Michael Mason – a man of many parts who lived out his beliefs

Michael Mason, teacher, singer, walker, Christian

By Betsy Everett

Michael Mason, who has died in Leyburn aged 84, was a teacher, singer, walker and churchgoer whose deep commitment to all these interests lasted a lifetime.

He sang in choirs from boyhood, first at school and then in church, continuing to sing bass with the North Yorkshire Chorus, which he had helped to found, until a few weeks before he died.

Members of the after-church singing group he started as a young man in Sheffield, and where he would meet his future wife, continued to hold reunions for nearly 60 years until his final illness last year.

It was his passion for walking and the countryside that led him to the Yorkshire Dales, because he wanted his young family to enjoy an area he had loved as a boy, and long after retirement he continued to teach.

With his wife Doreen, Michael was a regular worshipper at St Andrew’s Church, Aysgarth. Like all other aspects of his life, his Christian commitment was expressed in practical ways. It also informed his politics: he was an avid Guardian reader, Labour supporter and debater of all things political, and if others were led in different directions by their faith, he was ready to argue the case.

John Michael Mason was born in December, 1935 at Ranmoor, Sheffield, the first of two sons of Charles Edward and Patricia Mason. His brother Richard was born two years later. Sheffield was heavily blitzed in December 1940 and sheltering in the pantry during air raids and playing in bomb craters across the road were strong childhood memories.

In 1946 Michael won a scholarship to King Edward VII preparatory school and the following year his cohort were relocated to High Storrs Grammar School for Boys where he spent the rest of his school days.

His academic strengths lay in chemistry, physics and maths, subjects for which he maintained a passion throughout his life, and joining the Scouts in his school days gave him a lifelong joy of exploring the countryside as well as teaching him practical outdoor skills.

His true love, and life-long obsession, was music. He became an accomplished and dedicated musician, starting as a boy with the school madrigal society. In [DATE] he joined St Columba’s Church choir in Crosspool and was a founder member of the Sandygate Singers, a group of like-minded friends who met after church on Sundays.

After leaving Sheffield for the Dales in the late 1960s he continued to be active in choral and church music, and during the brief period the family lived in Hong Kong in the early 1970s, he sang with the nascent Hong Kong Bach Choir. On returning to Yorkshire he was invited to lead a choir at St Andrew’s Church, Aysgarth, remaining as choirmaster there until the mid-eighties when he formed another choir at St Oswald’s Church in Askrigg, supported by the Royal School of Church Music through which he developed a strong national network of musicians.

In retirement, his singing activities, and related travel, increased: he took part in a number of overseas performances for BBC Sunday Worship around the Mediterranean including in Greece and Italy, travelled with the North Yorkshire Chorus to South Carolina, and helped organise a series of exchanges in the nineties between the churches of mid-Wensleydale, and Auringen and Thamsbrück in Germany. In later years he also joined The Swale Singers and Spennithorne Church choir, one of the few remaining parish church choirs in the Dales.

From1957-59 he did his national service at RAF Kinloss carrying out many dangerous and challenging expeditions as part of the Highlands mountain rescue team, which introduced him to serious mountaineering, including completing the Pennine Way and the British Three Peaks challenge.

One of his proudest achievements was climbing Scafell Pike at the age of 80, and two years later, in 2018, on the last of several hiking holidays to Australia and New Zealand, he completed a walking trip in Tasmania.

He supported the YHA, the Ramblers Association and the Council for the Protection of Rural England, and as a volunteer for the North Yorkshire County Council footpaths maintenance team undertook hard manual work repairing footpaths, stiles, bridges and gates, continuing with surveying tasks well into his 80s.

He began his career as an industrial chemist before training as a teacher. In 1962 he and Doreen Anne Frances Davison were married  in St John the Evangelist Church, Ranmoor, Sheffield. They moved to Leyburn where Michael joined Leyburn Secondary Modern school as a maths teacher.

After the brief spell in Hong Kong Michael returned to Sheffield to teach at the Moorside School, then soon afterwards at Risedale School in Catterick Garrison. The family then moved to Cross House, Carperby, which was to be the  family home for the next five decades.

Michael retuned to The Wensleydale School as head of maths in the late eighties until his retirement, then at various schools including Richmond School and The Convent of The Assumption, Richmond.

He died on March 14, 2020, at the new home he and Doreen shared in Kirkwood Hall, Leyburn. He now rests in Aysgarth churchyard, the sound of the Falls and the surrounding beauty of Wensleydale as his backdrop. He is remembered with great affection and good humour by Doreen, his sons John and Patrick, daughter Penny, and granddaughter Holly.

A memorial service for Michael will be held at St Andrew’s Church, Aysgarth,  at a time and date  to be arranged.

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