Celebrating the life of a man who made an immeasurable contribution to his North-East village...PETER BARRON reports

A BOUNDARY short of a century, but oh what an innings the remarkable John Gent put in on behalf of the village he loved.

John has passed away, aged 96, having devoted so much to Hurworth-on-Tees, near Darlington, and he fully deserves to be applauded off the pitch.

Made President of Rockliffe Park Cricket Club after service spanning seven decades, and chairman of the village hall for 35 years, he was arguably Hurworth’s best-known resident, from a proud local family.

And, on a sun-kissed evening around the wicket last Friday, respectful players bowed their heads for a minute’s silence as club chairman Richard Howell summed up John’s immense contribution.

“We have lost someone very precious to our club – Mr John Gent,” he said. “There are very few people who can say they were involved in any kind of sporting establishment for over 70 years but that’s what he gave to this club. Anyone who came across John would know he was a wonderful, lovely man who cared about everybody. We’re all hurting at the moment because he was a special man, but he’s finally hung his boots up, and it seems appropriate that we spend a minute just recognising what he gave to the village, sport and all of us as people.”

John was born a few miles away in Manfield, on February 25, 1925, one of four boys born to Billy Gent and his wife Gladys, whose maiden name, I’Anson, became his middle name. John’s twin, George, is still alive but Geoff died in 2019 and Alan passed away back in 1986.

The family moved to Neasham and, at the age of five, John was playing with George and a friend when he ran in front of a lorry, suffering injuries that resulted in him losing a leg and spending 16 months in hospital.

Then, he was sent to Chailey Heritage School, in Sussex, which specialised in prosthetics, and stayed there for four years. In 1937, the family moved to Church Row, overlooking the River Tees, at Hurworth, and the cottage – a few doors down from the village hall – became John’s home for the rest of his life.

He went on to be an architect for Darlington Borough Council, and was responsible for the designs of many properties and extensions in Hurworth and surrounding villages. He worked at the Town Hall until retiring in 1966.

“Uncle John never married but his family was very important to him, and his extended family was very much the cricket club,” says his nephew, Andrew Gent.

The club was formed in 1927 and John’s association dates back to being a player in the 1950s. He became secretary in 1968, fulfilling a host of other roles, including scorer, umpire, fundraiser, archivist, and generally the glue that held it all together.

The new clubhouse, opened in July 2013, bears the name “The Abbot Gent Pavilion” in honour of John and former president, Percy Abbott. When Percy died in 2018, John was his natural successor.

“He’d have done anything for the cricket club – it was his life,” says Andrew. “Every successful club needs someone like him to throw themselves into whatever has to be done. He put his heart and soul into the club and so many young cricket enthusiasts were mentored by him over the years – not coached, just encouraged and inspired.”

And, as if his work at Rockliffe Park wasn’t enough, he was also secretary of the Darlington and District League for several years, as well as having a stint as secretary of Hurworth Football Club.

“He also had the best grapevine in Hurworth,” smiles Andrew. Every year, he would share the harvest, dishing out bunches of grapes around the village.

News of John’s death has quickly spread through the village grapevine and tributes have poured in to a man of special vintage.

His funeral takes place at 2.15pm on Friday. The hearse will stop at his house, where Rockliffe Park Cricket Club archives are stored, before his coffin is carried on the short walk past the village hall to All Saints Church. Due to Covid restrictions, only close family members and invited friends will be allowed into the church, although there’s no doubt that villagers will pay their respects outside.

John I’Anson Gent, you played an absolute blinder, sir. Out for 96 – rest in peace.

ROCKLIFFE Park Cricket Club’s charity for this year is the Team Luke Foundation, raising money in memory of much-missed Darlington schoolboy Luke Bell, who died from neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer, in December 2018. He was just eight.

On July 15, the cricket club is staging a golf day, at nearby Rockliffe Hall, in support of the foundation, which is raising money for research into neuroblastoma, and raising awareness of the disease.

THE week can’t be allowed to pass without congratulating Maura Regan OBE, who was made a Dame in The Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to education.

It has been a pleasure to have known Maura, pictured below, for more years than either of us care to remember, and her dedication to improving the lives of young people has been truly outstanding.

Having begun her teaching career in London, she went on to become principal of Carmel College, in Darlington, before becoming the founding chief executive of Carmel Education Trust, leading the school to multi-academy trust status.

Now known as Bishop Hogarth Catholic Education Trust, it comprises 29 secondary and primary schools, will grow to 35 schools by 2022, and is recognised nationally for the high standards it sets.

The Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, Sue Snowdon, says: “This is one of the highest honours that can be received by an individual and Maura is a most worthy recipient.

“She has made an outstanding, sustained, long term contribution to education, which has had a positive impact on many young lives of students and staff.”

There is nothing like a Dame...or a great teacher.

The Northern Echo:

HOW exciting to see Hollywood superstar Harrison Ford enjoying the delights of Geordieland while filming in the region.

It must make a nice change for him to be in a galaxy far, far h’away.

FINALLY, as the world’s worst tipster, you’ll be relieved to know I’m not going to be getting carried away about the chances of the England football team.

However, I do think we’ve got a much better chance of winning Euro 2020 than The Eurovision Song Contest any time soon.