Mayor pays warm tribute to husband

Bill’s work in the community extended beyond the shop counter.

THE Mayor of Barnstaple has paid tribute to her husband, who died suddenly at home, aged 59.

William Brown, affectionately known as Bill, suffered a heart attack in the early hours of Saturday, May 19 just days after the couple had celebrated Lesley’s happy appointment as mayor.

He had not been unwell and his death has come as a huge shock to family, friends and the wider Barnstaple community.

Bill, a former BT telecommunications engineer with no retail experience, moved to North Devon with Lesley, 55, to run Frankmarsh Stores in 2000.

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Lesley said: “It was a steep learning curve for Bill. I remember the times he used to mess up the till but he was a positive person and soon adjusted.

“He could talk the hind legs off a donkey and he found his feet in the end chatting away with everybody.

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“All of a sudden Bill found himself having to deal with lots of children and that was something quite new to him but something he came to enjoy.

“Some he had served since they were little have now left school and grown up. There have been quite a few come into the shop quite distressed this week.

“Bill used to be out and about in all weather, delivering groceries and mostly newspapers to older people. I remember one elderly lady joked that if she had any jobs she’d try and save them up until Friday so Bill could help when he came round.”

Bill used to enjoy walking the dog and liked going to the curry and race nights at the liberal club. Many of his customers became good friends over the years and he would often take many along with him to join in the fun.

Married in the Silver Jubilee year, 1977, the couple met in Corby a year earlier. They had a son, Kevin, 34, and eventually moved to Barnstaple after looking all over the South West for a suitable business.

“We had family in the town and heard about the shop,” said Lesley.

“The area had some similarities to Corby and shared some of its social problems but we thought if we couldn’t make a go of it here we shouldn’t be doing it at all.

“The shop was pretty run down when we first came but Bill was never afraid to get his tools out and do some improvements on the place.

“He built up a friendship with other retailers and suppliers in the area. The shop now takes four times the amount it did when we first moved here.”

Under Bill and Lesley the business soon developed a community focus and the very community the shop has helped fortify over the years is now rallying to support Lesley in her grief.

“People have been fantastic; we’ve had all sorts of offers of help. The kitchen table is full of flowers,” said Lesley.

“I think Bill would have been really surprised – quite overwhelmed by it all. He always thought of himself as just Bill in the shop.”

Lesley said it was her husband’s support that gave her the courage to stand as mayor.

She said: “When I was first approached to be mayor I initially decided I didn’t have time to do it but Bill encouraged me. He said ‘you’re already doing half the job. You can do it’.

“He was not really political and it’s not something he would have ever wanted to do himself but he was chuffed to bits for me.”

Deputy mayor Val Elkins has stepped in to cover mayoral duties for the next couple of weeks but Lesley has vowed to carry on as the town’s mayor.

“I know it’s what Bill would have wanted – he was so pleased for me. He really enjoyed the mayor making ceremony and even bought a tie to match the colour of my dress.”

A service is being held at 11.30am on Wednesday, June 6 at Barnstaple Parish Church. It will be followed by a family service at the crematorium and a celebration of Bill’s life at the British Legion in St Georges Road.

Bill and Lesley had already selected the Devon Air Ambulance Trust as their mayoral charity for the year and Lesley has asked for donations to the charity instead of flowers.

Well wishers can make donations through WS Gayton on 01271 342196.

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