Ronald Brooksbank

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RONALD BROOKSBANK, who has died aged 92, had an extraordinarily diverse business career which took off after his wartime service in the Merchant Navy.

He was sailing on Atlantic routes throughout the period when German U-boats wreaked havoc among British merchantmen.

Mr Brooksbank had two sisters and was born in Embsay, near Skipton, to Wallace and Marion Brooksbank, and his boyhood hobbies were painting and, somewhat unusually, rearing pigs.

The family had a specialist leather-treating business in the village. J Brooksbank Ltd tanned leather and then converted it into combing belts for the worsted wool industry and brake leathers for worsted looms.

Educated at Oatlands School, Harrogate, and the Leys School, Cambridge, Mr Brooksbank was 17 when the family moved to Ilkley, and two years later he joined the Merchant Navy.

He spent the next six years sailing with the Union Castle Line, initially on the Rowallan Castle bringing oranges from South Africa on the so-called Citrus Run.

Later, when the shipping losses on this run became unsustainable, his ship sailed from Liverpool to South America with beer and textiles, returning with mutton, grain and beef for the troops.

After the war, Mr Brooksbank joined the family business.

Inventive, he worked alongside his father, and took a particular interest in developing the international side of the business, focusing on sales in Japan, America and Australia. At its peak the, business employed 120 people in the village.

In 1953, having formed an association with a marine architect, Mr Brooksbank and his father started Brooksbank Valves Ltd, which began by manufacturing copper alloy valves for Royal Navy ships and submarines. The company continues to thrive, now making valves for the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers and the global oil and gas industry.

In 1960 Ronald married Solna Wood and they moved to Hetton on the edge of the Dales where they lived for 53 years, raising their three sons, Matthew, Jonathan and Robert.

Mr Brooksbank and his father diversified again in the mid-1960s when they formed Unitex, a company based at Knaresborough which specialised in making polyurethane products.

It was later sold to Smiths Industries, and still operates in Knaresborough as Trelleborg Engineering Systems.

This unostentatious man continued his love of travelling the world, for pleasure and for business, but spending time at home with his growing family had an equal appeal, and he was a church warden at St Peter’s Church, Rylstone.

A member of Men of the Trees, a non-profit organisation promoting community involvement in seed collecting, propagation, re-vegetation and aftercare, he was a knowledgeable and enthusiastic gardener and arboriculturalist.

His inventiveness proved its usefulness in the 1980s when the leather belts made by Brooksbank Industries (formerly J Brooksbank Ltd) became obsolete due to faster machine speeds.

He developed a new product called the Combi from non-woven material. The Combi belt is still made and sold worldwide by Brooksbank Industries, now based at Elslack.

Although he did not continue his hobby of painting, he became an enthusiastic collector of
oils.

In 2010 he and his wife moved to Guernsey where they lived until his death.

He is survived by her, his two sisters, three sons and nine grandchildren.

There will be a memorial service for Ronald’s life held a St Peter’s Church, Rylstone, in early September, the date to be announced when the plans are finalised.