Gavin Paterson MBE | Stalham Farmers' Club | Leading speakers from the agricultural industry.

Gavin Paterson, MBE 1930-2015

Hugely respected in the dairy industry, Mr Paterson won the supreme trophy of the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers in 1970 – having won it 17 years earlier with his father.

The decision by the former Norwich City Football Club director to sell the milking portion of his prized Smallburgh and Lyngate herd in 2011 was one of the hardest in his then 60-year farming career. It also ended a family tradition of dairying going back more than a century as the milking portion of about 240 cows and heifers was dispersed. His Holstein Friesian herd includes two of the dairying’s most famous names, which won the industry’s supreme awards at the International Dairy Show.

Mr Paterson, who was a director of Norwich City for 12 years from 1985 and the driving force behind the Worstead Festival for 40 years, was made an MBE for services to the community of Norfolk in the 2006 new year’s honours.

On their debut at Olympia in 1953, his father, James, won with Smallburgh Brenda. Then 17 years later at the capital’s last Dairy Show, at Olympia in October 1970, it was Mr Paterson’s turn to be presented with the supreme trophy of the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers by Princess Alexandra. Their cows had won on their debut with herdsman, George Clare, and at the last international show George’s son Arthur was in charge. This achievement was unique because no other father and son, with separate herds of any breed, have ever won this top award and no other father and son stockmen have brought them out. Cows have been central to the family’s farming. In 1925, Mr Paterson’s father moved from a 70-acre hill farm in Lanarkshire, where he had been milking 35 cows. After motorcycling around Scotland to find a farm – and failing – he was encouraged to come south and east by top south Norfolk farmer, “uncle” James Alston, because land was readily available for hiring. “In those days, farms were two a penny,” said Mr Paterson, who became only the third Norfolk farmer to be elected president of Europe’s largest breed society, Holstein UK, in 2004.

Gradually, his father built up four herds, each of 72 cows. “If he needed more cattle, he bought more heifers from Ayrshire because he knew some dealers who were relations of [fellow Norfolk farmer] William Donald. At that time, tuberculosis testing had started.But it had to be TB-free milk. “I can just remember when we cleared out any reactors (TB infected cattle) and my dad would go to Scotland to buy a couple of truck loads of Ayrshire heifers. We carted all the milk from our dairies by lorry. It was processed and bottled into one-third of a pint bottles and delivered to all schools in Norwich by 11am.” He and his late brother, Ian, both went to college in Scotland. When Ian returned home in the late 1940s and had married, he told his father that he would prefer to stick with Ayrshires at nearby Dilham. “My father said: ‘You’d better take a lorry and pick up the best from the other herds. But if you’re going to be that keen, I’d better buy some pedigree cattle.’ “Then, it was off back to Scotland to get three truck loads of Ayrshires. And he did the same, later, with the Friesians.

That’s how it all started.”Later, when his grandparents retired, they didn’t want to sell the cows. “They came down by train. Mother’s brothers, Uncle Rob Alston, of Witton, North Walsham, James Alston, of Sco Ruston, and my father met the cows at North Walsham station – they picked them out in turn and so they each had a third.” In the early days, the Scots were always tenants. Until, one day, with a modest inheritance, his father bought a little farm in Dilham. “When he went to Norwich next week, he was told by Uncle James: ‘You don’t buy land. You can’t get your money out if there’s a collapse’. ”

But it wasn’t long before he started buying land – and thereby hangs another story. Actually, Mr Paterson’s showing interest had been stimulated by a visit to the London Dairy Show in 1952. “A group from Aylsham Young Farmers’ Club went on a bus trip organized by Jim Mitchell, of Blickling, with his sons,” he said. The next day, he reported to his father, who was ill in bed. “I said, rather cheekily: I think we’ve got some cows out there which are just as good.” “My father said: ‘If you really think that, go and talk to George Clare, get a couple of cows on test and see how you get on. Then the next year, in 1953, we went and won. I was just 23.”After their first triumph with Smallburgh Brenda, which produced 13 gallons of milk in 24 hours, they returned every year until the last London show. Mr Paterson said that the enthusiasm of his dairy team was key. “Arthur was fantastic – he learned from his father, George and I learned from my father.”

Mr Paterson, who has died aged 85, was a founder of, and driving force behind, the Worstead Festival, which marked its 50th anniversary this year. Started to raise money for repairs to Worstead Church tower, the festival became a major event in Norfolk’s summer calendar. Over the years funds paid for a new village hall in Worstead, named in honour of the Queen Mother, who opened it, and also raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for other good causes in the parish and surrounding areas.He was chairman of the festival trustees for 39 years before retiring and was a life president.  A Worstead parish Councillor for more than 50 years, he stood down in May this year.

An accomplished bagpipe player, he was honorary piper to the Norfolk Caledonian Society. Awarded a fellowship by the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, Mr Paterson was made a life vice-president of Norwich City Football Club. In July, he published a book, “Breeding Success - My Life as a Norfolk Farmer,” written with journalist Mark Nicholls.

He leaves a widow, Marcia and sons, Gavin, Alexander and Bruce, and three grandchildren. A funeral service will be held at St Mary’s Parish Church, Worstead, on Wednesday December 16 at 11.30am. Donations to Marie Curie Cancer Care or The Clan Trust.

A service of thanksgiving for the life of Marion Ritchie will be held on Monday, December 21 at St Catherine’s Church, Ludham, 1pm. Donations to the British Heart Foundation or You Are Not Alone (YANA) may be made.