‘A true gentleman’ - Tributes paid to popular fish merchant, pub landlord and Freemason

Touching tributes have been paid to popular wholesale fish merchant, long-serving pub and restaurant

Touching tributes have been paid to popular wholesale fish merchant, long-serving pub and restaurant landlord, tireless campaigner and fundraiser Michael Cole. Picture: The Cole family - Credit: Archant

The fishing industry and wider community is mourning the loss of “one of its authentic characters and most passionate supporters.”

Touching tributes have been paid to popular wholesale fish merchant, long-serving pub and restaurant

Touching tributes have been paid to popular wholesale fish merchant, long-serving pub and restaurant landlord, tireless campaigner and fundraiser Michael Cole. Picture: The Cole family - Credit: Archant

Warm tributes have been paid to popular wholesale fish merchant, long-serving pub and restaurant landlord, tireless campaigner and fundraiser Michael Cole.

Family and friends of Mr Cole, 73, have hailed his dedication to work and commitment to the community, after his death on Sunday, November 15 following a heart attack.

Mr Cole was a long-standing wholesale fish merchant at one of the biggest companies in the area – JT Cole Fish Merchants – which was founded in 1935 by his grandfather, JT Cole.

After he began working on the fish market as a teenager, earning £7 and ten shillings a week, Mr Cole took up a full time position in 1964.

Touching tributes have been paid to popular wholesale fish merchant, long-serving pub and restaurant

Touching tributes have been paid to popular wholesale fish merchant, long-serving pub and restaurant landlord, tireless campaigner and fundraiser Michael Cole. Picture: The Cole family - Credit: Archant


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His family said: “This was during the glory days, when Lowestoft was one of the largest fishing ports in England.

“Michael, along with brother Don, merged the company with Sam Cole Food ltd in 2007, where Michael continued to work until October of this year.

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“Over the years he became one of the best known characters on Lowestoft fish market.”

With work being his passion, Mr Cole refused to discuss the idea of retirement.

He regularly gave talks about fish and the fishing industry to schools and other organisations.

His family said: “Following in the footsteps of his beloved uncle Jim, J. H. Cole, he became President of the Lowestoft Fish Merchant’s Association and was a ceaseless campaigner for fishing rights.”

After a scoliosis diagnosis, Mr Cole spent almost all of 1965 – including his 18th birthday – in the National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, Middlesex.

He endured a spinal fusion operation, had to have a bone graft from his thigh and was told there was not any guarantees that he wouldn’t be paralysed if the operation wasn’t successful.

His family said: “At this tender age he vowed that if he was lucky enough to come out of hospital and lead a relatively normal life, he would make the most of every minute.

“This was evident in the way he lived his life – with the many clubs and associations he was part of.”

A proud member of the 14th Lowestoft scout group, Mr Cole achieved his Queen’s Scout award and a lifelong love of scouting resulted in him becoming chairman of the 1st Carlton Colville Air Scout Group for many years in the 1980s and 1990s.

He joined the Lowestoft lifeboat crew in the 1970s and proudly took part in several rescues, being elected as an honorary member of the Lowestoft Lifeboat Crewmen’s Association in 1992.

As a member of the Round Table for several years he became chairman and later president, making many lifelong friends before he later joined 41 Club.

His family said: “Due to his energy and enthusiasm for charity fundraising he joined the Waveney committee for the Children’s Hospice for the Eastern Region, which ran from 1989 to 1991 and successfully raised many thousands of pounds.”

As the chairman of the local advisory committee (LAC) of the Fisherman’s Mission – fundraising for fishermen and their dependents – every October Mr Cole donated a large amount of herrings for The Blessing of the Nets Service and charity supper at Great Yarmouth Minster, where he was married.

His family said: “He was humbled to see his name etched in stone on a plaque by his beloved friend, stonemason Colin Smith.

“From 1989 he was landlord and co-owner of the Swan Inn at Barnby, where he hosted many TV chefs including Rick Stein, Brian Turner and Delia Smith.”

As a Freemason and a member of Lodge of Prudence in Halesworth among other Lodges, until recently Mr Cole had held the post of Almoner for many years which required him to keep in touch with and help those masons and family members who were ill or distressed.

His family said: “Every Sunday he would spend hours on the telephone to them with comforting words and genuine concern and offers of help.

“Many a mason received a surprise parcel of fish or a dressed crab.

“He never shied away from the most difficult calls but always knew what to say, the irony being that his health was worse than most of the people he called.

“Despite suffering with severe scoliosis and latterly, heart failure, he never complained.”

He leaves a widow Shirley, four children – Michael Jnr, Rebecca, James and Laura – and two grandchildren Ethan and Everly.

Mr Cole’s funeral will take place on Wednesday, December 9 at Christ Church, Lowestoft.

Only family will be able to attend due to Covid-19 restrictions. However, people who wish to can pay their respects by lining the route of the cortege from Mutford into Lowestoft, including a lap of the fish market, before proceeding to Christ Church.

‘A very sad loss’

Touching tributes have been paid following Mr Cole’s death.

A fellow Mason and friend said: “Mike was probably the best loved man that I ever met in Suffolk Freemasonary.

“Always happy and so generous – a very sad loss.”

Waveney MP Peter Aldous said: “I always enjoyed Michael’s company and he was incredibly warm and hospitable whatever the circumstances.

“I always remember well his kindness and enthusiasm, whether down on the fish market or at social events.”

Sam Cole, his nephew and business partner – who has received condolences from customers from across the country and also Scotland and Iceland – said: “The fishing industry will mourn the loss of one of its authentic characters and most passionate supporters.

“Over several decades Michael and Donny successfully ran a conglomerate of companies related to the fishing industry.

“They proudly held a royal warrant, supplying fish to the queen.

“The death of Michael means we have lost a true gentleman, known for his integrity, enthusiasm and willingness to listen.

“Personally he was my mentor, friend and dear uncle Michael.”

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