Cliff Whitfield 1933-2022
Cliff was a member of the Surrey Wayfarers Club, with whom he cycled regularly and was well known for his risqué comments and sense of humour. He sadly passed away on 12 March 2022 after a five-month battle with cancer.
He was born in Plaistow, east London. During the early years of the war, the family moved to Canvey Island, Essex, to escape the bombing in London, and lived in a bungalow next to the seawall. Cliff had happy memories of this time playing with other children on an abandoned boat in the harbour, where “we fought off many a pirate ship”! The family moved back to Plaistow in 1942, where Cliff completed his schooling and joined Unilever’s post desk in the United Africa Company.
During this period, Cliff joined the YMCA Red Triangle Club and bought his first second-hand bicycle. He was instrumental in forming a cycling section at the Youth Club which became very popular. He said: “There were very few cars about at that time as people generally could not afford them and … fuel was not yet available as it had all gone into the war effort. This meant we had the roads to ourselves and every Sunday some 32 riders would set out riding two abreast in a disciplined crocodile – I even remember the crocodile riding down the deserted Great West Road!”
They would ride from the Green Gate pub in Plaistow to Boxhill and Southend, with some of the more adventurous cycling to the Isle of Wight for the first cycle rally there. The longest ride was to Abergavenny, South Wales: 173 miles each way, taking two days to get there and coming back in one epic ride.
He was called up for national service in 1951, serving with the Royal Fusiliers at Waterloo Barracks in the Tower of London. He served in Korea in 1952 in the Intelligence Section of his battalion.
When demobbed, he returned to east London and was introduced to motorbikes and music and encouraged to take evening classes in mechanical engineering. His hard work and intrepid style led him into a job as a draughtsman, an estimator and ultimately to a career in the pipeline industry which he described as “fascinating, wonderful and rewarding”. His career took him firstly to Nigeria then all over the globe.
He married Daphne in 1967 and had three daughters, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1992.
In 1996, he met Maureen on a blind date which was set up by mutual clients. Maureen recalls “we had a lovely lunch with lots of laughs and when they left, Cliff gave me a lift home” and the rest is history. The clients are still waiting for their fee!
Cliff rediscovered his passion for cycling and camping after he met Maureen and bought a new tent at age 70 – telling his daughter that his 70s were shaping up to be his best decade. He loved telling stories and had an endless supply of jokes (some terrible, quoted a family member!) which he had collected while working on remote construction sites all over the world.
In 1998 Cliff cycled with the 40 Plus in Hertfordshire until he joined the Surrey Wayfarers in 2000. He participated in several cycling tours led by Roger Nash and toured on the Isle of Wight and in France, Poland and Ireland. He took on the Dieppe Raid, the Coast to Coast and several CTC/Cycling UK birthday rides.
He introduced his five grandchildren to cycling, buying them bikes and helping them with repairs. He always had a project – growing dahlias and clematis in the garden, DIY or planning a new cycle trip or holiday.
There are many who are sad to see his passing. Cliff was a lovely, witty man and those of us who came across him will always remember him with warmth and gratitude.