A CHURCH was overflowing today as a community celebrated the life of a man described as “a giant of civic life”

Mike Airey, who had a distinguished career with Barclays Bank before establishing Handelsbanken in Darlington, died aged 59 after a battle against cancer.

He was vice chairman of Darlington Partnership, a prolific fundraiser, a Rotarian, and a key financial adviser to St Teresa’s Hospice and homeless charity the 700 Club.

Darlington Partnership chairman Alasdair MacConachie told the congregation at All Saints Church, Blackwell: “Mike was very special. His leadership, vision and grip were outstanding.”

Mr MacConachie said Mike had “contributed fiercely” to making St Teresa’s one of the best hospices in the country, as well as playing a leading role in the success of Darlington Partnership.

“He did a great job in so many ways, touching so many lives, and he will not be forgotten,” said Mr MacConachie.

Reverend John Elliston MBE, chief executive of the 700 Club, described Mike as “a man of integrity, an intensely private man, and a wise counsellor”.

Dr Elliston added: “He was a giant of Darlington Civic Life and his quiet, unassuming manner touched each life here today and many others.

“There are people who have jobs because of his business acumen, while homeless people, those with addictions, and others with life-threatening illnesses all have reason to be grateful to him.

“There was something very special about Mike. Customers wanted to deal with him because they knew he cared. There were no hidden agendas – he was there for them, not himself.”

Further tributes were paid by Darlington businessman and friend Peter Watson, of Thomas Watson Auctioneers, and the service was conducted by the Reverend Brian Holmes, who said he had seldom seen such warm tributes paid.

Mike was born in Newcastle but brought up in Sunderland and joined Barclays from school in 1974. He was “tenacious and driven” and was chosen for the Barclays’ management development programme.

After a period working at Potters Bar, in Hertfordshire, Mike returned to the North-East and established himself as a key figure in the Darlington community.

He met his wife Beverley at a Valentine’s Day pyjama party and they married in August 1983. They have two daughters, Beck and Lauren.

The family asked for donations to be made in Mike’s memory to the Bright Red charity which campaigns to improve the lives and treatment of those affected by blood cancer. The charity’s North-East base is Ward 33, The Northern Centre For Cancer Care, Freeman Hospital, Newcastle. For further information go to www.brightred.org.uk