The funeral of Robert Wills, owner of The Falcon, Don Paddy's and The Vaults in Uppingham, brings town to a standstill in tribute to him
Robert Wills ‘aimed to do what he could for others without seeking a reward’.
He may not have expected it, but in return for all he did for Uppingham the town came to a near-standstill to pay tribute to his life and work on Wednesday (July 24).
Robert - affectionately known as ‘Mr Uppingham’ - was passionate about the town.
The owner of Don Paddy’s for 17 years, and The Vaults pub and The Falcon Hotel since 2011, his first business success came years earlier with Arnold Wills, which he grew to be one of the biggest leather manufacturers in Europe, and which remains a thriving company.
Over the decades, Robert employed thousands of people in Uppingham. Many of them worked with him for more than 25 years, as recorded on a plaque at the leather accessories factory in Station Road.
When he was diagnosed with a brain tumour earlier this year Robert immediately spoke with his employees to re-assure them.
Both Robert and his mother, Olive, grew up in Uppingham, so the town and its people have always been hugely important to him.
“He really cared about Uppingham and the people who live and work there,” said Harriet, the younger of Robert’s two daughters. “One of the reasons he took on The Falcon Hotel was because he wanted people to have a nice place to go, and you could tell he got a great sense of satisfaction from restoring it and seeing people enjoying the space.”
“When I met Robert he was 27,” said his wife, Carol. “He had an ingrained work ethic which may have come from the fact that his father died when he was just 23.”
“He also had integrity and people could call on him if they had a problem at work or in life, but alongside this he had a good sense of humour, and he was a family man.”
Philippa, the eldest of Robert and Carol’s three children, has happy memories of weekends in north Norfolk, where her father would take them out on his boat - another of his passions.
“We would often go to Blakeney for boating and fishing ,” she said. “We had a caravan in the early days and I remember having lots of barbecues at the campsite.”
Although he was very hard working, Robert made time for his family. Harriet shared a love for animals with her dad and enjoyed watching David Attenborough documentaries with him, while son, Henry, shared his father’s enthusiasm for rugby.
Robert was a life-long Leicester Tigers fan, and cheered Henry on from his early days playing rugby at primary school, then at Stamford School, and more recently for Oakham Rugby Club and Newcastle University.
“Robert loved to see people do well in whatever they did,” said Carol, and he certainly enjoyed watching Henry play.
“He would ‘collect’ friends throughout his life - through work, through rugby, through boating - and he still had friends from childhood. He never had a bad word to say about anyone.”
Robert, died at home in Stamford, surrounded by family on July 3. He was just a fortnight from his 70th birthday.
His funeral was held at 4pm on Wednesday at the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Uppingham. Outside, in Market Place, the area was closed off for the many mourners to gather and pay their respects.
The retiring donations in memory of Robert will be shared between St Barnabas, Marie Curie and the RNLI. Donations can still be made online via this link or sent direct to E M Dorman Funeral Directors, Beechcroft, 69 High Street East, Uppingham LE15 9PY. 01572 823976