Robert Neville Hankinson (OS 1949)
Here is the story of Neville’s journey from Stockport to Sunderland:
Neville was born in December 1929, an only child, in Stockport, Cheshire, and lived with his parents who ran a fish and chip shop in Offerton, Stockport.
He attended Sunday school from an early age, where he met a certain Jean Fletcher in the baby class. She thought he was awful at first, but by their teenage years they were already an item, as we say, and so they remained ever after.
Neville was a bright boy, and duly got into Stockport Grammar School, the best school in town. He started to develop new interests, becoming interested in flying, and gaining his pilot’s license for gliders.
After passing his driving test, still at school, he would rise early, drive to the fish dock at the railway station to collect the fresh fish for his father’s fish and chip shop, all before going to school.
For a brief spell he went to Europe to carry out voluntary work in Aachen (a devastated German city) helping reconstruction efforts. This set the pattern for the rest of his life – helping people whoever they might be.
Neville became head boy of Stockport Grammar School and on leaving school at 19, he went to Manchester University to do a BA in social administration. He then started his social work career in Salford as a child care officer, being involved with many fostering cases, which enabled him to indulge in another passion – railways. He travelled the north-west extensively by train, visiting families.
Always a champion of lost causes, he was a lifelong supporter of Stockport County FC, even becoming a shareholder – one share!
Finally, in April 1955 Neville and Jean were married, and it would have been their diamond wedding celebration a few weeks from now.
In 1958 Neville moved to Wallasey children’s department, just before Naomi was born, and a few years later he was back in Salford as a children’s officer, taking up residence in Hazel Grove, where he stayed until 1971. Rebecca arrived in 1965, to complete the family, and to ensure that there were at least three females there to henpeck him, or at least to ensure that he was always well turned out. Neville loved his family, and they loved him.
Now the second half of Neville’s life began, with a move to Sunderland in February 1971, to take up an appointment as director of social services. This was short-lived, as three years later he had to re-apply for his own job due to the 1974 local government reorganization. Fortunately he was once more successful.
Neville enjoyed his holidays abroad and took the family to many far-off places: Tunisia, Sicily, Tenerife, Madeira, Florida, Costa del Sol, even the Far East, New York on the QE2 and back on Concorde, the Orient Express etc.
He continued to be a regular churchgoer, particularly enjoying the hymn-singing, where his voice could always be heard above the rest.
In September 1990 he gained a new family member, son-in-law Rob, when Rebecca got married (we must thank Rob for all his hard work in managing the arrangements for today). In due course two grandsons appeared, Gabriel and Isaac, although the male Hankinson line had come to an end. Finally that year Neville retired, but was far from inactive. The many voluntary positions he held were continued, and new ones added. To name just a few: the Salvation Army, the Prince’s Trust volunteers, the deafblind association (Sense), Guide Dogs for the Blind, Tyne-Tees Television Telethon Trust, chair of the Northumbria Red Cross, member of the rotary club of Sunderland: I’m sure I’ve missed out plenty.
Then in December 1994 he was appointed a deputy lieutenant of the county of Tyne and Wear.
In latter years unfortunately Neville’s health deteriorated to the point where he has spent the last two years in hospital and nursing home, but he stuck it out with his usual stoicism, and no words of complaint.
So what sort of a man was he? What did he achieve in these 85 years? Well, he touched us all, in many different ways.
He was a fair man, unselfish, modest, self-effacing, but could be firm when occasion demanded. Once he had considered a problem and made a decision he would stick by it, with his usual resoluteness. He was no pushover. Although a serious person he had a good sense of humour and he knew when to laugh. I can hear his chuckle even now. So, a life devoted to his family, and dedicated to the needy of society at large, has regrettably come to an end.
As Saint Peter would put it: “Welcome to the Kingdom of Heaven, Neville. You were a true Christian.”
Neville, we shall never forget you.