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'A true Suffolk gentleman' - Tributes paid to father-of-five and 'local meat hero' who died after sudden illness

PUBLISHED: 10:08 26 March 2018 | UPDATED: 10:50 26 March 2018

Charlie Mills cutting the meat at The Cookhouse, Suffolk Food Hall, for a carcase competition. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Charlie Mills cutting the meat at The Cookhouse, Suffolk Food Hall, for a carcase competition. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Sarah Lucy brown

Suffolk's food and livestock community has paid a heartfelt tribute to 'local meat hero' Charlie Mills, who has died, aged 55.

Charlie Mills, wholesale manager, Bramfield Meats. Picture: KEIRON TOVELL

Charlie Mills, wholesale manager, Bramfield Meats. Picture: KEIRON TOVELL

Father-of-five Charlie, wholesale manager at Bramfield Meats near Halesworth, died peacefully following a sudden illness.

He played a pivotal role at the livestock and supply business, where he worked for 28 years until his death on March 15.

The firm’s owner, Jeremy Thickitt, described him as “the vital cog in managing the entirety of our wholesale and livestock business at Bramfield Meats and an irreplaceable colleague, such were his effort and dedication”.

“Above all, I and the family have tragically lost a very dear friend,” he said.

Charlie Mills, wholesale manager, Bramfield Meats, with father and son Richard and Jeremy Thickitt (owner of Bramfield Meats). Picture: KEIRON TOVELLCharlie Mills, wholesale manager, Bramfield Meats, with father and son Richard and Jeremy Thickitt (owner of Bramfield Meats). Picture: KEIRON TOVELL

Charlie, described as “a true Suffolk gentleman” and devoted family man and husband to Helen, started out as an apprentice in the workshops at Richardsons’ gunsmiths in Halesworth, and also worked as an underkeeper on Sir Charles Blois’ Walberswick estate and for cattle hauliers Blowers.

After meeting the Thickitt brothers at a livestock auction, he joined the business. Within a few years, he was at its helm.

“He was a character who could talk to anyone,” recalled Jeremy. “He would light the room up with his big grin - he was never lost for words. In his younger days Charlie was a keen and very good shot and he got to know and made many friends through this.

“He was very much a family man with his wife Helen having five children in as many years and recently all his children helping at the two business ventures (Gecko shoe shop in Halesworth and Mills and Sons Butchers in Southwold) that Charlie and Helen took on in 2014.” He had a passion for the finer things in life, family time, good holidays, good wine, and good company, he added.

During his career, he carried out animal inspections on the farm, liaised with abattoirs, helped run the factory, and was responsible for overseeing the development of much of the firm’s produce. He dealt with butchers, and would even drive a lorry when needed.

Local food campaigner Lady Caroline Cranbrook described him as “the hero of our local meat and livestock industry”, who, together with Jeremy, established a way of working “that has effectively saved small-scale livestock farming in Suffolk” by providing local businesses with high quality meat with a known local provenance.

“This has had profoundly important consequences,” she said. “Not only has it meant that Suffolk is now famous for its meat, but it has also ensured the survival of our grazed landscape – our river valley meadows, our saltmarshes and heathland. All of these have to be grazed and Charlie ensured that there was a market for the meat. The Suffolk meadows are his memorial.

“Like so many people, I first met him on our farm choosing sheep. Later on I often turned to him for advice. Even when he was busy, he always had the time and patience to explain things, often with a memorably vivid turn of phrase.

“He was a remarkable man, a friend to us all and a true countryman. His untimely death is a great loss to the countryside and to his many, many friends.”

Farmer Eddie Baker, of Ivy House Farm, Laxfield, described him as a great advocate of ‘source it local’. “We were privileged to have hosted him and his gun at our shooting parties where his skill and personality would enlighten everyone’s day. His sense of humour and his lovely Suffolk accent created a wonderful atmosphere,” he said. “He was as straight as an arrow, honest and always ready to go the extra mile.”

Red Poll cattle breeder Paul Rackham said they were “shocked and saddened” by his death. “He was a tremendous support of East Anglian livestock,” he said. “I shall remember him as a hard, fair and honourable man in all his dealings with me.”

Earl Soham butcher John Hutton said he had been “a huge part” of what he had achieved in his business. “He will be sorely missed. I remember him being such a tower of strength, particularly during the BSE crisis which was such a terrible and upsetting time for us all.”

Ipswich Food Hall director Robert Paul said they were “deeply saddened”. He had “unrivalled expertise” in the industry, he said.

“Charlie will be massively missed by everyone who works in the local livestock food chain.”

Sally Bendall, of Hollow Trees Farm Shop at Semer, Hadleigh, said he was generous and fair in business, and Ian Whitehead, director of Lane Farm Country Foods at Brundish said he had been an “enormous support” when they started up. “He also had a great sense of humour,” he said.

Charlie leaves a wife, Helen, and their five children – Victoria, Henry, George, Elizabeth and Edward, all of whom work at the Southwold butchers, which he bought for them, and the shoe shop.

His funeral is on Thursday, April 5, at 2pm at St Mary’s, Halesworth. Bright clothes to be worn. Donations: half to St Mary’s Church, half to Live Life Give Life, the campaign which publicises organ donation www.livelifegivelife.com. Charlie was an organ donor.

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