Former Uckfield Chamber of Commerce secretary Ian ‘Blackie’ Blackaller died on Monday after battling cancer for several months.
Chamber president Bernard Smith has written to members to break the news saying he did so with great sadness.
Mr Smith said Ian continued his work with the Chamber for as long as his health allowed and always had a great passion for the town and business community.
He added: “For many years Ian was a stalwart of the Chamber and instrumental in many of the projects we have worked on. His ever-present wit and enthusiasm will be greatly missed.
“Ian spent his last weeks at Temple Grove nursing home, receiving regular visits from family and friends. I understand that he passed away peacefully in his sleep after spending the day with his family.
“Ian will be greatly missed and I have spoken to his wife to express condolences on behalf of the Chamber.
“Funeral arrangements are still being finalised but I know Ian had many friends in the town so I will ensure that details are circulated as soon as they are available. In the meantime I am sure that you will join me in remembering Ian and his family in your thoughts and prayers.”
Ian leaves a widow, Glenda, two children Joanna and Neil and grandchildren. He was 77.
TV South West
Adrian Corbin, a former Chamber president, worked in TV with Ian (Blackie) for many years. Adrian started at TV South West in 1982 and Ian, who was client services manager there, had worked with ITV for a long time before that.
He retired from TV South West in his 50s and worked for a time for one of his previous clients dealing with direct marketing on TV.
Then at the turn of the century when Adrian was president of Uckfield Chamber of Commerce he appointed Ian secretary.
It was crunch time for the Chamber. A buffet was laid on for members at Barnsgate Manor with tables running the whole length of the dining room – and only six people turned up.
Adrian said: “We knew we had to do something about it and embarked on a recruitment drive with Blackie bringing all his energy, marketing skills and salesmanship to it.”
Ian also took on the responsibility for selling advertising in Festive Fantasies a Chamber publication promoting late night shopping at Christmas.
Adrian said: “Without him the Chamber wouldn’t have grown to the extent it did. Really he brought his skills from TV – dealing with advertisers and advertising agencies, knowing how to get deals, how to get things done, and networking – into the Chamber at Uckfield, and he enjoyed doing it.
“He put in more hours than he was paid for but didn’t really mind though he chuntered about one or two things. He liked what he did and became interested in what was going on. He was immensely nosy and knew everything that was happening. The job suited him down to the ground.
“He was a very, very sociable person and a keen sportsman. In his younger days he was a very good cricketer and he would go to cricket with me quite a lot. When he wasn’t playing he liked to go and watch other people. He was keen on rugby too.”
Adrian said Blackie was well-known in Newick where he had lived since the 1960s – he came originally from Ealing. He was involved in amateur dramatics in Newick, and also the Pony Club when his daughter was a member.
Blackie also worked for Adrian at Corbin’s delicatessen for a while when part-time staff were needed. Glenda worked there too and stayed on for 12 years.
Adrian said Blackie was always very good to his kids. “He was very good with young kids, he was on that sort of level, fun and entertaining. His grandchildren would have loved him.”
Adrian said he and Blackie worked for ITV in its heyday and Blackie was legendary for always being on for freebies, a tray of this, a case of that.
He was also known for his sayings and once at a sales conference in Venice everybody donned T-shirts bearing the words “Blackie says” and then each of them showed a different saying, such as ‘Harry (the MD) will go spare’, and ‘It’s a political hot potato’.
Larger than life
Adrian added: “He was a larger than life character and provided a lot of entertainment in a nice way for a lot of people but he could be a bit of a pain in the arse when he got carried away with himself – and I don’t feel bad about saying that because that is just the way it was.”
People would ask Blackie how it was that he was so successful at sellling and Adrian remembers him telling him: “It’s pretty easy. You go and see someone, talk to them, find out a bit about what they are interested in, talk to them about that a lot, take the order and go.”
Ian Blackaller was a speedway fan. He watched the Wembley Lions at the old Wembley stadium in his younger days and more recently was an occasional visitor at Eastbourne’s Arlington stadium.
One of Eastbourne Speedway’s press officers Paul Watson said: “It was always a pleasure to be with Ian at the speedway. He was so enthusiastic and was almost jumping up and down with excitement as the races unfolded.”
Francis Wallace, a former president of Uckfield Chamber of Commerce, said Ian was a good friend.
“He did a huge amount for the Chamber of Commerce and managed to galvanise our membership taking number up to well over the 200 mark but it wasn’t just about numbers, he managed to get people to talk to each other and take part in the Chamber’s activities.
“While he was secretary he was the glue that held things together because chairmen come and go and committee members come and go. He was in post all the time I have been on the committee which is more than ten years.
One of life’s great characters
“He was one of life’s great characters. Not everyone liked his outspoken ways but he was never malicious. He was a very kind man who spoke his mind, and if he thought you were wrong he told you so, often interspersing his views with four-letter words. He thought it better to tell the truth and tell you it as he saw it.
“I respected that. I didn’t always agree with him but I respected where he was coming from.
“He got things done and he became a friend as well. He and I and our respective wives had dinner at each others houses and he was always good company.
“He had a long life and had met a lot of interesting people. He was in TV advertising and told good stories from that time.”
Everybody liked him
Janet Lockyer remembers working with Ian when she was in her early 20s and their two families were great friends. Janet’s husband was a photographer and took Ian and Glenda’s wedding photographs.
“We worked together at Scottish TV for a time. I was very junior and he was an account executive but he was always pleasant and everybody liked him.”
Janet said she and her husband and Ian and Glenda would dine at each others homes and put their children to bed while they were having dinner.
She remembers that Ian used to be a keen cricketer playing for one of the big Sussex amateur clubs. “I seem to remember going with him and his wife to a ball at Arundel Castle that had something to do with cricket.”
She added: “He was a lovely, lovely man.”
Big bloke in stature and presence
Chris Macve, a member of Uckfield Chamber executive committee for many years and also a friend of Ian said: “He was a very big bloke, in stature, in presence and in everything he did. He was very much at the front of everything he did, all the events and organisations he got involved with. He will be missed.”
Chris added: “He worked in TV, TV South West, for many years in advertising.
“He was a larger than life character and always very meticulous in what he did. He wanted to do everything to the best of his ability.”
Christina Ewbank, facilitator for The Alliance of Chambers in East Sussex said Ian had attended the very first meeting of ACES in November 2013 and helped the organisation decide and agree its goals.
She said Ian gave his time willingly to benefit the economy of Uckfield and East Sussex and it was with great sadness that she heard of his death.
More tributes will be added to this story as they arrive.