MARY Howard, who has died at the age of 69 after a long illness, was a manager at one of the region’s best-known stores.
She managed the china department at Lewis & Cooper, in Northallerton, for 21 years until her retirement in 2006.
She joined the business when her husband, Tony Howard, became managing director and went on to become his deputy.
She became ill in 2000 and was eventually diagnosed with the rare degenerative neurological disorder, multiple system atrophy (MSA).
Despite being given a two year prognosis, her family said Mrs Howard bravely fought off the disease without complaint for more than six years before passing away last Sunday.
Born in Scarborough as one of six children in 1944, she developed a life-long love of sport early on and ran for North Yorkshire.
After leaving school, she became a cashier at grocery firm Liptons in her home town. Mr Howard recalled how his then boss effected an introduction by locking the couple in a room together for 90 minutes when the young stock controller visited to carry out an audit. They were married two years later, and would have celebrated their golden wedding anniversary next year.
From Liptons, Mrs Howard joined the Singer Sewing Machine company. Strong technical knowledge backed up her skills as an excellent seamstress, talents she used over the years for everything from a wedding dress for one of her three daughters to costumes for school and village amateur dramatic society productions down the years.
The Howards moved from Scarborough to Harrogate, then Acomb and then to a smallholding in Huby, near Easingwold, where Mrs Howard developed a passion for self-sufficiency, rearing many animals – including goats she milked by hand – and growing food.
She retained a love of animals and gardening even after she joined her husband full-time at Lewis & Cooper and the family moved to another smallholding near Brompton, Northallerton.
The couple made many friends through his roles as president of the British Independent Grocers’ Association and North Yorkshire County Show. Mrs Howard was also well respected in the local farming community, as well as by her customers. Described by her daughters as strong, forthright and direct, she loved parties and welcoming people to the family home, where it was always open house.
She also took a keen interest in her daughters’ sporting achievements and became an honorary life member of Northallerton Hockey Club.
Once her illness took hold, she was looked after at home by her husband and carers, then latterly at Southwoods, in Northallerton.
“She was incredibly stoical in the face of her illness – she never once complained about it – and retained a sense of humour right to the end,” said Mr Howard. “I’d like to thank all of the staff at Southwoods, as well as her last carer Sharon Troy – they’ve all been magnificent.”
Mrs Howard is survived by her sister, Elsie Marshall, as well as her husband, daughters Sally, Bettina and Victoria, and seven grandchildren. Twins Bettina and Victoria began working at Lewis & Cooper as teenagers and remain directors of the business.
A funeral service will be held at St Thomas’s Church, Brompton, on Wednesday, December 18, at 10.15am. Family flowers only, with donations to the Multiple System Atrophy Trust.