A RETIRED teacher, Methodist local preacher and all-round sportsman, awarded the MBE for services to the community, has died just four months after his wife of almost 75 years.

Lez Rawe, who was 98, told guests at his 70th wedding anniversary party that he was determined to live to be 100 “even if I die in the process”.

“He’ll be sitting at the gate of heaven cursing,” said Keith Dinning, a fellow member of Bishop Auckland Methodist church.

Mr Rawe had also beaten cancer of both the colon and the liver, surgeons obliged to remove two-thirds of his liver. They filmed not just the operation but, when he was 81, his confident return to the tennis court.

“He was always very straight backed, upright in every sense,” said Mr Dinning.

Born in Toft Hill, educated at King James I Grammar School in Bishop Auckland and a wartime RAF sergeant, he returned to the school as a teacher for 32 years, a sports master who nurtured outstanding athletes and became head of lower school.

It was as a pupil that he met his future wife, Betty, though boys and girls schools were separated by the length of a playing field and the width of pre-war morality.

They became secretly engaged at 17 – the ring cost 17/6d – married six years later and would have celebrated 75 years marriage a fortnight after Betty’s death in February this year.

She was almost a month older – “I’m a toy boy for a few weeks every year,” Lez liked to remark – and still they’d hold hands on their way to the church just a few hundred yards from their home.

Mr Rawe had also been a commanding Northern League footballer for Willington and Evenwood Town and a village cricketer, his failure ever to make a century on the field increasing his determination to hit the ton in 2020.

The 1956 FA Year Book carried a five-page piece by him headed “Football coaching at Evenwood Town.” It presented problems, he wrote, not least that there weren’t enough balls.

Melvyn McConnell, a former pupil who became a teaching colleague and fellow Methodist preacher, said that he and thousands of others in the Bishop Auckland area would forever be grateful for Mr Rawe’s teaching and guidance.

“His enthusiasm and his passion for teaching put us all to shame. He never forgot his roots and was always very proud of the school, never lost interest in it.”

The school, now King James Academy, had named its dance studio in his honour – “a hoot, I had two left feet” – and later named a new building on the site. A tribute on the King James website said that he was “a man who exemplified the qualities we promote in the young people we educate.”

Several years ago, however, former pupil David Smith – at the old grammar school from 1946-51 – had recalled in the Echo the first of a planned series of sex education lessons for which an “uncomfortable” Mr Rawe had assembled the boys in the gym.

“He spent an hour telling us in great detail about the amoeba. After that the experiment was abandoned.”

Mr Rawe had been a Methodist local preacher for more than 50 years, a “helper” for 13 years before that and a man who manifestly practised what he preached.

When the Bishop Auckland church launched a refurbishment appeal 20 years ago he suggested a “Double your money” initiative in which members were invited to leave donations on a plate. When the total reached several thousand pounds, he himself doubled it.

The year after being awarded the MBE for services to the community – “it absolutely flabbergasted him,” said Mr Dinning – his last sermon had been at Etherley in 2006.

“I think,” he said, “that they’ve heard enough of me by now.”

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Your tributes:

John Constable: "Have fond memories of him knocking through balls for me to run onto in games, I scored five in one. Remember him being a great encouragment with schoolwork too, definitely respected him."