Tributes paid to 'absolute gentleman' and family business stalwart
- Credit: Archant
A coastal community is mourning the loss of an "absolute gentleman" and the figurehead of its longest-standing family business.
Ron Wright, of Sheringham hardware store Blyth and Wright, has died after a short illness at the age of 89.
Mr Wright, who last April celebrated his 75th year behind the counter, was well-known locally for his fierce loyalty to his home town and his willingness to always go the extra mile for his customers.
And, despite suffering more than his fair share of personal tragedy, the devoted father and grandfather was renowned for his sharp wit and dry sense of humour.
Born at home in Sheringham in 1931, at the age of six the young Mr Wright was sent to live at Cromer with his aunts after the death of his mother.
Both single, he credited the two women of “making a gentleman” of him but, after falling seriously ill with rheumatic fever aged 11, he was forced to leave school to spend a year recuperating.
He was joined on the shop floor by younger brother Richard in the 1950s and, after their father died, the pair stepped in to take over.
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Over the following two decades, the brothers bought two adjoining buildings and expanded the business to cater for every customer, from builders, plumbers and DIY enthusiasts to people wanting new crockery or cookware for their homes, or even those looking for a single wood screw.
After Richard retired, Mr Wright continued to work to make the shop a mainstay of Sheringham town centre until, in 1999, he decided to take a back seat and handed the day to day running of the business to his three sons.
However, just three years later, tragedy struck the family when middle son Andy died at the age of just 34 from a brain aneurism, leaving a young daughter. Cruelly, youngest son Jamie also left a wife and a daughter when he died suddenly aged 38 from a rare blood disorder in 2012.
Determined to honour Jamie and Andy’s memories by taking the business from strength to strength, Mr Wright and his oldest son Chris threw themselves into their work, building on their loyal customer base and cementing their reputation for unbeatable customer service.
The father and son also carried on Blyth and Wright’s long-standing tradition of supporting local good causes, handing over £1,000s to groups ranging from Sheringham Primary School and playpark, to the town carnival and Christmas lights.
Keen horseman and former Scout leader Mr Wright was hit by a further blow with the death of his beloved wife Bridget in 2015, and, after being diagnosed with dementia five years ago, he was forced to take life a little easier.
However, he still continued to work behind the counter up to the age of 85.
Mr Wright Jr said his father would be buried wearing his signature brown overall and corduroy trousers, next to his wife and sons in Beeston Regis churchyard.
The funeral, which will take place in January, will be for family and staff only, but the cortege will travel down Station Road, past the shop, so that local people can say farewell.
Now facing a difficult time as the “last man standing”, Chris added that the family had been heartened by the 450-plus messages of condolence they had received.
Among these were memories of Mr Wright as someone who “always had a smile”, who was “one of a kind” and was “the most helpful shopkeeper in town”.
Also sharing their thoughts were North Norfolk District Council leader Sarah Butikofer, who remembered Mr Wright as, “an absolute gentleman whose level of customer service and care was real old school", and North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker, who said: “Ron was the face of retailing in Sheringham and an absolute gentleman. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him.”
Thanking all those who shared their memories of his father, Mr Wright said: “I can take heart from the fact that all dad talked about in his last days was me and Blyth and Wright and we plan to go forward next year even stronger and make him proud.”
Opened as C A Sadler in 1897 by a property developer who arrived in the town to help build St Peter's Church, the Station Road store was renamed Blyth and Wright in the 1920s, when Mr Sadler sold the business to staff members Clarence Granville Wright and Horatio John Blyth, who died in 1934.
Originally a single shop front and one of three ironmongers in Sheringham, the store, which in the 1950s also doubled as a funeral directors, has, over the years, sold everything from oil lamps and buckets for dry toilets to tin baths, galvanised dustbins and even, at one time, guns.
After surviving two world wars, numerous recessions and the arrival of Tesco in the town Blyth and Wright continues to be a popular draw for local people, day trippers and holiday makers alike and has carried on trading throughout the coronavirus crisis, sometimes making more than 50 deliveries a day.