‘A Life Well Lived’: Tobermory RNLI mourns loss of chairman Richard Fairbairns

Richard 'Popz' Fairbairns who passed away on August 19, 2020.

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Born in 1943, Popz passed away on Wednesday August 19, 2020, after a series of long illnesses.

Appointed chairman in 2014, Popz was a huge part of the lifeboat station. As a true man of the sea and with one of his sons, James, being second coxswain, Popz was a natural choice to be the station’s chairman. Popz cared passionately about the welfare of the volunteers as well as taking a keen interest not only in the activities of the lifeboat and its crew, but also those of the fundraisers and shop volunteers.

Popz was born in Yorkshire where his father was a leading stud farmer. The family then moved to Norfolk where they ran an arable farm. Popz took over the farm and as well as supplying onions to Marks and Spencer, flowers to Covent Garden and spinach to the Queen when she was at Sandringham, he created the first irrigation scheme in the county. The success of this during a drought led him to buy a yacht which started a lifelong and enduring connection to the sea.

In 1978, Popz moved to Mull with his wife Judy, who has gone on to become an accomplished writer. The couple took over the Quinish estate near Dervaig. This required Popz to teach himself about hill farming, as it is very different to arable farming. Other adventures followed. Together with Judy, he ran a four red rosette bed and breakfast. Popz also set up a recording studio on Mull, having been trained by former Beatles’ manager, George Martin. The studio attracted artists from all over the world and was where Capercaillie recorded their most popular album, Delirium.

However, it is perhaps Popz’s connection to cetaceans for which he will be best remembered. He established the first whale watching business and marine research centre in the UK, Sea Life Surveys, and was also instrumental in setting up the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

Deputy chairman, Ian Stevens said: ‘We were delighted that Popz agreed to be our station chairman. When Popz walked into a room the atmosphere invariably lifted. He was a delight to work with and was an asset to the station. In particular, his attention to crew welfare was exemplary. As chairman of the Lifeboat Management Group, he conducted every meeting with charm and good humour.’

Station Coxswain, David McHaffie said: ‘At the lifeboat station, we always talk about the RNLI as a second family. That couldn’t be more true with Popz. Not only was he a great, knowledgeable and kind friend, but he was the father figure in our second family. Every time he visited the station, he always wanted to know how all of the volunteers were. He cared for everyone else before his own needs. The sea was such an important part of Popz’s life and I was lucky enough that he shared many of his stories and memories from a lifetime on the sea. One of my funniest moments with Popz was when he turned down a coffee at the station, only to be caught having a fancy one with a biscuit next door a few minutes later. I’m not sure if my coffee was bad or my biscuits were not up to his standard.’

Lifeboat operations manager, Dr Sam Jones said: ‘As our chairman, Popz was the glue which held the lifeboat station together. He could light up the darkest room with love, laughter and the most colourful waistcoats. Popz was a true ‘renaissance man’. Above all, he was a pioneer and adventurer in every aspect of his life. He made a massive impact on the world and so inevitably has left a big hole behind him. He will be much missed by all of us and everyone at the station is thinking of Judy, James and the rest of the family at this sad time.

‘Popz, may you have fair winds and following seas as you cross the bar.’

Popz leaves behind wife Judy after 48 years of marriage, five grown-up children, 10 grandchildren and thousands of memories which will live on in many, many hearts.

His funeral will take place at Dervaig graveyard on Friday September 4 at 11am.