TRIBUTES have been paid to one of the great characters of the North-East retail industry who has died at the age of 103.

Geoffrey Gillow, who made national newspaper and TV headlines when he successfully re-took his driving test at 100, passed away peacefully at a care home in Darlington.

His son, Bill, who took over the Geoffrey Gillow quality menswear shop in Darlington town centre nearly 40 years ago, said today: “He was a lovely man and a great dad. He was universally liked and didn’t have an enemy in the world.”

Geoffrey began his retail career at Blacketts carpet shop in his native Sunderland, and got further experience with Sam’s Furniture in Middlesbrough, before moving to Bainbridge Barkers department store in Darlington.

He was 50 before he took a gamble by opening his fashion shop in Grange Road, Darlington, during the recession of 1966.

Up until recently, Geoffrey had still gone to watch his Sunderland Football Club whenever he had the chance.

He was also still an active member of Darlington Golf Club, as well as Brass Castle in Middlesbrough, until he was 88 and had been a keen cricketer.

Asked for the secret to a long life, Geoffrey, who had a reputation for his dapper appearance, had said: “Being a coward – you just keep your head down and dodge trouble.”

And that was how he said he managed to get through the war while serving in the 8th Armoured Brigade with Field Marshall Montgomery.

With the Germans defeated and the war against Japan about to come to an end, there was an Army lottery to win a month’s leave.

When Geoffrey’s number came up, he went home and proposed to Minna, the Middlesbrough lass he’d sent letters to throughout the war. They were married on July 20, 1945, and their first child, Pamela, was born nine months later.

Two weeks before he passed away, Geoffrey had been the life and soul of his 103rd birthday party, enjoying a couple of glasses of wine, at North Park Care Home.

“He’d gone into the care home a year ago when he lost his memory, but he still enjoyed his party. He’ll be greatly missed but it was a nice and fitting way for him to go,” said Bill.