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F Graham Sunderland: 1932-2022 

The General Manager of the Yorkshire Bank who served his home churches with faithful devotion, as well as the wider Baptist community in the Yorkshire Baptist Association, Northern Baptist College and the Baptist Union Corporation

F Graham SunderlandWhen asked about his life, Graham summed it up in one word, ‘service’.  As always, he was supremely modest in the description of what others would view as a quite remarkable life.

Graham was the eldest son of Wilfred and Nellie, born in 1932.  Sisters Shirley and Christine followed in 1935 and 1937.  They lived in the end terrace at Ridge View, Upper Edge, near Elland. As a family they had very little but the three children were much loved by Nellie and Wilfred along with the wider family in the village.

The family was heavily involved in Upper Edge Baptist Church and it played a central role in their lives. This, along with the strong family values, set the foundations for a man of the highest principles.

He attended Elland Grammar school and left at the age of 16. He had no real ambition when it came to thinking about leaving school, other than he knew he didn’t want to work in the mill or the pit. So, when asked to attend the headmaster’s office to discuss his next steps, he simply copied the chap in front of him with the response ‘banking’.

He attended the assessment for the Yorkshire Penny Bank in Leeds.  Having rarely ventured far from Upper Edge, particularly on his own, Nellie accompanied him on the bus. Not realising it was a full day of assessments, she paced the pavement outside until Graham finally appeared. Needless to say, he got the job.

His first position was in Halifax where his duties included filling the ink wells, changing ink nibs, turning the blotting paper and picking up the litter outside the bank. In his words, the ‘dogsbody!’ That same year he was baptised at Upper Edge.

1950 saw the start of two year’s national service with the Royal Army Pay Corps, mainly in Dorset. He was demobilised in 1952 as Corporal. He would use his spare time while in Dorset to study for his banking exams and qualified as an Associate of the Institute of Bankers in 1955.

On returning home, he took a position at the Elland branch. One of his duties was to buy stamps from the Post Office which is where he met Sheila. He would tell us he would go in to look at her over the counter! They married in 1957 and there followed moves to Lancaster, Leeds and Kent as Graham’s career progressed.

Helen was born in Kent in 1965 and then, following promotion to Assistant Chief Accountant in Leeds, the family moved to Ilkley where Louise was born in 1968. Graham and Sheila immersed themselves into the community in Ilkley taking active roles in Ilkley Baptist Church, a local choral society, Headingley and Otley Golf Clubs and later, the Concert Club and bridge clubs.

From 1970 he had a series of promotions, reaching the top position of General Manager of the Yorkshire Bank in 1978, a position he held until retirement in 1992.
Graham was the church treasurer at Ilkley for 27 years.  He served as a church deacon for over 40 years.

He took an active part in the work of the Yorkshire Baptist Association serving on the Finance Committee and being involved in the work of the Trustee Committee. When the Baptist Assembly was held in Bradford in 1987, Graham, by then General Manager of the Yorkshire Bank, provided office space for an Assembly office. He also organised the Bank providing office equipment for the YBA when it was no longer needed by the Bank.

His service to the wider Baptist family included membership of the Northern Baptist College governing body where he served for many years as chair of the Finance Committee.
During his time as General Manager of the Yorkshire Bank he was described as Britain’s most successful banker. During his tenure, Yorkshire was the first of the major banks to offer free banking to customers in credit, and which saw very large numbers of accounts being opened in the early 1980s. However, he never forgot his humble beginnings and always had the human touch. During the miners strike he is quoted as saying, ‘the miner, like most working chaps is honest and has integrity and will pay you back when he can. If you can’t get his money back there is no point in suing the fellow. You sit tight and see him through.’

Graham served as a member of the Council of the Chartered Institute of Bankers and at retirement he was its longest serving member with two of those years as deputy chairman. He was the first staff member to be appointed to the Yorkshire Bank Board of directors. He was Governor and then Chairman of the Harrogate International Festival for 18 years; Governor and Chair of Finance at the Northern Baptist College for 29 years; member of the Baptist Union Corporation for six years; Commissioner at the Building Societies Commission for the 10 years following retirement.

Away from the business side of life, Graham enjoyed simple pleasures and had many hobbies.  He had a passion for music and loved belting out a good bass line in the church choir and choral society.  He was lucky to share this love of music with Sheila, along with a keen interest in sport, particularly golf. 

Graham was a quiet and private family man. The family was hugely proud of all he achieved. In turn, he took great pleasure from seeing his grandchildren, Cameron, Matthew, Sophie and Jess succeeding in and experiencing the opportunities that simply weren’t available to him in his youth. He has given us so much to be grateful for. Graham was a very special and unique man, of quiet, but committed Christian faith and served his home church, Upper Edge Baptist and Ilkley Baptist with faithful devotion, as well as the wider Baptist community in the Yorkshire Baptist Association, Northern Baptist College and the Baptist Union Corporation.

Louise Baker, Helen Dale and Keith Jones

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