Lives remembered: Gordon Axford


My father, Gordon Frederick Axford, who died on 11 April 2012 in Lancaster Royal Infirmary after a stroke, was a quiet but very sociable man whose actions spoke eloquently of his worth. He was 84 years old, having been born in Dukinfield, Cheshire on 23 May 1927, the younger twin to his sister, Jean.

His father, Frederick, was a grocery section manager in the Co-op, but died of pneumonia when the twins were seven. His mother Martha became a shopkeeper to feed the family, latterly in Ashton under Lyne. Gordon obtained a scholarship to Hyde Grammar, where he became an RSM in the Cadet force. Thwarted at an early stage in his chosen career of medicine, he turned to banking, following National Service, which was mostly spent on Gibraltar with the Education Corps, and where he met the woman who became his wife of 61 years, a children's nanny called Barbara Deller of Harrow, Middlesex.

Dad served throughout the North-west with what became National Westminster Bank, ending with manager-ships at Hayfield and Sedbergh, where he and my mother spent nearly 30 happy years including their retirement. Gordon was old-school banking, the sort that would have stopped the economic débâcle of the past decade had those at the top not stripped out the middle managers who might have sounded the alarm that the Bank of England signally failed to do.

Dad was a keen hill walker, taking the family and other groups, including fellow bank workers, across the hills of the Peaks, Pennines and Lakes; he even did some mountain rescue work. He was a keen racket–sports player, particularly badminton; it was playing against me that led to the discovery of the glaucoma which was to fashion so much of his later life. Gordon always took on civic responsibility, often within the Methodist Church, becoming a fine public speaker and including various roles, along with Barbara, in the UK Gibraltar Club, an ex-servicemen's fellowship which in the week of his death celebrated its 70th reunion.

Contracting TB in his late 50s exacerbated the onset of blindness and Dad retired prematurely. This led, however, to a packed retirement: he took up sequence dancing, where his footwork compensated for his poor eyesight, and continued to lead walking groups around the area. Despite his blindness he retained a fantastic memory, particularly for the visual scenery which he so loved. He became prominent in the work of the South Lakes Blind Society, particularly as a very able chairman of the Sedbergh branch, supported by his sighted amanuensis Keith.

As my mother didn't share his fondness for dancing, Gordon relied upon various friends for transport and was well-known throughout Cumbria and the Western Dales. He was keen to learn new dances up to his last months, his memory again coming to the fore. They did share a love of music– classical, and in his case country and western, supporting the Halle Orchestra and enjoying local music-making especially when events were put on at Sedbergh School.

With my mother he was a vital part of the life of Sedbergh Methodist Church, fund-raising for Christian Aid in particular, as well as the RNIB; he became a keen supporter of the local Liberal Democrats, helping deliver leaflets at election times. As late as November 2011 he was writing to the Dales National Parks about the fate of their information centre, typical of his wide interest in society matters.

Gordon was a generous, well-rounded man who loved involvement with his four children and numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren. He is buried in Sedbergh Cemetery, near to many of his predeceased walking colleagues, and within sight of the top of Winder, maybe his favourite hill despite his having climbed many of the best peaks across Britain.

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