Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The bravest man I knew

GREAT sadness in our office this week following the death of Chris Neale on Sunday morning.

Chris was a popular and much respected member of our staff going back to the launch of the View From series of newspapers in 2005. A talented graphic artist, he also worked for me for a few years prior to that on a part-time basis and our friendship went back a long way.

In his younger days Chris was a dashing young man with a mop of blonde hair and a brilliant golfer to boot. Some say he could have turned professional.

We often knocked around together and there is one occasion which particularly stands out in my memory. In the 1970s I did quite a bit of compering work all over the country, the most high profile being the National Carnival Queen contest at the Lyceum Ballroom in London which was recorded by Thames TV.

We were both working for the Bridport and Lyme Regis News at the time, me as chief reporter and Chris as an advertisement rep.

Having sussed out that we would be rubbing shoulders with a bevvy of beautiful young girls, Chris accompanied me to the Lyceum as my “agent” and was allowed access to the Green Room where all the contestants and judges gathered before the contest. Music was supplied by Showaddywaddy, one of the top bands at the time, and the chairman of judges was TV personality Shaw Taylor.

Chris looked quite dashing in a dark green velvet dinner jacket and attracted far more attention from the young girls than I did, especially when we went onto Stringfellows nightclub afterwards to dance the night away. I should add that this was before either of us were married.

We drove back to Bridport early the next morning feeling a bit delicate to say the least. Chris went back to his advertising desk and I had to cover a West Dorset planning meeting at Dorchester in the afternoon. What a contrast!

In the years that passed we often spoke - over a glass or two - about our one night in the fast lane.

We went our separate ways in the intervening years but our friendship was renewed when I became chairman of Lyme Regis Football Club in 1995 and Chris and his wife Patsy were running the bar operation at the Davey Fort clubhouse. 

By this time Chris was in remission from that most invasive of diseases, leukaemia, which he bore with huge fortitude and stoicism.

He finally kicked it when he received a bonemarrow implant from his sister Rosemary but his immune system was shot by all the treatment and he was plagued by many other complaints over the years which required frequent visits to hospital. 

These were our halcyon days at the football club and Chris was an ever-present face at the many memorable social events we organised, including an unforgettable all-night stint behind the bar to celebrate the millennium.

Chris was also one of those men who could turn his hand to anything. Whenever there was a problem at work with the heating or some such, we would call for Chris. He could always fix it.

He was very handy around the home as well, although a bit accident probe, often falling off a ladder, but he always shrugged off his cuts and bruises.

Chris became the View from’s first graphic artist and was hugely loyal and industrious. Despite being in pain for much of the time, he invariably made it into work.  If he didn’t, we knew it was bad and he would probably be in hospital.

Chris’ health had been very poor in recent times but he was given a new lease of life by seeing the growing up of his beloved children, Jo, Shelley and Adam, of whom he was inordinately and rightly proud,  and the arrival of three beautiful grandchildren on whom he doted. I am sure their presence extended his life by a few years.

He died suddenly but peacefully at home on Sunday morning, finally released from years of pain and anguish. 

Simply, Chris was one of the nicest men I have ever met - and certainly the bravest man I knew.

Only one name in the frame

ONLY one nomination so there will be no by-election to fill the vacancy on Lyme Regis Town Council, caused by the death of Barabra Austin MBE.

So Jill Newton, former Woodroffe School pupil, marketing expert and partner of rock PR man Geoff Baker, will be co-opted without having to fight an election. At least it will save the council a bob or two.

Many in town were surprised that Jill was the only candidate, thinking that the group of new councillors would have persuaded someone to join their voting cartel.  I know a number were approached.

I have to declare an interest here because Jill does some part-time work for the View and I proposed her nomination.

I think she will make an excellent councillor and as it states on her blog she approaches the job without allegiance to any group - old or new. She will make up her mind which way to vote after listening to reasoned debate - that’s how it should be.

Jill’s marketing experience will also be very valuable to a council whose PR has left much to be desired on occasions.

The current council has another two years before there is another election, when it is rumoured that at least a couple of members will not seek re-election,  so Jill will have plenty of time to cut her teeth and get used to the intricacies and frustrations of local government.

Before then, of course, we have the county council elections this coming May with two declared candidates so far - town and district councillor Daryl Turner, a Tory,  and former district councillor and retired trader Pat Hicks, a Liberal Democrat.

I AM tone deaf and devoid of all musical talent - but that won’t stop me being part of the biggest band ever to appear in this country when Guitars On the Beach is staged in Lyme Regis in September. 

Organiser Geoff Baker just won’t take no for an answer so I’m in the market for an accoustic guitar, or at least a ukelelee, so that I can learn the three chords of the great Buddy Holly number “Rave On” and be part of the most unique event to be held in the town for many a year.

As you will see on another page in this issue, he has even recruited chef Mark Hix to strum along.

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