THE former managing director of gourmet food store Lewis & Cooper, who died on Sunday aged 80, was a kind, caring and funny man devoted to his family, his daughters said this week.

Tony Howard ran the popular shop on Northallerton High Street for 23 years, and was also a well known community figure, as a former president of North Yorkshire County Show, and held senior positions in regional and national grocers' organisations.

Due to his contribution to the industry, he received lifetime achievement awards from Flavours of Hambleton, the Yorkshire Independent Grocers' Association and the Guild of Fine food retailers.

He was a keen golfer as a member at Bedale, and was proud to be captain of captains for the Harrogate district recently.

Mr Howard, who moved into Northallerton nine months ago from Standard Hill Farm, Brompton, died at Middlesbrough's James Cook University Hospital from Covid-19 on Sunday morning.

Brought up with three sisters and a brother on a farm at Bardsey, near Leeds, he was just seven when his father died in a gun accident. Following the tragedy, Mr Howard credited his stepfather "Pop", with teaching him "everything he knew". The family moved to Bishop Monkton, near Ripon, and Mr Howard started an apprenticeship at Hintons in Harrogate. His talent for retail was soon spotted, and he was given more responsibility.

While working at the Scarborough branch, he met his future wife Mary. They were married for 49 years, and had three daughters, eldest Sally, and twins Bettina and Victoria. Mary died in 2013.


Tony and Mary Howard

Tony and Mary Howard


In 1983, Mr Howard was made redundant from Wrights of York, and had planned to take a year out to spend more time with his young family, thanks to a generous leaving package. He told Mary his plan and went out to get some fish and chips. While eating the chips he discovered, written on the newspaper they were wrapped in, the job advert for Lewis & Cooper.

Speaking to the D&S Times when he retired from the store in 2006, he said: "In the newspaper was this job under a box number and rest is history. It didn't even say Lewis & Cooper. I was only out of work for a fortnight and I didn't have to spend my capital – the greatest word in the English language is fate."

Mr Howard moved the family from their smallholding at Huby, near Easingwold, to the farm at Brompton to be nearer Lewis & Cooper, where he was only the fourth manager in its now 122-year history. Under his leadership the business blossomed and opened a second outlet in Yarm, a website and a number of warehouses.


Tony Howard as managing director of Lewis & Cooper

Tony Howard as managing director of Lewis & Cooper


The business was a family affair, with Mary running the china department for 15 years, and Bettina and Victoria, who were already company directors, taking over from him after he retired, although both have left the company in recent years.

Victoria said: "He was always on the shop floor for the customers, he knew them all by name, and was interested in their lives. He was always there for the staff – he called it a Lewis & Cooper family. He treated everyone like they were his family."

After a triple heart bypass aged just 51, he was advised to take up walking for his health, but, classing this as a dull pastime, friend Mary Langthorne suggested he give golf a try, and it became a passion, leading to many friendships and social events over the years.

Another lifelong interest was animals and nature, and Mr Howard regularly took in stray or injured creatures, nursing them back to health. On one memorable occasion he hatched a duckling – christened Daffy by his daughters – from its shell after it was abandoned by its mother, and he brought it into the house, where it grew up alongside other family pets thinking it was a dog.

He was dedicated to helping younger generations, at once point being a youth leader at a club in Tadcaster, regularly taking disadvantaged children on trips so they could experience the great outdoors.

His biggest love, however, was his family, and as well as his three daughters, he was a devoted grandpa to seven grandchildren, Arthur, George, Freddie, Lois, Harry, Henry and Albert.


Tony Howard with his seven grandchildren

Tony Howard with his seven grandchildren


Since his death, the family have been overwhelmed with messages of support from friends and the wider community. Bettina said: "We always thought that people knew him, but the amount of people who have said how much they learned from him, and what he meant to them, has been quite astounding.

"He was a japester, mischievous, kind, caring, funny, independent and totally selfless. He was a real people person, and made friends wherever he went. He was also very wise, a lot of people came to him for advice and really valued his opinion.

"We were very lucky to have him as our dad – he always supported us in everything we were doing, and gave us a great upbringing."


Tony Howard with daughters Victoria Howard, Bettina Howard and Sally Hunt

Tony Howard with daughters Victoria Howard, Bettina Howard and Sally Hunt


Mr Howard had been fit and well until catching Covid, and was playing golf just two weeks before he was admitted to James Cook. He was classed as medically vulnerable due to other health issues, and so had both Covid vaccinations early this year. His daughters said people should be aware that Covid is still a risk.

"People should not always think they are safe because they are double jabbed – they aren't," said Bettina.

Mr Howard, who is survived by two sisters, had wanted his body to go for medical research, but sadly this has not been possible due to the current Covid situation. His funeral will take place on Thursday, September 30 at All Saints Church, Northallerton, 2pm. His family say it will be a celebration of his life, and encourage people to wear bright colours. It will be family flowers only, with donations for charities supported by Mr Howard through his life.

His daughters have thanked all those who have sent messages of support, and the staff in the intensive care unit at James Cook, who described Mr Howard as a true Yorkshire gentleman.