David Humphrey 1939-2018

It was a swelteringly hot day for the Thanksgiving Service on Wednesday 25th July for the life for one of Itchen Abbas’s most prominent residents, David Humphrey.  Despite the heat, around 190 of David’s family and friends were present to bid him farewell.

Revd Alex Pease led the service and gave an Address and Revd Jenni Black led the prayers.  The hymns were Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, Love Divine All Loves Excelling and Jerusalem.  The readings were ‘He is Gone’ by David Harkins (read by Jamie Humphrey), ‘Do not stand at my grave’ by Mary Elizabeth Frye (read by Shona Humphrey), and ‘Epitaph on my own Friend’ by Robert Burns (read by Jonathan Humphrey).  The Bible reading was 1 Corinthians 13 (read by James Humphrey).  The processional and recessional music were Cello Concerto by Edward Elgar played by Jacqueline du Pre and Top of the World by the Carpenters.  John Purver played the organ.

Martin Humphrey read the following eulogy (published with his permission):

Thank you for coming here today to honour my father.  I will try and touch on some aspects of his life.  Needless to say, there is a bit about chickens and eggs!

My father was born on Valentine’s day in 1939 to John and Bertha, and from an early age was interested in his father’s egg business.  In those days, all egg producing chickens were free range, laying only seasonally, so if you wanted eggs in the winter, you pickled them in the summer.

Friends and Education

At father’s prep school, Cumnor House, he met a lifelong friend walking through the school gates on their first day, Tony Poulson – that was over 70 years ago.  Tony and his wife Jean were to be friends of my Father and mother, for many years.  Tony was also of farming stock, and they regularly met up at NFU dinners, and on occasion caused mischief by swopping shoes that were left outside of guests’ rooms in the hotel.  I am sure that it was funny at the time…..

My father met another lifelong friend, David Godwin at my father’s next school, Sherborne.  He loved his time there, gaining O and A levels and even a Chemistry S level, which led him to consider a tempting job offer from ICI. His other option was to join his father with the chickens.  Much to the delight of his parents, who quoted his words for many years, he said `I will come with you, Dad’.


My grandfather wanted my father to spread his wings beyond the home farm at Twyford, so he moved to the newly acquired farm at Kingsworthy in 1959.  He lodged with the then farm manager, later ran that farm, and then when his brother Peter joined the business, they ran it for many years as joint Managing Directors in what Peter always referred to as his business marriage to his brother.  Together they grew the business to 6 laying farms with 1.4million laying birds, and another 5 rearing farms to grow those chickens.   Father built his first free range house in 1985, and more followed in due course.

Beyond, the family business, Father and Peter were involved in the wider poultry sector.  Father must have been the youngest member of the British Egg Marketing Board, they who first put the little lion on to eggs back in the 1960s, and ran brilliant TV adverts with Tony Hancock promoting eggs. 

My father was also the Chairman of Thames Valley eggs, the largest egg marketing Coop in the Country. When, Thames Valley merged with two other coops to form Goldenlay Eggs (a phrase that may cause titters today), he was voted chairman of that business.  It was a huge concern within the egg market of its day.

Following the challenges of the Edwina Curry, Salmonella in Eggs crisis in 1988, egg production and marketing was forever different, and our business changed too.  Father and Peter made the decision to pull out of Thames Valley eggs, and invest in Stonegate farmers.  Father ran the project to build the new packing centre at Twyford as well as sitting on the board of Stonegate Farmers for many years, until we parted company to sell our own eggs. 

Father had always been a keen supporter of the NFU, and for a number of years sat on the NFU local and national poultry boards, but in his late 50s he was voted to chair NFU national poultry board, a time consuming role, but an honour.

We even sold eggs to retailers in our own right for a short time…. As we found that a great way to lose a £million in a year, that had to stop!  Those were difficult times, and during that time Father chose to leave the business, for a slightly early retirement. 

Despite being retired, my Father never lost his fascination and interest in the business, quizzing everyone regularly, and was still dispensing useful advice to me two days before he died.


Lets just wind the clock back a bit, to that mention of Father lodging with the Farm Manager at Kings Worthy.  The manager was away on holiday, and Father had a party in the house.  His sister Diana, brought along a friend, one Susan Grace from Alresford.  She appeared to have made quite an impression, but my father, who was prone to doing the unconventional, subjected her to The Test.

The Test had to separate the Wheat from the Chaff, until now the score was Wheat zero, Chaff 5. Yes, in that somewhat esoteric way of my father’s, he wanted to see how Sue would handle the South Pacific test.  No, not taking her away on holiday, to a far flung destination, but to the cinema for a showing of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic musical. 

Whereas the previous 5 candidates had washed that man right out of their hair, Sue obviously talked sufficient Happy Talk for Father to take things further, which meant a few weeks later going to the Lake District where he proposed on the edge of Lake Derwent. So Father had met Sue, proposed, and been accepted within 6 weeks.  Fast mover!!

I am told that early days in the marital home were not easy, Sue could not cook like his mother.  And she very nearly sent him back!  Obviously things turned around for them, as what I like to think was the pinnacle of their life occurred 14 months later, when I arrived.  In time they came to realise that they could not improve upon near perfection despite the arrival of both my brothers with two year gaps between each of us.  They were, however equally proud of all of us in all our different ways, encouraging us in all our endeavours.

It was not always plain sailing, I remember one of their anniversaries in the mid 70s was spent on the water in Helford, where we enjoyed many holidays, with Father attempted to teach my mother to sail in our Jolly Boat.  We all knew that this was not an ideal boat to learn to sail in, and unsurprisingly we could hear choice words in fluent Anglo Saxon from the vantage point of the sailing club.  The body language in the boat clearly demonstrated that this might be a wedding anniversary to forget! 

My parents were married for nearly 57 years, travelling the world together on numerous holidays. They had three sons, 7 grandchildren, and so far, one great grandchild – all of which brought them much joy.  My father loved grilling, sorry `asking’ his grandchildren what they were up to, because he took so much interest in their progress, always wanting them to achieve their potential.

Beyond work and family there were other interests, including golfing at La Manga in Spain, which ended with him becoming president of his community, which was very much an international role which required considerable tact and diplomacy.  But one of my Father’s lasting testaments is closer to home, in the village that was his home for over 45 years – Itchen Abbas Village Hall, where the wake will be held after this service.  When you walk across the road (careful it can be quite fast) you will see that it is no ordinary village hall, in fact it was one of just two `Beacon’ Village halls as deemed by the national lottery, for the Millenium. Father helped guide and run the project and was ably supported through the development by Vernon. 

Whilst there is a picture of my father on an inside wall taken during the opening ceremony, I was a little bit surprised to find him in the middle of a picture on the website for the village hall.  I have to admit the picture was a bit of a blur when I saw that, or was it because I shed more tears when I recognised him?  I do know it was him though – the pink trousers gave it away!

On the subject of the colour and clothing, Father was known for wearing plenty of bright colours, just managing to avoid being flamboyant, with one exception.  A week before he was married, he decided that a `soon to be married’ chap really needed a smart dressing gown for his trousseau.  So he set off to London, and bought the smartest silk dressing gown he could find.  I am sure that it impressed his blushing bride a week later, and yet, 57 years later that silk dressing gown still has the power to impress.  Liz, who was my Father’s carer for the last week of his life said that she had seen the same dressing gown before…… on Hugh Hefnor, he of Playboy fame.  I am not sure what that says about my Father, but it certainly says something of the company you have kept Liz!

Father was proud about his appearance and hygiene to the end, and he was not going to let that dratted Motor Neurone Disease allow his standards to slip.  On a past visit to the hygienist, my Father had been given detailed instructions on how his teeth should be brushed.  On the evening of Tuesday 19th of June, he was concerned that he may soon come to a point when he might not be able to brush his teeth the way that he wanted and had been instructed.  So he decided it was time that Liz should take on the task, giving her precise and detailed instruction on how he wished his teeth to be brushed. He told her not once, twice, but three times how it should be done – no room for mistakes there then.  Liz was a nervous wreck as he ended the lesson, and looked her directly in the eye stating `tomorrow morning you will do it for the first time’

She never had to brush his teeth as his tomorrow never really came….

My father had two facets to his personality, the professional man at work who was utterly straight, and the fun man who enjoyed a full and rich and varied social life. Themes which were obvious from the many people who have written to our family to express their condolences. Thank you, they were so comforting to read.

A number of people have stated how, and in what circumstances my father helped them in their lives or careers.  The words that came up in the letters and cards time and time again, were charming, kind, and gentleman.  There are many other number of other positive words that were also used, but one writer used another word which is worth sharing: Cantankerous and he was right, as he most certainly could be cantankerous.  Why? Because he was a man of principle and would argue for that principle, sometimes frustratingly beyond reason!  But that is what made him true – a true rock of a man.

I know that I will not be the only person to miss his interest in what we are all doing, I will also miss his humour and sage council, I might not miss his difficult judgements, but he was nearly always right!

We, his family, will miss him, and will continue to hold his memory dear, and hope that you too, have positive memories to hold in your hearts for many years to come of my father David Humphrey.

At the Family cremation service some weeks before, Peter Humphrey gave the following address (published also with his permission):

How do you pack such a good life into 500 words?

He was my big brother, sent off to a boarding prep school aged seven which was quite tough in those days. He had only one visit from parents each term and because of food rationing, the food was not very good. Mother told the tale of David coming home at the end of term with his trouser pockets full of dried up liver that he could not eat.

We have happy memories of holidays in Cornwall with our cousins and here is a photograph that I have just received from Douglas Humphrey of the family group taken by Uncle Lester and including Mother and Father, David, Diana. me looking miserable and Patricia together with cousins Douglas and Valerie and their mother. We do need more family photographs if anyone has them.

David went to Sherborne but we never overlapped at school as he was five years older than me; however I inherited his boater which I still keep.

Of the four of us, he was the academic and inspired by his chemistry tutor, Chippy Andrews, he wanted to get a job with ICI, then one of Britain’s leading companies. However he had a change of mind and straight from school joined father at Twyford on the farm. He was quickly taken into partnership and the next year, 1958, they bought the Kings Worthy farm.  David moved there and lived with the farm manager in the farmhouse

The story goes that one weekend when the farm manager was away, David decided to have a party,   and his sister Diana invited a friend, Susan Grace, to come along.  She must have made a big impression because six weeks later they were engaged.

  Sue was the best thing that happened for David.

They were married in 1961, and I remember having just passed my test, driving from Winchester to Alresford church on the new dual carriageway.  It was a lovely wedding

At that time his other passion was rallying his Sunbeam Rapier convertible car

Good Fortune blessed the marriage of David and Sue and they formed a lifelong partnership, giving wonderful support to each other. Three children came along, Martin, Jonathan, and James.     Not only an heir and a spare, but a third boy as well.

Living on the farm at Kings Worthy was a   great place to bring up children. The children grew up with empathy for farming which has proved very helpful.    

They bought holiday house on the Helford River in Cornwall.     The whole family loved it there.

And then in mid 70s, the family moved to Itchen Abbas. Antonia tells me that she has very fond memories of Christmases with lots of games at Itchen Abbas      

David immersed himself in village life, and took a leading role in the construction of the fabulous Itchen Abbas Village Hall.

His other marriage  

  I was married to him in business for 40 years. He and I were very fortunate in that our father handed over the reins of the business to us both when we were quite young.

In 1964 David was going to California with the friend who dropped out of the last minute and he asked me to go with him. We hired a car, and had a three-week study tour visiting poultry farms   from the top to the bottom of the state, including Egg City that had over 1 million laying hens. This was the time that the Beatles were world-famous, and thus we Brits were celebrities. The Californian hospitality was boundless.

David brought back game changing innovations which took our business and the egg industry    forward.  One example.  In those days we moved eggs in wooden boxes containing 360 eggs. We saw in California, and David introduced and had made in the UK, steel palletainers with wheels and shelves, each one carrying 4320 eggs. This allowed eggs to be moved safely and with far less effort.

We had 2 free weekends in California   Firstly, at the Lake Tahoe ski resort. David knew how to ski but this was new to me, but we went to the top of the mountain and he pushed me off.  Somehow I got to the bottom. We also saw the great Sammy Davis Jr there.

The second weekend was at Las Vegas, where we went to a show with Frank Sinatra, and watched   gamblers losing thousands of dollars.

The two decades of the 70s and 80s were exciting times when the business thrived, until Edwina Currie brought the egg industry to its knees in1988. However we managed to get through this and other problematical times

David was a much respected Industry leader. For many years he was Chairman of the largest egg packing and marketing company the UK, and followed this by becoming the chairman of the NFU poultry committee.

Working together in business gave us a slightly different relationship to a normal family relationship. But our strength was that two heads were better than one. We were sometimes competitive, frequently changed roles, but luckily were always able to resolve differences for the common good.

David retired in 2002. And then his focus was golf, travel, his electric bicycle, spending time in Spain and frequent bridge evenings with friends.         

But he always kept a watchful eye on what was going on back at the  ranch.

So this was a life well lived, including a 56 year partnership in marriage with Sue, and raising a special family with 3children, 7 grandchildren and a great grandchild.

His life was so sadly cut short at the end but I know that he will continue to watch over his family and their achievements with great pride.


Peter Humphrey.






This entry was posted in Tributes. Bookmark the permalink.