The death of Graham Coles creates a gap in the ranks of the Appleby-in-Westmorland Society which it will be difficult, if not impossible, to fill. I do not aim to repeat the obituary notice in “The Herald”, which lists his manifold interests and talents, but it is important to commemorate the immense contribution he made to the Society.
It was at the 1996 A.G.M. that Graham was first elected to the Committee of the Appleby-in-Westmorland Society and Dorothy Hinchcliffe gave a sigh of relief. Her wish had been granted. He was soon taking an active role. The minutes of his first Committee meeting reveal that he “volunteered to approach Kendal Civic Society regarding Award criteria” to ‘fine-tune’ this Society’s criteria for the awarding of plaques to building/renovation projects. By February 1997 he was our Chairman. So he remained until the 2006 A.G.M. when he stood down as Chairman but agreed to continue to serve the Society as a member of the Committee, which he did for a further four years, resigning from the Committee at the 2010 A.G.M.
One of the major contributions brought by Graham to Appleby life was his incredible assiduity in detailed research, whether it be for historical purposes, or for following the machinations of official bodies. An excellent example of his historical work is his research on the fire service in Appleby, which involved hours of devilling to prise out the detailed facts. His assembly of Council records and documents is unrivalled, and his retentive memory usually meant that any comment he made about their actions or inaction would be backed up by actual evidence from his files. Many people enjoyed his critiques of official dealings and read them avidly in the Newsletter. On many occasions the Newsletter depended for material almost entirely on Graham, with his History Slot and Current Affairs column. Graham became a focus for people who had queries about Appleby and its history, being referred to as an expert on many aspects of Appleby’s heritage.
Another extremely valuable service performed by Graham, together with Anne, was the collection of documents and artifacts to do with Appleby’s history and heritage. This is especially true of his fabulous collection of Appleby slides prepared over many years, and which gave rise to our annual festive “Christmas Special”, known to all members as “Graham’s Slide Evening” (and what a triumphant occasion the last one was!). A large part of the success of this collection was Graham’s friendly persuasion to get people to let him put their material on slide. He was very well-known in the town, easily recognised and well regarded – his perambulations through Appleby tended to be heavily delayed by frequent stops for a crack! Graham’s sense of humour was a very pleasant part of his character, albeit sometimes a bit mischievous.
We would have been poorly placed if it had not been for Graham’s enthusiasm and drive during his long tenure of the office. Throughout his time as Committee member and Chairman we relied on his expertise, support and enthusiasm.
We shall all miss his dynamic personality, his wit and wise counsel, but Anne and his family will miss the whole man, and our sympathy goes out to them in their loss.