Final farewell to an Alnwick hero

Eric Hately, left, with  his close friend John Hopper.
Eric Hately, left, with his close friend John Hopper.

Hundreds of mourners gathered in Alnwick this morning to bid a final farewell to one of the town’s heroes.

A funeral service was held at St James’s Church, Alnwick, to celebrate the life of Eric Hately, who died on Friday, February 6, aged 70.

He was a highly-respected and well-known figure in the community and has been described as one of Alnwick Town’s greatest full-backs. He helped set up the Junior section of the club in 1988 and went to become its president.

Former electrician Eric was vice-chairman of both the Alnwick Christmas Lights and Alnwick Shrovetide Football committees. A minute’s silence was held at yesterday’s traditional Shrovetide match and at Alnwick Town’s game against Norton and Stockton Ancients on Saturday.

The church was packed for today’s service, which was conducted by the Rev Joan Grindrod-Helmn and relayed to another 250 mourners in an overflow hall.

Gordon Castle, a friend and chairman of the Alnwick Christmas Lights Committee, and Cyril Cox, secretary of Alnwick Town, gave addresses, which are published below.

Donations were made to the Aplastic Anaemia Trust after the service.

ERIC HATELY – IN MEMORY, by Gordon Castle

“Eric was born in Embleton in 1944. His early life was spent on the Park Farm in Alnwick and he attended mostly the same Alnwick schools as did I and all his generation, beginning at the Borough School, the National school and finally, Alnwick Secondary Modern School, where I first encountered him.

“I say encountered rather than knew, because Eric was three years above me and one of the great figures of a fine school, where small new arrivals looked on with awe and veneration at Eric, John Hopper and John Pentleton, close friends who seemed to be given special dispensation to wear nothing but football kit all day, because I cannot recall him or them in those days wearing anything else. Eric was never a troublesome boy: his conduct was exemplary and good mannered – any trouble he got into was invariably linked to kicking a ball around, or anything that could look like one, anytime and anywhere. I am therefore very pleased that Cyril Cox was able to do this side of Eric’s life such wonderful justice, because Eric was a sportsman by nature, a footballer by choice, and a golfer only when his knees had cried enough. He was well aware of my total lack of connection to football in any shape or form, and it is a sign of his underlying strength and accessibility that he could become friends with someone like me who once had to ask him who Alan Shearer was – I have never forgotten his expression! I have never forgotten either that it was he who many years ago in a local pub, where I was clearly looking disconnected, introduced for my benefit a rule in our group conversations that football talk was permitted only for a maximum of 10 minutes. In his presence, I was able to invoke this wonderful rule many times.

“Eric became a close friend as we got to know each other better after I joined Alnwick Christmas Lights Committee about 18 years ago. He was then a NEEB electrician and obviously a key member of this great group of local people who still carry on a year round operation culminating in Alnwick’s renowned display over Christmas. It was very soon clear that Eric’s sterling qualities were a major reason for the success of the team. Like him, they were and remain mainly working people with practical skills that they would normally expect to be paid for to live, but they were prepared to forgo any thought of reward save the pleasure it gave the town and the satisfaction and fun that came with the task, in all its complexity. This later included both his wife Jayne as our secretary and his daughter in law Amy, who has reminded some of us how we used to scale ladders. This outstanding team of skilled and practical guys needs some organisation, with public safety coming first, but the style of leadership and intervention must be carefully matched to the knowledge that everyone is a volunteer who has not signed up for the military. Eric, as vice chairman, knew everyone well, had established an unmatched rapport with each of them, and was respected and liked in equal measure by all. If difficulties arose, Eric was the man who could invariably be relied upon to find a way forward and to do things himself whenever possible. He was tolerant, laid back and good humored, treating others the way he liked to be dealt with himself. He could also sense trouble, and I knew that a call from Eric suggesting that something needed to be done was not him letting off steam but him letting me know that something did indeed need to be done. There was equally nothing more confidence inspiring than a couple of words from Eric like, ‘it’s OK’, or ‘don’t worry, it’s sorted’, because this meant that it was OK and was sorted.

“Eric was also vice-chairman of the Shrove Tuesday Football committee, surely Alnwick’s oldest institution, and with Tom Pickard as chairman one could hardly look for more appropriate people in charge. Eric knew how to enjoy himself and he encouraged others to have fun with him, never overstepping the mark or approving much of those who did. His overworked knees, victims of five a side football played later in life than was wise, eventually brought his activity down to the pace of a golfer, a sport he enjoyed, excelled in and which culminated in his well merited captaincy of Alnmouth Village Golf Club, fully represented here today by many grieving members. Eric bore months of suffering, uncertainty and anxiety without complaint but always with dignity and forbearance.

“We are here to remember, mourn but also celebrate the life of an outstanding citizen of this town and locality, who lived here all of his life. His two fine sons, Peter and Robin by Marge, enjoyed the kind of friendly sociable relationship with him to the end that all fathers must surely seek with their sons. I can see his and her personal qualities in them both, and am consoled to reflect that I have acquired over the years a close friendship with Peter, whose rock steady temperament has been of untold value to Eric’s grieving wife Jayne, as it has been to others deeply affected. Jayne is now put to one of life’s most disagreeable tests far earlier than she or anyone expected and we must all join her and Eric’s relatives and friends in recognition of their tragic loss, which has made everyone who knew him downcast and saddened.

“I conclude by assuring all who want his memory perpetuated that Eric will indeed be remembered with affection by his town, never forgotten by his friends, and ever loved by his family. May he rest in peace.”

ERIC HATELY, by Cyril Cox, secretary of Alnwick Football Club

“I have known Eric through football since 1967 when I came out of the Army. To describe Eric would be difficult as he had many great attributes which on the football front could be crystallised as always approaching football as a team game with a happy approach.

“Eric was part of a top class side which was made up of three components, one third from Alnwick, one third from Belford and the final third from Dunston. Yet they all melded into an efficient and skilful team. Eric’s contribution was both positive on and off the field and even if he was upset he seemed to convey it in a friendly way (more or less!). The district had some excellent footballers and I was privileged to have known them and Eric.

“When Eric had a family, he put his organisational skills into setting up the Juniors which he continued with for many years, watching his boys grow and imparting some of his skills to them.

“He was never one to sustain many injuries (like most of his compatriots), and never staying down for long once he caught sight of Clive Burn running onto the pitch with half the innards of a football filled with icy cold water and something called ‘the magic sponge’. Alnwick, at this time, was a very sophisticated club with state-of-the-art treatment equipment. The ‘magic sponge’ was so-called as a player, who was lying seemingly semi-conscious on the pitch, would suddenly spring into life once it was applied to the body.

“Eric, to my knowledge, was never booked or cautioned on the pitch such was his self-control and skill. Eric you were a good ’un and an exceptional person, and I feel privileged to have known you.

I will just finish with this poem:

Do not stand at my grave and weep

I am not there, I do not sleep

I am the thousand winds that blow

I am diamond glints on snow

I am the sunlight on ripened grain

I am the gentle autumn rain

When you awaken in the morning hush

I am the soft uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight

I am the soft stars that shine in the night

Do not stand at my grave and cry

I am not there, I did not die

I live on in your memories