WHEN Mike Probert used to walk through Farnham, rarely could he get further than a few yards without somebody stopping him for a chat or asking for some of his famously sage advice.
Such was the high esteem that many bestowed upon Mike, a staunch supporter of the Badshot Lea community for some six decades and beloved grandfather of eight who passed away last week aged 84.
Mike was born on July 17, 1932, at his family home in West Street, Farnham, the second of six children to parents Thomas and Mable Probert.
He grew up in West Street and went to West Street Boys School (modern-day Potters Gate primary) and afterwards Guildford Technical College with aspirations of a career in construction.
On leaving college Mike took a job with a local builders merchants, but before long national service beckoned and he joined the RAF military police, stationed for two years in Germany.
This had an indelible effect on young Mike, and upon his return he joined the Surrey Police cadet force harbouring dreams of a life in uniform - only to be rejected by the force on account of his three missing teeth.
Mike instead took a job with Robert Dyas in Downing Street and in the early 1950s he met his future wife Jean (nee Rentoul) in Wokingham.
During their courtship Mike would frequently make the long journey to Berkshire by bicycle and they married soon after at St Paul’s Church, Wokingham, on July 3, 1954.
They bought a house in Lower Weybourne Lane which remains their family home today, 59 years later, and their first son Stephen was born in 1958, followed by their second Adrian in 1960 and daughter Alison in 1962.
Mike left Robert Dyas and took a sales manager role with jewellery wholesalers LIONITE Mele in around 1969 - a company with whom he would spend the rest of his working life, progressing to the role of sales director before retiring aged 72.
A man of many talents, Mike managed a boys’ football team, the Leatonians, for several years during the early 1970s and also ran a mobile disco for private functions towards the end of that decade.
It was also in the late 70s that Mike gained a large reputation for his role in establishing The Kiln community centre in St George’s Road and helping bring the derelict building back to life after the demise of the village’s previous community hall.
Having spearheaded the restoration of the run-down former hop kiln, he was elected chairman of the village hall trust committee in 1977, a position he retained at the time of his death 40 years later.
Mike also served for many years as a governor of Badshot Lea Village Infants School including 12 years as chairman, a warden at St George’s Church, an independent Farnham town councillor and chairman of the Badshot Lea Community Association.
Never a stranger to the Herald letters page, he fought Badshot Lea’s corner in many planning rows over the years and was a fervent supporter of retaining the strategic gap between Farnham and Aldershot.
In recognition of his long public service, in February 2010 Mike was among the first cohort of people to be honoured with a Services to Farnham award.
Behind the scenes, Mike was also a committed husband and respected head of his family who dearly loved each of his three children and eight grandchildren.
“Dad was a point of reference for everyone, and not just his family,” his middle son Adrian told the Herald. “I used to call him the ‘Mike-lepedia’ because he knew something about everything - and even if he didn’t know the answer, he knew who would.
“He was so keen on preserving the integrity of Farnham and Badshot Lea and always had a story to tell, on almost any subject.”
Cliff Watts, secretary of the Badshot Lea Community Association, added: “Over many years Mike has dedicated a huge amount of time and energy representing, protecting and standing up for our community.
“His activities with the school, village hall, community association and various other local groups has had a very significant influence on the Badshot Lea of today.
“He is a great loss to us all and our thoughts and best wishes are with his wife Jean and the family at this very difficult time.”
Michael Valentine, who hired Mike to work for his company LIONITE Mele in the late 60s, said: “In 1969 as a American working in your country I met Mike at The Bush Hotel and from there had a very successful career with our company and we became lifelong friends.
“From sales representative to sales director he helped guided us through good and difficult times. Without Mike I doubt whether or not we would still be a successful company.
“Mike was extremely proud of his family and they are representative of what a fine person he was.
“He visited us in the USA many times and was a great ambassador for your country. He would always seek the good when making comparisons in our cultures but never hesitate to point out our differences. We miss him already.”
Mike survived a major heart attack in 1989, and it is suspected a heart attack also caused his sudden death at home on Saturday, January 21.
He is survived by his wife Jean, brother Milson and sister Anne, three children Stephen, Adrian and Alison, and eight grandchildren.
His funeral arrangements will be confirmed in due course.