Leave your tributes to the man who linked Norwichs and Norfolks across the world

The man who came up with the idea for forming a global network of communities with Norfolk and Norwich connections has died aged 85.

Derek Bickford-Smith founded the Norfolk and Norwich World Family, which forged links with an estimated three million people around the world and almost 60 communities.

The Lord Mayor of Norwich Ralph Gayton, who will be attending his funeral, has led the tributes, and said: 'Derek will be sadly missed. His passion for the Norfolk & Norwich World Family was addictive. Former Lord Mayors have welcomed visitors from cities and towns of our namesake from around the world, also celebrating with one gathering in the Lord Mayor's Procession in 2005. Derek made wonderful friendships across the world and we mourn his passing.'

Mr Bickford-Smith was inspired to link communities named Norfolk and Norwich after working at the Guildhall as assistant curator of the city regalia in 1991 alongside Stanley Taylor.

When he noticed that visitors from 10 places had addresses with either Norfolk or Norwich, he was promoted to start a major research project.

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'I ended up with a large-scale map of the world. I wrote to all the Norwichs and Norfolks that I could see but got very few replies. Eventually, I ended up saying: 'I'm coming.'' He even got a job as an air courier to get cheaper flights and set out on his quest.

During the next two decades, he travelled more than two and a half million miles visiting communities and addressing dozens of meetings on his globe-trotting mission.

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It led to the First Norwich & Norfolk Family Gathering in July 1996 when about 200 visitors from around the world joined the 900th anniversary celebrations of Norwich Cathedral and the Lord Mayor's street procession. Others followed in Norfolk Island in the South Pacific in 2000 and also at Norfolk County, Ontario, Canada, to mark the Family's 10th anniversary.

Born in Pernambuco, Brazil, where his father was working on the railway, he was brought up on the family's farm in Sussex. Educated at Ardingly and Steyning Grammar School, he joined the Indian Army just before Independence in 1947, before transferring to the King's Own Royal Regiment, serving in Cyprus, Palestine and North Africa.

The former Army lieutenant then studied at Shuttleworth, Bedfordshire, became a farm manager and later agricultural adviser and consultant with Unilever for almost 40 years, latterly in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, involved in the animal feed industry. He also organised many official exchange farm visits with Eastern Bloc nations including Bulgaria and Poland and also farmer visits to South Africa, Ethiopia, Israel and New Zealand.

In retirement, he was one of the city's Blue Badge Guides and had a similar role with Norwich Cathedral.

Tireless in his enthusiasm to forge ever closer links, he told the EDP in 2001 that he had travelled two and a half times around the world, often accompanied by his wife, Huguette.

When he published the Norfolk and Norwich World Family in 2004, which he described as 'the largest family of inter-related communities in the world,' he had visited 54 communities of the 58 known. He noted too that in the United States alone, there are 14 places called Norfolk and 16 called Norwich but strangely, there are no places called Norwich or Norfolk in mainland Australia.

Around the world, there are more than 2,000 place, business and family names as well as islands, villages and even mountains named either Norwich or Norfolk – including an Antarctic ice cap and a tiny island in Ullswater, in the Lake District, which is only exposed at low water.

Mr Bickford-Smith, of Chapelfield North, who died at Priscilla Bacon Lodge, was sent greetings by the Queen in 2007, who also agreed to place a plaque from the Norfolk and Norwich World Family in Buckingham Palace.

He leaves a widow, Huguette, five children and five grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at St Faith's Crematorium, near Norwich, on Thursday, October 11 at 4.15pm.

Please feel free to leave your tributes using the comments section below.

To view an interactive map whic shows just some of the locations Derek Bickford-Smith connected, see the link at the top right of this page.

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