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Paul Michael Whitaker

North B 1953-58

Michael Whitaker sadly died on 8 April 2022. Those of Michael’s contemporaries who recall their first days at The Leys may well remember him as a small lad with a tirelessly enquiring mind, forever asking questions and frequently critical of those in authority, whether it be the national government or his school-masters. His active mind stayed with him throughout life, and led him to write frequently to both local and national newspapers – without, one must admit, too much success!

After A levels, Michael joined his cousin David, North B: 1946-1951, in the family wool-merchanting firm in Bradford. After his training he was sent each summer to spend several weeks at the company’s wool processing plant in Peterborough, Ontario, resulting in a lasting love for Canada.

In the 1970s he moved to another of the family’s companies which had the franchise for part of Yorkshire for Kentucky Fried Chicken. He acquired this company from the family firm and successfully expanded it to include twenty outlets. For thirty-six years he served as secretary to the British KFC Franchisees’ Association, forming close ties with its counterpart in the USA. He disposed of the business in 2002 to an Asian company: its CEO, who was on business in Chicago, flew to the UK for an overnight stop especially to attend the funeral.

Earlier, Michael had formed a property company which specialised in the refurbishment and modernisation of old buildings and cottages in the west Yorkshire area. Then it was the turn of their own home, where he planned and installed twin mini-lakes, soon to be the haven for some thirty ducks, several rare geese and a pair of swans; in the fields around the house his small herd of handsome Highland cattle grazed.

Few of his friends knew of his extensive charity work, for in many ways he was a discreet man. For thirty years he was Chairman of the Friends of Airedale General Hospital and he was a trustee for houses provided for handicapped people in Keighley. Each Christmas his Range Rover would be piled high with parcels for the occupants of St George’s Crypt for the homeless in Leeds, and as a committed Christian he was a generous supporter of Ilkley Baptist Church.

His joy in experiencing new ventures led him to make a bucket-list of things he must do before he died. He ticked them all – they included the resurrection of a Model T Ford he rescued from Canada, sailing (he and a crew of friends crossed the Atlantic in his yacht) and flying – both a monoplane and a helicopter. The small flock of sheep grazing in the field adjoining the family house soon learned it was prudent to scatter as Michael came in to land!

Michael, Susan and their family visited Canada on many occasions, culminating in in 2006 when they acquired a beautifully situated holiday house on the shores of Clear Lake, Ontario where he was a very happy man, sailing and driving around in a huge 1977 Lincoln Continental – which was another item from his bucket list.

Despite his busy life, he always had time to play with his much loved son and daughter, and their rural home provided a special place in their childhood days. Indeed, he was always popular with young people, as witnessed by the numbers to be found among the many mourners who filled Bolton Abbey Priory church at his funeral.

He was a man of ideas and strongly held views about many topics, which he readily shared with his friends and sometimes even those who would simply listen. He was looked upon by some as being something of an eccentric – which he greatly enjoyed. He was a great character with an outsize sense of humour. Sadly, his last two years were largely spent in and out of various hospitals, tirelessly supported by his wife as he battled uncomplainingly with various medical problems. My wife was his cousin: she and I were privileged to be with him at his home only an hour or so before he died most peacefully.

After such a full life Michael Whitaker truly has little to come back for.

He leaves his wife Susan, two children and three grandchildren.

Words by John Hardy, East 1948-53