Popular boxer dies

PUBLISHED: 15:14 07 August 2009 | UPDATED: 11:34 10 June 2010

ONE of Exmouth s most decorated and accomplished amateur boxers, Mike Norrish, has died aged 75.

ONE of Exmouth's most decorated and accomplished amateur boxers, Mike Norrish, has died aged 75.

Between 1948 and 1952 Mike won an array of schoolboy, junior Welsh, western counties, Devon, Dorset and Cornish and cadet titles as a lightweight.

Popular Mike, who never missed a single Exmouth or Lympstone ABC boxing tournament, learned his trade under the tutelage of legendary coach, one-legged war hero George Hillman.

Mike and his contemporaries - like Royal Marines welterweight champion Fred Fox, middleweight Paddy Wilcox, who represented New Zealand in the Empire Games, Brian Pollard, ABA quarter finalist and Olympic referee, Western Counties champion Terry Nicholas and the regional bantamweight champion Ken Pym - made up Exmouth ABC's Golden Age.

And such was the high regard in which Exmouth boxing's grand old man was held, a minute's silence was observed at a recent meeting of the region's boxing clubs.

Barbara, his wife of half-a-century, has already received more than 100 cards of sympathy.

Mike and his late, younger brother Robert were Exmothians through-and-through; just hours after his birth in Exeter on August 10 1934, Mike was whisked off to live in his new home in the Colony by his parents.

Constance and Alexander Norrish were well known figures in Exmouth; his mother worked for many years at the-then Forts Café in the Harbour, while his dad - who died at the tragically young age of 46 - worked in the Royal Ordnance Factory in Bridgwater, producing explosives.

In 1947, at the age of 12, Mike got the boxing buzz; the same year, he started attending Exmouth Comprehensive School and he wandered into the newly-formed Exmouth Amateur Boxing Club, formed by fish and chip shop owner John Chown.

The club, then at the drill hall (eventually to become Samantha's Nightclub), was a popular hangout for bored teenagers and young men in post-war East Devon.

And despite the club's tough reputation, initially under the tutelage of trainer Alf Page then George Hillman, Mike excelled.

Mike told the Journal in 2007: "At one of the early tournaments, a judge asked Alf to go easy with the water, as he had water splashed at him at a previous tournament while working a corner.

"Later, to the delight of the crowd, the Exmouth boxer, getting into the ring, kicked the bucket of water off the ring apron - and it went all over the judge!"

After leaving school in 1951 Mike joined the Western Gazette, which was eventually to become the Express and Echo, as an apprentice lino-typist where he worked until 1988.

And it was there he met his wife to be of 51 years, Barbara, who was working at the paper as a clerk.

But their courtship was interrupted when, in 1952, Mike was called up for National Service.

Mike said when interviewed for their Golden Wedding last year: "We went out for about 18 months. But then we didn't see each other for about two years.

"Barbara got a job as a dental nurse and left the area, and I went into the Army in 1953, and for a time we went our separate ways."

He was conscripted into the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry - The Devon and Dorsets - and initially stationed in Aldershot.

But, despite his new career, he still kept up with his boxing and in 1952 he struck gold at the Cadet National Championships before being stationed to Minden in Germany.

But even when in another country Mike admitted that his thoughts always went back to Barbara, and he decided to start writing to her - but he admitted he wasn't sure if she would even write back.

"I just hoped that she wasn't married," he had said. "Thankfully she wasn't, and I was surprised by that.

"We got back together and married not long after I left the Army (in 1954)."

He later joked: "There were three in the marriage; me, Barbara and Exmouth Boxing Club!"

They got married on October 19 1957 in Lapford Parish Church, the village where Barbara was brought up.

However, while they had an almost perfect marriage after the ceremony, it had a less than auspicious start - the wedding photographer spent the whole day thinking Barbara's sister was the bride:

"I don't have a single photo of me with the bridesmaids, they're all of my sister," said Barbara.

"After the wedding I pointed this out to the photographer. It turns out every picture he took during our wedding; he thought that my sister was the bride!"

They moved to Midway, Littleham, and raised a family: a son Colin and a daughter Tracy.

In 1988 Mike left the Express and Echo and worked for a year as a security guard in Sandy Bay before retiring and they eventually moved to Denning Court, Withycombe.

Barbara said: "He was devoted to his grandchildren, and he was a very sociable and popular man.

"He loved boxing until the end, even when he was in hospital. Neil Farraday (of Exmouth ABC) came to visit and Mike started worrying about the AGM.

"Neil told him to just forget about boxing."

Mike Norrish, born August 10 1934 and died July 26, leaves a wife Barbara, a son Colin, a daughter Tracy and five grandchildren.

Family and friends are invited to Mike's memorial service on August 18 at 2pm at Withycombe Parish Church, with a gathering afterwards at the Conservative Club in The Parade.

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