ONE of the great joys of my job is crossing paths with ordinary yet special people who make a difference in unlimited ways. When it came to David Skuce, it was more a case of crossing tracks – railway tracks.

It happened in the autumn of 2011 when I took my dear old mum for a ride on the Weardale Railway, from Darlington to Stanhope, and David was the white-haired volunteer ticket inspector who enriched our journey with his local knowledge, exemplary manners, and passion for rekindling the age of steam.

Throughout our journey, always smiling beneath his proud, black, peaked cap, he delighted in gently explaining points of interest.

I wrote about our encounter and described him as the perfect ambassador for County Durham’s glorious little heritage railway. “In fact, he’s what you might call the model railwayman,” my piece concluded.

Six years on, a lovely but sad letter arrived from David’s wife Ann, telling me that he’d died suddenly, just after his 80th birthday.

“I hope you don’t mind me writing to you, I just thought you would want to know,” wrote Ann.

I’m so glad she did because it gives me the chance to publish this tribute to someone whose genuine friendliness touched many people along the way.

Ann explained that he was still doing his volunteer shifts right up until he died. Due to the onset of Parkinson’s, he’d had to give up issuing tickets, but he’d never stopped greeting passengers and passing on fascinating snippets of information.

“He just loved people and he loved the railways,” said Ann, who married David at Witton Park in 1961. They’d met when she was a nurse at Darlington Memorial Hospital and he was a patient after being knocked off his motorbike by a drink-driver.

Ruth Carroll, volunteer co-ordinator of the Weardale Railway Trust, described David as “a true gentleman”.

“Passengers, staff and volunteers all loved him because he was quite simply a lovely man who found joy in imparting his passion and knowledge of the railway,” she said.

“He struggled with the tickets when he became ill but no one wanted him to leave and he carried on as our ambassador. It seemed like he was made for the role.”

Indeed, David became the friendly face of the railway, beaming out of posters at Stanhope and Wolsingham stations.

David was known for his love of a particular spot along the railway which led to him wearing a lapel badge with a heron symbol. Heading from Stanhope, just before Frosterley station, he would always enthuse about the herons which liked to flock in the field in front of Rogerley Hall.

Despite the railways being his hobby, David had made his living on the buses. He worked as a bus driver, initially for United in Bishop Auckland, and later for Four Seasons Travel in Durham. Four Seasons happened to have a contract transporting celebrities when they were in this country and, David built up a collection of memorabilia from the likes of the Harlem Globetrotters, The Supremes, Engelbert Humperdinck, The Three Degrees, Rudolf Nureyev, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, Rita Coolidge, Crystal Gayle and Billie Jo Spears.

He enjoyed getting to know the stars but he loved the company of ordinary people every bit as much.

“I miss him and he’s going to be greatly missed by his family and all his friends,” said Ann.

He’ll also undoubtedly be missed by the thousands who had the pleasure to cross tracks with him on the Weardale Railway.

David Skuce – husband, dad, grandad, great-grandad, gentleman and model railwayman – has reached the last stop. Rest in peace.

FORMER Chancellor George Osborne started his job as editor of the London Evening Standard last week and it made me look back on my first day on a newspaper.

It was at the Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph, in the middle of a drought in 1981, and I was despatched to interview the manager of Woolworths about how sales of dehydrated water were going.

I was halfway through a conscientious interview before it dawned on me that it was a prank.

I don’t suppose George Osborne was given such an initiation.

AFTER using Facebook to invite details of other “first day pranks”, Darlington hairdresser Nigel Dowson got in touch. “On my first day as a hairdressing apprentice, I got sent to another salon to see if they had any ‘tartan tint’ we could borrow,” he said.

MEANWHILE, John Gelson, now of BBC Tees, recalled his first day at the Peterlee office of the Hartlepool Mail and Sunderland Echo, which was in a shop unit in the middle of the town centre.

John was asked to rearrange a display of photos for sale so he duly climbed into the shop window. His heart sank as he heard the door click shut behind him and the sound of muffled laughter from beyond.

“I soon discovered that the only way to avoid attracting a crowd of onlookers was to look busy, so I rearranged the photos in the window dozens of times until they let me out – an hour later.”