Ex Harrogate Mayor dies in care home

A former Mayor of Harrogate has died in a care home in Doncaster, aged 94.

Tuesday, 6th October 2020, 8:45 am

Eric Waight was born on 28 October 1925, in Melbourne, Australia, the youngest of six siblings, although his oldest brother had died as a baby, some years before. His parents had down under in 1911, to seek their fortune in the gold mining rush of the time. His two brothers and three sisters were all born down under too.

Life was hard and the family travelled around Queensland, then headed south, finding themselves in Victoria. Eventually it became clear that Australia wasn’t their future and they returned to England, on board the SS Bombala, arriving back on 10 July 1928.

Once back in England, Eric initially lived with his family above his Grandfather Charlie Howe’s menswear shop in Epsom High Street, with his mother working in the shop below. Eric would spend his days played with cardboard boxes in the stock room. He then lived with his family on the Ewell By-Pass, finishing his schooling in Epsom, during the early years of the war.

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After a year working at Sainsbury’s in 1943, he eventually joined the RAF and was still training for a flying role, as the war was ending. His direct war experiences included being injured in a bomb dropped on his accommodation at St John’s Wood, right by Lord’s cricket ground. He also told a story about a posting at Burn airfield, just outside Selby. His job there included helping to guide the planes back in the dark, as they returned from bombing missions, with lights from strategically placed trucks at the side of the landing strip.

After the war, but still in the RAF, he had a spell in Hamburg, even visiting the Nuremburg trials, before being de-mobbed and returning to his job in the Sainsbury’s warehouse!

Towards the end of 1947, a chance meeting with an acquaintance at a railway station led to him visiting the local labour exchange and applying to join the Ordnance Survey. He got a job in the then Head Office at Chessington, remaining with “The Survey” until his retirement in 1988.

Eric met Irene in 1948 at a dance at the Stoneleigh Hotel, near Epsom and they married in church at Wimbledon, on 18 March 1950. Home became Mitcham and their eldest son, Ken, was born four years later, with Ray following in 1955. Getting to work involved cycling the eight miles to the office and again, back home.

Still with the Ordnance Survey, Eric moved to Harrogate in 1959 and a year later, Pauline was born. During the sixties, he was away for much of the week, working “in the field”, visiting and discovering archaeological sites across the north of England, which are now established features on OS maps.

In 1973, the family moved to Edinburgh, when Eric took a posting to run the OS Archaeology Section for Scotland, from an office above Robertsons pub in Rose Street.

After four years, they returned to Harrogate, moving to Leadhall Lane. Still in the Ordnance Survey, Eric worked at Shipley and Harrogate, before retiring in 1988.

In 1986, encouraged by a local councillor who was one of Irene’s colleagues, Eric stood as a Liberal Democrat for Harrogate District Council and won Pannal Ward at the first attempt, beating the sitting Conservative councillor.

In 1990, he was nominated as Mayor of Harrogate and actually gave the casting vote at the annual mayor-making ceremony, which ended 84 years of Conservative rule in the town.

Irene was Mayoress and highlights of their year included sitting next to the Duchess of York at lunch, at the Great Yorkshire Show, also meeting Diana on a separate occasion.

As a councillor, he was Chair of the Planning Committee for several years and one of his proud achievements was helping to avoid excessive development in the Crimple Valley.

Eric lost his seat in 1998 and although he and Irene continued to travel during their retirement, including a road trip in America and a visit to his sister in Canada, life started to slow down a little.

He had two grandchildren, Sarah and Richard, who would stay with them for a few days in school holidays.

Irene died in January 2008 and after that, Eric lived alone in Leadhall Lane, doing everything himself.

In September 2018, with increasing mobility problems, Eric agreed to move into a care home at Doncaster, to be nearer Ken and his family, where he lived quietly for the last two years of his life.

As well as two grand-children, Eric had two great grandchildren, Sophie, five, and Harry, two, who live in Doncaster.