WELSH wisdom is alive and flourishing in one corner of the North-East to the benefit of a grateful group of workers.
But lifelong industrialist and successful entrepreneur Gerald Charles Osborne is taking a back seat from his thriving family business to take up public office for the coming year.
Mr Osborne, ‘Gerry’ to family and friends, has built up a thriving business designing and making showers, shower enclosures and bath screens over the best part of three decades in County Durham.
Having handed the reins to Newton Aycliffe-based Roman Ltd to son David, it has given Mr Osborne the opportunity to perform the ceremonial civic duties required as the county’s new High Sheriff.
The 73-year-old Welshman became the 290th figure to hold the historic post following a swearing in ceremony at Durham Crown Court this week (Monday March 31).
Although very much a proud son the Principality, Mr Osborne has made the county his home for the past 40-plus years, now living on its southern-most point at Croft, on the Durham side of the Tees crossing from Yorkshire.
Until transferring from Northern Ireland to become operations manager for multi-national tobacco product manufacturer Rothmans International, in Darlington, in the early 1980s, Mr Osborne had only once previously visited the region.
As a young geology student he recalls standing in the River Tees, about a mile from its source, while working on a summer thesis.
Having graduated with a BSc honours degree from Birmingham University, the would-be gem in geology turned to the rocky road of business to earn a crust.
“I think I realised that if I wanted a job I would have to have a Phd and I wasn’t interested in another three years of study, so I decided on a career in industry.”
He spent two-and-a-half years working as senior production engineer for chocolate maker Cadbury at its self-made ‘home’ village of Bournville in Birmingham, before stepping into the footwear world, as production manager for shoe giant Clarks, initially at Shepton Mallett in Somerset.
Specialising on its strong point in children’s footwear, his forte became factory modernisation and it led to him being head-hunted by Rothmans.
He was given the tricky task of increasing production at its out-dated plant in Northern Ireland.
“It was in the thick of ‘the Troubles’, and I had to deal with seven different unions, but we brought in new production techniques which I had seen abroad.”
He helped to vastly improve productivity, while making the workforce leaner.
“When you work for a multi-national like Rothmans you move on and so I was brought over to Darlington.
“But after another three-and-a-half years, they wanted me to go to their headquarters in Aylesbury, in Buckinghamshire.”
By now firmly settled in the North-East with his wife Pamela and then teenage children Kathryn and David, he decided to remain rooted in the region, and so set about fulfilling an ambition to launch his own business.
“It was a bit of a family joke that we had always had lousy showers wherever we moved and so that’s what I moved into.”
Starting from three to four people he has overseen Roman’s rapid expansion, now with a workforce of 160, including more than one generation of some families.
“That’s my proudest achievement. We have people who have been made redundant, in some cases more than once, who have now been with us ten to 20 years.
“They’re an excellent bunch. Really hard working and dedicated.”
During his shrieval year Mr Osborne plans to offer budding entrepreneurs round the county the benefit of his business expertise and enthusiasm, while also raising funds for the County Durham Community Foundation, of which he is a director and trustee.
He was relieved to hear at his installation ceremony that the expectations of office as High Sheriff are not what they once were.
Welcoming Mr Osborne into the post, Judge Christopher Prince, the Honorary Judicial Recorder of Durham, quoted from an old chronicle listing the provisions a High Sheriff was required to provide for visiting high judiciary.
The fish part of the diet Sir John Nevill of Chevet, the Sheriff of Yorkshire, was expected to serve for the Lent Assizes of 1528, included two barrels each of herrings and salmon, 12 ‘seams of sea-fish’, six score of great pike and pickerings, 20 great breams, 12 great tenches, 12 great eels and 300 other eels, 20 great rudds, 28 great fresh salmon, a barrel of sturgeon and a firkin of seal.
For Lammas Assizes in 1529 the poultry provision included 22 swans, 12 cranes, 30 heronsews (young herons), 12 shovelards (ducks), 32 curlew knaves (whimbrels), six dozen plovers and 30 dozen pigeons.
Genial host that he aims to prove, that may have stretched even the new High Sheriff’s capabilities.
Looking forward to the coming year, his few absences from the county are likely to be rugby-related.
Although now more than a good drop kick distance from Offa’s Dyke, he hopes to find time to travel to Cardiff to take up his usual debenture seat at The Millennium Stadium for all Wales home internationals.
But a swift return will follow to his adopted “home” in County Durham to fulfil his shrieval obligations.