This eulogy was read at my fathers funeral on 4 January 2016.
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We come here today to remember a very special person, Duncan Lees; A person who devoted his life to giving to others without asking for anything back, a person who was dedicated to his family and friends and a person who will always be an inspiration to us all.
Writing this eulogy has been quite a challenge for the family as Duncan was an unassuming man; humble about his achievements and quiet about his successes, particularly in his career. Thankfully, Duncan had a strong presence within the local press for three decades whilst at Warburtons, which, coupled with memories from family and friends has presented us with a second challenge; how can we compress the life of a 66 year old man who did everything, into a short tribute? Short enough so we keep to time, and short enough to ensure we do not have to fund your tea as well as your lunch at the kettledrum afterwards. Duncan liked to keep costs to a minimum, and today is no exception!
Peter Duncan Lees was born in 1949 to Marjorie and Roy in Oldham, the middle child between the eldest Anthony and youngest Maureen. As a child, Duncan was described in his school reports as a polite, determined boy who exceled in sport and practical subjects but was a distraction to others in the subjects he found dull. Duncan continued to pursue the things he loved throughout his life, and he would be the first to admit that because of this, he never felt that he worked a single day.
Growing up, trouble would often find Duncan (of course, it was never the other way round!), from smashing windows with cricket balls to breaking both of his wrists while climbing trees, Duncan became great friends with Percy. A name he gave to the strap used by his parents to keep him in line.
To keep himself out of mischief, Duncan developed a number of interests including train spotting with brother Anthony and learning to play the piano, which he hated but persevered with to make his parents proud.
Without a doubt, Duncan’s strongest passion growing up was football. Every weekend, his neighbor, Ian Greaves would take Duncan along to his football games, not in the local park as you may expect but to Old Trafford. Duncan spent many weekends in the changing rooms before a match with the likes of Bobby Charlton and the rest of the Busby Babes before watching his heroes from the terraces. For Duncan, it ignited his fire and kept him away from Percy and for Greaves, if Duncan was at Old Trafford, his windows and fences would remain intact from the bashing they often got from the little boy and his football.
After an admittedly hopeless time at school at Royton and Compton, Duncan left without a single qualification to his name, he still managed however, to make a lasting mark on the school. Duncan was only one of two boys to take domestic science, we still aren’t sure whether this was to pursue his passion for baking or to be in a class full of girls! Whatever his motive, due to Duncan’s success, the school allowed a greater number of boys into the class. Because of him, baking was no longer just for girls.
Duncan pursued his interest for baking at college in Salford. It is here he said that ‘everything just clicked’ and before long he left with the qualifications he dreamed of and secured a job in a small bakery in Oldham. At the age of 19, he joined the Sunblest Group where he was groomed for promotion. After moving round the country, working at bakeries in Bradford and Newcastle, Duncan decided to move on. In 1974, he joined Warburtons at its main bakery in Bolton and through what he described as ‘hard work and a hell of commitment’ he rose to the position of despatch manager.
In the winter of 1975, Duncan met his life long partner and best friend, Donise Horner, a teacher from Bradford. The pair met at the Exit 22 pub sandwiched between their respective counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire. Within 8 months, the pair had married and celebrated in style with a 3 day honeymoon in Bowness. Early into their marriage, Donise made a deal with Duncan that for every red card fine he received at football, she would spend the equivalent on new clothes. Duncan always wondered why his wife’s wardrobe was double the size of his.
In 1981, Warburtons opened what was then the most advanced bakery in Europe, the site in Burnley where Duncan was appointed Factory Manager. Within the same month, Duncan and Donise moved from Rochdale to Burnley and had their first baby, Matthew. A baby who eventually followed his fathers footsteps, not just by losing his hair but by joining the team at Burnley under Duncans leadership. A poignant way to end a career set within a family business.
In 1985, Donise and Duncan welcomed their second son David, arriving bottom first on halloween. From his entrance into the world, David undoubtedly inherited the mischievous streak of his father, and in school reports to follow the comments mirrored those from Duncan’s early days. David, like his dad found his calling in a vocation; in the public services as a Police Constable.
In 1991, Duncan was promoted to General Manager and welcomed their third child into the family, Rebecca, born 25 years ago to the day. Although she was his princess and the apple of his eye, even she did not escape working at the crack of dawn on the Saturday hygiene team as a teenager. A clever ploy to keep her out of Burnley Town Centre on a Friday night!
By the end of his prestigious career in 2011, Duncan was managing two bakeries, a depot and spent a short time at the bakery in Enfield, London.
It is a tribute to Duncan’s ambition and drive that despite leaving school with no qualifications, he succeeded in the most spectacular way. He was granted on numerous occasions the privilege of meeting members of the Royal Family, which pleased him greatly, but he much preferred to share the success with the people who made it happen, his team, many of whom he remained friends with after he retired, a testament to a strong, meticulous leader who always remained one of the team as opposed to the boss.
Although Duncan held a senior position within the company, he never liked to bother the Warburton family unless it was urgent. There were however a few occasions when the Lees family would be gathered around the landline listening and waiting ….. waiting to hear whether Brett Warburton could get us tickets to see Manchester United in the next round of the Champions League!
Duncan’s proudest achievements came from the work he dedicated to, what he called his ‘adopted home’; the community of Burnley. Over the years, he sponsored sports clubs including; Burnley Rugby Club, Burnley Cricket Club, Burnley Girls and Ladies Football Club, Burnley Grammar School Old Boys, boxing clubs and sponsored the Football Youth Leagues for 10 years. In addition, he also sponsored breakfast clubs at schools, community events and was even known to give away his lorries to help with international aid campaigns!
Duncan’s charity work did not stop there, in his ‘spare’ time he played a huge part in the Cliviger Sports Association, as a school governor at Cliviger Primary School, Chairman of Burnley Grammar School Old Boys and Burnley Ladies Football Club, not to mention the hours he dedicated to watching and coaching all three children in the sport he loved. Duncan’s dedication to the community is just another example of his selfless determination to make the world a better place for everyone else.
Duncan, was, as we have heard a baker born and bred, but he was also a dedicated and devoted family man.
As a big brother, he took care of Maureen, allowing her to move in with him at the age of 17, under the condition he knew; where she was, who she was with and most importantly what time will she be home. A ritual continued when Becky came along, but for Matt and David the rule was that boys will be boys! Duncan was also a tower of strength for the other ladies in his life, for his mother when his father passed away in 1976 and for Jean when Reg passed away in 1985, in both instances, Duncan was there to help rebuild lives torn apart by tragic circumstances.
As a father, Duncan was a dedicated supporter of all three of his children and will always be a beaming example for us to follow.
As a granddad, Duncan adored spending time with Erin Mae, going on many adventures, the favourites being Hebden Bridge to silly billies toy shop and kiddy chaos. Granddad Dunc even made a song up just for Erin, which so happened to be the only one to keep her quiet as a baby!
As a husband, Duncan was devoted to Donise for 39 years. The past 5 years since retirement have been a tremendous journey for the pair. Travelling through France and especially finding their perfect haven in Burgau, Portugal. They felt so privileged to have made so many wonderful friends and seen so many new places. One of Duncans favourite pastimes was to sit in the Verandas bar with his coffee, looking out to sea and saying ‘how lucky are we?’ Even when Duncan became poorly, he organized for Donise to receive an eternity ring on Christmas day, to serve as a constant reminder to her, that he is with her forever and always.
As a friend, Duncan will be most fondly remembered as the life and soul of any holiday, from caravanning in Clitheroe to Cruising around the Mediterranean, Duncan remained at all times, the same witty, generous friend who was great fun to be with.
As a person, Duncan was a shining example of how life should be lived – by embracing the things that come for free. Such as spending time with family and friends, making a difference to the world around you and using your OAP bus pass instead of paying for petrol. However, it must be noted that before his retirement, Duncan admittedly had a short fuse, particularly on the touchlines of football pitches, but deep down we all knew that he was as soft as a Warburtns toastie loaf.
We will always feel deprived of a future that could have been and cheated of the memories we still had to make. Yet we must be grateful that Duncan played such a huge role in all of our lives, bringing us up with Donise and setting an example to us all, that we can only aspire to follow.
What we have learned from Duncans passing is how much is still left after so much has been taken away, this is a testament to the legacy you have left Dad; a timeless footprint on the pavements of our futures which we will continue to walk, applying the values you have taught us and remaining strong for each other as you wanted us to be.
We will continue to make you proud in everything we do.
We love you today, tomorrow, always Dad.
Goodnight, Godbless your forever devoted family.