A CELEBRATED forester, soldier and debater, who served as president of the Scarborough Forty Club, has died aged 86.
John Leefe OBE died of natural causes on August 21 at his home in Burniston.
Mark Vesey, who was a member of the Forty Club when Mr Leefe was president, paid tribute to his “warm and kind” friend.
He said: “John was one of those special people that there’s just not many of.
“He was an incredibly interesting man, who used to regale us with some of the most fascinating stories from his career.
“He was not afraid to put his opinion on the table and was always ready to be challenged about his beliefs.”
A forester by trade, he was awarded an OBE in 1977 for his services to forestry development in Cyprus, after playing a pivotal role in the reforestation of the country following the Turkish invasion in 1974, when large areas of the forest were severely damaged through fire.
However, he actually spent the early part of his career serving as a lieutenant in the 10th Bomb Disposal Company of the Royal Engineers, in which he spent part of the Second World War clearing unexploded bombs and mines.
His love affair with Cyprus started after being posted to the Cyprus Forestry Service in 1956.
And his work allowed him to travel the world, visiting countries such as Liberia, Burma and Somalia.
However, Scarborough was always his true love, and the ‘proud Scarborian’ made a permanent move back to his hometown with his family upon his retirement, after spending decades away due to his job.
In an interview to the Evening News in 2008, Mr Leefe spoke warmly of his hometown.
He said: “I always knew that I would come back to it.
“I feel we are lucky to live in unspoilt countryside, and with a friendly and helpful community.
“In some ways I wish we’d returned sooner as it’s a wonderful place to retire to.”
Upon his retirement and return, he took on several other positions besides his role with the Forty Club, including president of the Scarborough branch of the Royal Engineers Association as well as an active member of the Staintondale and Ravenscar Local History Group.
He also served as a parish councillor for Burniston, and was awarded the Council for the Protection of Rural England Countryside Medal in 2005, after serving with the organisation for nearly 40 years.
Perhaps most notably, he was given a diploma of honour in 1991 by the then president of Somalia for his conservation work in the country.
“John’s life was a full and rich one,” said Mr Vesey.
“He was kind, generous and an inspiration to us all. He will be greatly missed.
Grandfather-of-six Mr Leefe is survived by wife Sybil and sons William, Harry and John Jr. His funeral will take place on Wednesday at St Mary’s, Cloughton, at 1.30pm, followed by a private cremation and drinks at Scarborough Rugby Club.
l See also letter on page 13.