Crowland dentist and tea shop owner John Hartley has died after conceding the final round in a long battle against illness.
He died last Monday (November 23) in hospital in Glasgow, where he was being treated after falling ill during a short break with his son James, sailing the Firth of Clyde on the Hebridean Princess cruise ship.
A month earlier he had been diagnosed with a brain tumour – but he was so determined it would not stop him joining his son on the trip that he persuaded his consultant to postpone treatment.
John arrived in Crowland in 1974 to set up his dental surgery and a village shop after restoring a dilapidated thatched cottage. Aged 72, he was still caring for patients until early October.
Twenty years ago he married Sue, a long lost girlfriend from university days, and in recent years together they set up The Old Copper Kettle tea shop adjoining his surgery in North Street. Sue passed away as the tea shop opened and he ran it in her memory. It became a popular attraction and he was proud to see it rated number five of 342 places to eat in the area.
John was born in Halifax and grew up in Nottingham, before training as a dentist at the University of Sheffield. He served in the Royal Navy, where he enjoyed a colourful start to his dental career, moving from ship to ship in the Indian Ocean and Far East.
He left the service in the early 1970s and set up a surgery in Nottingham before moving to Crowland – a town he made his home for more than 40 years.
John quickly became a leading light in the local community, serving as a volunteer fireman, playing rugby, supporting local charities and community groups, and at one stage writing and appearing in the town panto.
For many years, he served as a steward at the East of England Show, often looking after Royal visitors.
He was always active, incredibly sociable and the instigator of many events – building a large network of friends who remained loyal to him for all of his life.
In the 1970s and 80s he led groups from Crowland to take part in the tortuous 40-mile Lyke Wake Walk across the North Yorkshire Moors – and in recent years many of them could still be found at his birthday parties in The William Cecil Hotel in Stamford.
At work he was supported for more than 30 years by three of his original dental nurses, Tracy Stokes, Julie Briggs and Kayley Ayre, who helped him to run his surgery and tea shop until his death.
John was an extremely pragmatic person who was committed to securing NHS dental care for his local community and with this in mind he kept working past retirement and through the challenges of failing health.
On occasions the NHS took him to task because his records showed he had undercharged some of his patients. He insisted that this was the only way they could afford treatment.
He was a man of habit, enjoying annual trips to his favourite hotel in Cornwall. More recently, Kenya and the Hebrides became familiar destinations.
John was first diagnosed with skin cancer many decades ago. He blamed it on his service in the Navy, when he was exposed to strong sunshine during the Biera Patrol blockade of Rhodesia.
In recent years the illness reappeared and he fought off a series of serious health issues with humour, great bravery and determination. He continued to lead an extremely active life and joked that he was writing a book called “Dying for a Tan”.
John’s death leaves a huge vacuum, not only at the heart of the Crowland community but also among his family and extended network of close friends.
He leaves a son, James, grandchildren Thomas, Beatrice and Elizabeth, and Digger, his Yorkshire terrier.
John’s funeral is provisionally planned take place at Crowland Abbey at 1pm on December 10.