When I returned to Belgium, I was drafted to serve as a Tank Leader in the 1st Lancers Battalion based in Duren, Germany. I then joined my mother’s publishing company, The Bulletin in Brussels in 1975.
Publishing became a family tradition. How did that come about?
My mother, Monique Ackroyd, was a visionary trailblazer. In 1962, she launched Belgium’s first English-language magazine The Bulletin from the basement of our home in Uccle. She wanted to give a voice to the 5,000 expats and to internationally-minded Belgians. Her vision grew - and now the expat community numbers some 200,000 people, as well as migrant workers who contribute so much to Belgian society. Who could have predicted in 1962 that Brussels would become the international center of Europe that it is today?
The Bulletin merged with Mediahuis in 2007 – and now it is digital. I retired from direct operations in 2015.
While heading a media company, you saw Brussels and the expat community grow and transform?
Yes, especially when NATO arrived in Belgium (1967) and when Britain joined the “Common Market” along with Denmark and Ireland (1973) - the international community and foreign investment grew significantly. Now, some 150 nationalities live in Belgium, and it is estimated that the foreign-born population in the Brussels area spends in excess of five billion euro annually in the local economy. I’m hoping, somehow, that the foreign-born population finds a way to have its voice heard --to more effectively impact local government policy on such matters as the environment, mobility, security, cleanliness and more. This would give the resident international community some democratic political representation, which it does not express at present.
Are you ready to run for local government office then?
ACB has partnered with you for 20 years on some exciting social initiatives?
Yes, among those events we organized jointly U.S. Election Nights which attracted several thousand people, including ministers, ambassadors and prominent business leaders. The ACB fosters understanding between local and international residents, and I’m glad to be a part of that. Hopefully, we will again see such impactful get-togethers in the not too distant future.
You are creating our 100th Anniversary centenary video for the ACB at the end of 2021. What will it feature and how can ACB members assist?
It will be a short 30-minute video highlighting our Belgo-American friendship these past 100 years - the American Club Brussels was founded in 1921 in a building on the Grand Place. We will reflect on significant historic events during those years, including highlights from various American-Belgian archives to show a shared history of goodwill, action and understanding that we can absolutely be proud of.
We also hope to all be together again in January 2022 in a spectacular setting, to celebrate this happy milestone. ACB members could email firstname.lastname@example.org to offer suggestions.
Is your family currently involved in publishing?
I am married to Claire, and we have three boys (who like numbers so work in financial services) and we have three grand-children, who keep us happily on our toes. We enjoy sports, field hockey and running.
What are your main coping skills during these Corona times?
We are fortunate to have a house at the seaside and we try to go there as often as possible. Located in the middle of a nature-heaven, we enjoy walking, cycling and seeing the endless changes in the wind-swept skies of the North Sea.
What are three things that you love about Brussels?
We are big fans of the diversity of local architecture. Belgians are individualists at heart and no one will accept for his home to be similar to that of his neighbor. We enjoy the Marolles and the old market area - and of course we can’t live without the endless variety of restaurants.
The ACB thanks John for joining with us in organizing memorable ACB events.
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