John Stephen Behrens

Moving tributes from his two sons

MOVING TRIBUTES were paid to John Behrens at a Service of Celebration for his life at Ripon Cathedral on Tuesday, 25 July 2017.  He died on May 7 aged 89. The tributes were given by his sons, Charles and James. Other members of the family also took part in the service.  

John and Shirley Behrens and their family lived in Bishop Monkton for many years. He was a former High Sheriff for West Yorkshire, a magistrate for 30 years and headed the family textiles firm in Bradford. Mention was made of his wide support for many charities.

In his tribute, Charles, the elder son, referred to the longevity of his father’s forebears. John’s grandfather lived from 1846 to 1936 and his father from 1885 to 1975 and John was born in July, 1927 so was in his 90th year.

‘The similarities with his father and grandfather did not end with the length of their lives. They all dedicated much of their time to charitable and public works, they were devoted to their families and all worked for the same business’.

After prep school at Cressbrook in Kirby Lonsdale, where he was joint head boy, he followed in his father’s footsteps to Rugby. Afterwards, it being wartime he volunteered and joined the Army. To his parents’ relief six days later came VE day.

In 1946 his regiment, the Rifle Brigade, was sent to Palestine where it faced the unenviable task of trying to broker peace between the Arabs and Jews.

On leaving the Army he followed in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great grandfather joining Sir Jacob Behrens and Sons Ltd, the textile firm which was founded in 1834. Although based in Bradford and Manchester he also worked at their offices in London, Hong Kong and Shanghai and in the 1960s spent time developing business in the West Indies.

‘He loved business and the people who worked with him and continued going to his office until he was 86. As with his father the decision to retire was less to do with a blunting of his business acumen and more to do with the risk of blunting his car bonnet on the journey in!’

Charles said his father had a strong sense of duty, and helping people and public service were important themes. He supported many charities, two of which stood out – The Fred Towler Charity Trust and The Bradford Tradesmen’s Homes and he was an active Chairman of both for decades.

In 1958 John met his wife to be, then Shirley Billson, who was a teacher in London. They were married on 28 November 1964 at Holy Trinity Brompton.

Charles concluded; ‘I remember Dad best for his energy, the twinkle in his eye and the many wonderful bonfire-side chats we had about life’.

In his tribute, James, the younger son, talked about his father as a family man and listed his many qualities as such.

Firstly he was supportive in so many ways to his sons and daughter and his grandchildren. 

Secondly, he was sociable and quite simply, he loved people

‘He was a wonderful host, generous and gracious and, to quote one of the letters; ‘He was a gentleman out of the top drawer’.

Thirdly, he was traditional. ‘He laid breakfast the night before, had cornflakes and chopped banana and top of the milk every morning, crumpets for tea, the Archers at 7pm, followed by a gin and tonic and every Christmas he asked for a can of 3 in 1 oil.

‘He point blank refused Haggis and Fish'n'chips, adored Dad’s Army and Mrs Brown’s Boys and his cars were always dark blue. More seriously, it was his consistency and fairness that helped during his near 30 years as a magistrate on the Bradford bench.

‘And it was his sense of tradition that ensured that he and my mother had such a wonderful year when he was High Sheriff of West Yorkshire in 1996. He considered it a huge honour and, after the initial training which included how to enter and exit a car when wearing a sword, he threw himself enthusiastically into the role.

‘He always had a twinkle in his eye, which he never lost. Even during his final visit to Harrogate Hospital, he charmed the nurses, although he did confuse them when he pointed to the curtains and said they were his (they were, in fact made by a textile company called Behrens).

‘We will remember our father as a wonderful husband to our mother, devoted father to the three of us and loving grandfather to his grandchildren’.

It was fitting after these two moving tributes, to see and hear from other members of the family at the Service of Celebration for the life of John Stephen Behrens.

These included a reading of That Man is a Success by Robert Louis Stevenson read by Harry Behrens (grandson), a reading of  Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley and read by Clementine Behrens (granddaughter), a reading from 1 Corinthians 13 read by Patrick Shone (nephew) and a reading of He is Gone by David Harkins read by Lucinda Behrens (granddaughter). 

At the family’s request the retiring collection was shared between The Fred Towler Charity Trust, the Bradford Tradesmen’s Homes and St John Baptist Church, Bishop Monkton.