Wednesday, June 9, 2010
I'm in the UK with my sister to bury my father, who passed away last weekend.
Here's the obituary we wrote for the local paper.
Mr. Gordon Womersley, Chocolatier of Sheffield, passed away on Sunday in hospital in Rhondha Cynon Taff, South Wales, where he had retired in 1997. Gordon lived an eventful and unusual life that reflected the changing face of Sheffield over many decades, but also the native creativity of this industrial city.
Born August 16th, 1936, Gordon was the son of William Womersley, haberdasher of Sheffield, a Sheffield personality in his own right, a leading member of the radical 1930s Clarion Rambler’s club and one of the original Kinder Trespassers. Gordon was one of a strong family of three brothers and one sister. Growing up in wartime Sheffield, their family home on Carterknowle Road was badly damaged by German bombs, and the children were at one point evacuated to countryside relatives. Father William served in industrial work in Iraq during the war and was absent for several years. The three brothers were choirboys together at St. Johns, Ranmoor during the 1940s. William returned from the war to continue in local activism and was instrumental in building the council estate in Dronfield, where the family moved during the 1950s.
After National Service in the Royal Signals Regiment, Gordon married Jean Watson of Fullwood. The Watsons, another well-known Sheffield family, occupied the last of the Ivy Cottages at Forge Dam for over a hundred years until the late 1990s. Gordon and Jean had two children together and celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary in 2009.
In the early 1960s, Gordon went into the sweets and tobacco business, working first for Palmer and Harvey wholesaling company. In his spare time he contributed energy to the Sheffield Model Railway Enthusiasts club, and for many years helped organize their popular annual exhibitions at the Cutler’s Hall and other venues. His excellent scale model of Sheffield Midland Station was a permanent feature of the exhibitions during the 1960s. Later in life he would organize other local and regional events, including an important summer jazz festival at Chatsworth in the early 1990s.
In 1973 Gordon and has wife Jean became the well-known proprietors of The Chocolate Soldier, a confectioners, sweets and tobacco shop in Broomhill. Facing competition from larger businesses for boxed chocolate collections, Gordon had the idea of making his own luxury brand. Visiting Switzerland and other centers of chocolate manufacture and experimenting in the kitchen of the family home on Sandygate Road, he taught himself the production side of the business and opened a small factory in the back of the shop. Gordon and Jean ran the business in the Broomhill shop with other family members during the 1970s and 1980s. A particular event of note at The Chocolate Soldier was the annual “Guess the Weight” competition, where customers would guess the weight of a giant chocolate Easter egg, proceeds in excess of several hundred pounds each year going to the Children’s Hospital. Queues for chocolates were often long at Christmas and Easter, and for many Sheffield families the delicious handmade chocolates and Easter Eggs were an important feature of seasonal festivities over the years.
During the 1980s, working with Gordon’s brother Stanley and his wife Rita, they opened Personally Yours chocolates in Ridgeway Craft Center, Ridgeway village, where the business still flourishes today. Gordon’s modeling skills were put to good use carving intricate detailed moulds for chocolate novelties. The business was successful and supported both families into retirement. Personalized moulded chocolates were sold to hotels, pubs, catering services and the like. Gordon was especially proud of an account with Highgrove House, the London residence of the Prince of Wales.
Many Star readers will remember one or the other business, both of which were featured in this newspaper several times.
Gordon is survived by brother Stanley and sister Barbara, both still residents of South Yorkshire, his loving wife Mary Jean, living in South Wales, and children Michael and Carol Ann.
Services will be held at Coychurch Crematorium, Coychurch, Bridgend, South Wales, 2.15 pm, June 10, 2010. The family asks that no flowers be sent. Donations may be made instead to the UK Parkinsons Disease Society or the Salvation Army.