Michael Falcon CBE: A High Sheriff of Norfolk and chairman of Norwich Union

Michael Falcon, High Sheriff of Norfolk, signing at Hockering House in MArch 1979, watched by John K

Michael Falcon, High Sheriff of Norfolk, signing at Hockering House in MArch 1979, watched by John Knight, left, the new under Sheriff for Norfolk, and John Howard, new Norwich Under sheriff., - Credit: Archant

One of Norfolk's most distinguished business leaders and a captain of industry, Michael Falcon, who was chairman of Norwich Union for 13 years, has died after a long illness aged 85.

He served the county of Norfolk holding a number of leading posts including as chairman of the Norwich Health Authority and as chairman of the John Innes Foundation, when he laid the planks for its dynamic growth.

Heavily involved with charitable and voluntary organisations, he also applied the same enthusiasm and vigorous determination to his sporting life as he did to his business interests.

When he became High Sheriff of Norfolk in March 1979, he followed his father and grandfather in the historic role, which dates back more than 1,000 years.

And this family connection also extended into the boardroom of Norwich Union, now Aviva. His decision to stand down in 1994 after 30 years as a director ended an 89-year association with the Falcon family and the insurer.

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For almost 30 years, he was High Steward of Great Yarmouth.

Speaking after his formal installation in February 1985 as the 31st man in more than 450 years to hold the now honorary office, he said: 'I believe I must be the first to have earned his living in the borough.'

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And he added: 'I shall probably do down in history as one of the most ordinary of commoners to hold office.'

Michael Gascoigne Falcon was born on January 28, 1928 at Havering atte Bower, Essex.

Three years later the family moved to Norfolk where he was to live and work for the rest of his life. He went to Aldeburgh Lodge and then Stowe School, Buckinghamshire.

He did National Service between 1946 and 1948 in the Grenadier Guards and was commissioned in the Royal Norfolk Regiment, serving in Germany, before studying malting and brewing at Heriot-Watt College, Edinburgh.

As a pupil, he gained experience at George Younger's Brewery, Alloa, and then with Carlberg's in Copenhagen.

In 1952, he joined Morgan's Brewery, Norwich, and in the autumn became the youngest head brewer in England at E Lacon & Co, of Great Yarmouth. Later, he became a director and joint managing director.

After the brewery was bought and then later closed by Whitbread in 1968, he left the brewing industry and became a director of Bungay-based Edgar Watts, which produced about 70,000 'clefts' for making cricket bats although he was only a 'social player.'

His father, also Michael, was one of the finest all-rounders who played cricket for 40 years for Norfolk, including 12 years as captain.

In 1963, he became a governor of the East Anglian Trustee Savings Bank and was appointed to the head office boards of Norwich Union Life and Fire Insurance Societies. He joined the eastern counties board of Lloyds Bank in 1972, and then in 1979 on the group's main board.

He also became chairman of governors of the Cambridge-based NSDO (National Seed Development Organisation).

In 1981, he told then agriculture minister Peter, now Lord, Walker, of his decision to stand down after 10 years from the government body, which marketed cereal varieties at home and abroad, produced by publicly-funded research.

He became chairman in 1976 of animal feed compounders, Ipswich-based Pauls & Whites, which was also the second largest producer of malt in Europe, as well as making a range of flavourings and hop extracts.

Later, he revived his contacts in brewing and was a director of Greene King until 1996.

Made a Norfolk magistrate in 1967, he served until 1988. When he became High Steward of Great Yarmouth, he recalled that he had first sat as a magistrate in the town's council chamber.

He held increasingly senior posts with the Order of St John of Jerusalem, including 40 years as chairman of its Norfolk property trust.

Appointed area commissioner for East Norfolk in 1961, he was chairman of the Norfolk council and county president.

He also led an appeal, which raised more than £200,000 and in 1986 was appointed Officer and Commander of the Order of St John.

In 1980, he became the first man to serve as county president and chairman of the St John Association and Ambulance Brigade.

He was made CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in the 1979 New Years' Honours and was one of four deputy lieutenants of Norfolk, who were appointed by the then Lord-Lieutenant, now Sir Timothy Colman, in August 1981.

His contribution to the health service was considerable. When he was contacted by Sir Arthur South in 1987 and asked to chair the then Norwich District Health Authority, he accepted.

When it evolved into the Norfolk and Norwich Health Care NHS Trust, he led the project to build the new hospital replacing the old Norfolk & Norwich.

As already reported in the EDP, he was trustee of the East Anglian Air Ambulance for eight years until 2008.

And as chairman of St Nicholas Church Preservation Trust, he had recalled watching the rebuilding of the church after it had been bombed during the second world war.

He was enormously proud to have been given a further signal honour, the Honorary Freedom of the Borough in 2009. He joined a list of holders including William Pitt the elder and Admiral Lord Nelson.

A countryman at heart, he enjoyed field sports and especially fishing for salmon, a passion shared by his wife, April. But he was equally happy to be standing in a Norfolk field, gun under arm and dog at his side.

He was still walking on Lakeland Fells into his 85th year.

A member of the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club, sailing was part of his earlier life and during the early 1950s, he won a race for gaff-rigged yachts round the Smith's Knoll Lightship.

He is survived by April, his wife of 58 years, and sons Michael and Andrew, daughter, Claire and 10 grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at St Nicholas Minster, Great Yarmouth on Friday, March 8, at 2pm.

Michael Pollitt

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