The reigning Darlington Citizen of the Year, John ‘Jack’ Appleton, has died at the age of 95 after a lifetime in which he made an immeasurable difference to countless young lives in the town. PETER BARRON pays tribute

HE may not have been someone who sought the spotlight. But John “Jack” Appleton was a man who truly deserved the outpouring of love and respect that has been inspired by news of his passing at 95.

It was my pleasure to interview Jack, and to tell his inspirational story, two years ago when he received a lifetime of achievement award at the annual Darlington Sports Winners Grand Final.

The honour was in appreciation of the decades of work he'd invested as a youth leader, volunteering to enable countless youngsters to experience the joys of a wide range of sports and adventure.

Tears welled up in his eyes as he proudly cradled his silver trophy and told me: “It’s completely unexpected but I think it has to be one of the best nights of my life.”

Last November, there was further richly deserved recognition of his dedication to others when he was crowned Darlington’s Citizen of the Year at The Best of Darlington Awards.

Sadly, Jack was in hospital with a broken hip, so the award had to be picked up by his son, Kevin.

Jack's health never recovered. He suffered a stroke and died last week in the University Hospital of North Durham, with the family announcement leading to scores of tributes.

“He was never someone who put himself forward for thanks, but he was really upset he couldn’t be there for the Citizen of the Year ceremony because he wanted to say thank you to those who felt he was worthy of the award,” said Kevin after his dad’s passing.

“That was so typical of him because he was a very humble man, yet wherever you went in Darlington, people knew him. Every single one of them had nice things to say about him, and that made me so proud to be his son.”

Jack was born on Darlington’s Albert Hill estate, but his family moved to Birmingham when he was two.

From the age of 14, in the midst of the Second World War, he went to work – first in a silversmith’s and then at a factory building tanks.

When the family decided to return to Darlington, Jack went on to spend 45 years as a plater with engineering firm Whessoe.

However, it was his voluntary service as a youth worker that was always his real passion.

From the 1950s, he set up a table tennis league, and organised football tournaments, as well as acting as manager, trainer and kit-washer for several teams.

He went on to guide more youngsters than he cared to remember through the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, and formed clubs in a multitude of sports, from basketball to orienteering.

In addition, he set up a youth action group to decorate and help maintain the homes of elderly people.

And, as if that wasn't enough, he also signed up as a hospital visitor for 40 years, bringing comfort and companionship to those on the wards.

It is impossible to calculate how many lives Jack touched, and the goodness that ran through every inch of him is underlined by the many tributes that were posted on Facebook after his death.

“He had a major influence on my life and taught me the importance of service to others. I owe him more than I can say,” wrote Marilyn Pattison.

“He made such a difference to the lives of many young people and his life is to be celebrated,” added Eileen Hornby.

“He was a kind and gentle man, unassuming and loved by many,” said Gloria Brunning.

"A sad loss but a great life lived," said Sally Rowland.  And so it went on.

As well as son Kevin, Jack also leaves a daughter, Vanessa, and six grandchildren. He lost his beloved wife, Catherine, eight years ago.

Funeral details have not yet been confirmed but it will be a simple, humble occasion, in line with the way he lived his life.

“He was never a man who wanted a fuss about anything, so he wouldn't have wanted it to be anything fancy," said Kevin.

   "The bottom line is that all Dad ever wanted was to do his best for his family and for everyone around him – and it didn't matter whether he knew them or not."

What a life he lived. Rest in peace John ‘Jack’ Appleton – you wouldn't believe how many people want to say "thanks for everything".

THERE is comfort for Jack’s loved ones that he lived a full life to the grand old age of 95.

It is, naturally, much harder to come to terms with the death at just 26 of Darlington’s former Young Citizen of the Year, James Charlton.

It was an honour last week to be asked by his family to deliver the eulogy at James’s funeral at St Augustine’s Church.

Just like Jack, James’s life was also defined by goodness: in his devotion Darlington Football Club; his dedication as a youth league referee; his volunteering for St Teresa’s Hospice and St John Ambulance; his compassion in travelling to Calais to help a charity supporting refugees; and his day-to-day acts of kindness.

Many words have been written and spoken in tribute to James over the past few weeks.

But if there is an overriding message to emerge from this heartbreaking tragedy, it is that we should all try to be more like James.

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ON a happier note, it was a joy to end a difficult week by hosting The Mayor’s Variety Show at Darlington’s glorious Hippodrome Theatre on Friday night.

The town's infectiously enthusiastic Mayor, Councillor Cyndi Hughes (pictured below), came up with the idea months back.

And despite fears that Storm Eunice might get in the way, it finally came to happy fruition with a show packed with singing, dancing, gymnastics, magic, drama – and even a performing dog.

Eunice might not have been quite as fierce as had been anticipated, but the charity show went down a storm.

Thank you to all the brilliant performers who gave their time and talent so generously: Darlington Operatic Society; comedian Matt Hoss; The Applause Theatre School; Rhiannon Walker; Maria and James; St Teresa’s Hospice Choir; Nicci Hindson and her border collie Elsa; Bubamara; magician Tim Lichfield; The Ukulele Smile Time Band; Rachel Coad Dance School; and Voices of Darlington.

Darlington Town Crier, Peter Stemmer, also played his part in opening the show. Indeed, he was the only person on the stage who didn’t need a microphone.

And thank you to Redde Northgate for being event sponsor, as well as MT Print for publishing the programmes free of charge and adding to the proceeds.

The money is still being counted but it will all go to two of our most important local charities – St Teresa’s Hospice and Darlington Mind.

When Darlington comes together, it does it with real star quality. Well done everyone.

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