Popular resident dies at the age of 103

A man who was well-known in Ponteland has died just a couple of months short of his 104th birthday.

Geoff Willey moved to the area in 1964 and established a photography business in the village. He was a founder member of Ponteland Photographic Society and an early member of the Northumberland Wildlife Trust.

But this was only half his life and born in Honley, near Holmfirth, he was a Yorkshireman to the last. His passion was the Ryedale Folk Museum at Hutton-le-Hole in North Yorkshire.

He was brought up in Scarborough, where his father ran a high class grocery store. Aged 11 years, Geoff was given a Brownie box camera and this started not only his photographic interest but a technical flair as he later built a crystal radio set, followed by a more sophisticated one where he could tune in to other radio hams with his own call sign.

Failing his medical for the armed forces, he was taken on by the Ministry of Information based in Newcastle and spent the Second World War years touring remote communities in Northumberland, and later in Yorkshire, showing propaganda films.

After the war he trained as a frogman as part of his work for seaweed research, based first at Musselburgh and then Orkney.

Next he worked at the top secret Spadeadam on the Blue Streak rocket programme and finally at the RVI in Newcastle, all the time taking high quality very technical photographs.

In 1964 he married Daphne, a farmer’s daughter and long-term friend from Yorkshire with whom he shared many interests. Sadly, Daphne developed a terminal illness and Geoff was her devoted carer till her death.

Geoff, who died peacefully at the Grange Lea care home in Ponteland last month, retired from the RVI in 1976 and was able to devote his time and energy to the development of the Ryedale museum.

He made a photographic record of the museum’s progress and visited it to celebrate his 100th birthday.

His unique collection of cameras and photographs has been donated to the museum. He even wrote a book, with professional help, titled Ryedale in my Heart.

A memorial service for Geoff is to be held in St Mary’s Church on Friday, June 12, from 3pm.