Sunday, 16 May 2021

Derek John Laye — April 26, 1927-March 31, 2021

Derek John Laye — April 26, 1927-March 31, 2021

A LIFELONG Henley resident who played a leading role in several community groups has died, aged 93.

Derek Laye was a founder member of the former Newtown Football Club, having played for AFC Henley in his childhood, and captained Wargrave Football Club during the late Forties and early Fifties.

The father-of-four, who worked for most of his life in baking, was also a devout Reading FC fan who watched many of the club’s biggest games and made a cake to celebrate its centenary in 1971.

Mr Laye was born in Clarence Road to his father George, a caretaker who died young from complications of a gas attack during the First World War, and mother Annie.

In his first year the family moved to Niagara Road, where he grew up alongside his brother, also George, who died some years ago.

He attended the old Trinity Primary School in Church Street and then the National School, leaving as a teenager to train as a baker at Melletts on the corner of Niagara Road and Reading Road.

Mr Laye was among the first to join the Henley Sea Cadets when the branch was formed in 1942 and in 1945 he joined the Royal Navy to work as an officers’ cook. He served in Australia and Singapore for a few months in 1945, then remained in the Pacific from the end of the Second World War until 1947, when he completed his national service.

He met his wife Doreen, née Angier, who survives him, at a Henley funfair shortly before enlisting. Her family had been evacuated from London to Wargrave to escape the Blitz and she was working as a nanny to an American family.

The couple were married at Holy Trinity Church in July 1951 and had four children, Christopher, Ian, Janice Brown and Karen Hopes, as well as 11 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

After leaving the forces, Mr Laye briefly returned to Melletts then joined biscuit manufacturer Huntley and Palmers, of Reading, where he mostly decorated wedding cakes.

Around this time he also co-founded Newtown Football Club with childhood friend and club stalwart Reg Grant, who remained involved until it folded more than a decade ago. He played for some years before stepping down.

In 1953, Mr Laye and his colleagues decorated a cake for the Queen, to whom Huntley and Palmers were suppliers by appointment, in honour of her coronation at Westminster Abbey. This remained one of his proudest accomplishments.

Mr Laye accepted redundancy in 1970 when the firm moved its baking operation to Merseyside. He didn’t want to leave the area and disliked the fact that cakes were to be iced on an assembly line, not by hand.

He briefly returned to Melletts, then joined Waitrose in Bell Street, Henley, as manager of several sections before a stroke forced him to retire early in 1983.

Although he lost much of his strength and co-ordination, he refused to rely on mobility aids and insisted on walking everywhere to regain as much of his former ability as possible.

He would make miniature sculptures from putty to hone his fine motor skills and was eventually able to resume baking as a hobby, decorating the cakes for all four of his children’s weddings.

Mr Laye returned to work voluntarily at Melletts, which shut in the Nineties, during busy periods and he would give talks on his craft at Henley Grammar School and Henley Technical College.

He eventually joined the Henley Stroke Club and later was appointed to its management committee. He said he loved being a member as it helped with his own health and he only left after breaking a hip in 2019.

Mrs Hopes said: “He was of the generation that just got up and got on with things so he was determined not to let his stroke dictate the quality of his life.

“He did everything he could to continue his life as normal and always maintained his dry sense of humour. He was a very sharp, witty man but having grown up with him, I didn’t fully appreciate that until my own friends, who by then were working with him at Waitrose, would say, ‘Your dad’s very funny, isn’t he?’

“He had a real determination in all areas of life and everything he did was for his family. He had plenty of opportunities to leave Henley but was close to so many people that he never wanted to.”

Following a period of illness, Mr Laye passed away peacefully and surrounded by family at his home in Luker Avenue on March 31.

His funeral was held at Reading Crematorium on Monday  and his ashes will be interred at Fairmile Cemetery in Henley once coronavirus restrictions allow a larger ceremony.

Well-wishers can donate to the Stroke Association in his memory through funeral directors Tomalin & Son or at dereklaye.muchloved.com

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