THERE won’t be another Sheffield funeral like it. The rain was teeming down but people lined the pavements, regardless of the spray from passing cars.
A big cheer went up as the hearse drove slowly past my vantage point. People clapped and hollered. Some, clutching bottles of wines or cans, raised a glass. Cars in the funeral cortege following the hearse hooted in reply. Through steamy windows I could see glasses waved in salute.
If there was a lack of the usual reverence normally seen at funerals it was exactly what David Baldwin, much-loved boss of the Omega Banqueting Suite, would have wanted.
Covid-19 had restricted the number of mourners to 10 at Hutcliffe Wood Crematorium. In normal times the chapel would have been packed like sardines. But these are not normal times.
So his widow Pauline and family had asked his friends and customers to line the route as the hearse set off from his family home in Dore and bring a bottle in lieu of a wake.
But what to wear at a roadside funeral? Half a dozen chefs, all of whom had been helped in their careers one way another by the man they called the Big ‘Un or Mr B, had no doubts. Despite the rain they took off their coats and stood in their whites. Some of the male mourners wore black ties.
We all cheered: former staff – Mr B inspired loyalty – customers and people from across the hospitality industry.
After the hearse passed we broke away, sheltering under the arch at Abbeydale Sports Club, which houses the successor to Baldwin’s Omega, the Omega at Abbeydale. People swapped stories, remembering his acts of generosity, always willing to give a word of advice or lend a helping hand.
Over at Hutcliffe the funeral service was beginning. “Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me,” sang the Kinks. There were plenty of days – and nights – to remember at the Omega: works Christmas parties, salmon and strawberry evenings, Sixties and Seventies nights, society shindigs, limbo dancing at Caribbean Nights and midday lunches.
The music faded. Elder son David and daughter Polly gave their tributes. Son Ben read the words of My Way. Things were always done Mr B’s way at the Omega because it was the right way.
There was a psalm, The Lord is My Shepherd. Prayers. A Blessing. And then music from Les Miserables, Master of the House. The lyrics could have been written with David Baldwin in mind.
“Wecome, Monsieur, sit yourself down
And meet the best innkeeper in town . . .
Master of the house, doling out the charm
Ready with a handshake and an open palm
Tells a saucy tale, makes a little stir
Customers appreciate a bon-viveur . . .”
That’s exactly what he was, a bon-viveur. And he made sure his customers were that, too, while they were in his company. Although the lyrics forget the swearing . . .
“Everybody raise a glass to the Master of the House.”
RIP David Baldwin 1939-2010.