Michael Frank Johnston died in hospital on July 19, 2004, just three hours short of his 67th birthday. He was a very popular past president of the International Council of Hides Skins & Leather Traders Associations and, for many years, continued to run the family business founded by his father, Frank Johnston & Sons.

He closed the business due to ill health while awaiting a heart transplant. Although the wait was a long 18 months, he did get a new heart and a new lease of life. Ultimately, it was not his heart that let him down.

In 2000, he said his goodbyes at the ICHSLTA agm in Hong Kong. This is what he said:

‘In this room there are a lot of friends… and I have known them for many, many years… I have been in this trade a long time. About three years ago, I had an operation and it was not as successful as my rosy cheeks would have you believe.

‘I have now been told that I have to have a heart transplant… to keep me going for a few more years. Otherwise I would not have a great deal of time. I have had to take a pretty tough decision. I’m going to close my company down and will, therefore, not be available for any more council work.

‘Thank you for all your support over the years…. I have enjoyed working with you. Hopefully I might turn up some day as a guest… and astound you all by challenging you to a game of tennis afterwards.’

Michael left McConomy & Co Ltd in 1959 to join his father Frank L Johnston and two brothers in Cordova Land Company, which was to become Frank Johnston & Sons Ltd. However, before joining his father, he had gone through a pretty rigorous training at McConomy where his father had worked before him.

He knew all about the rough world of the Liverpool docks, how they worked and how those that worked there worked. He did his time, as they say, inspecting hides and skins shipped in from overseas.

He was invalided out of the army, having been blown off the road by a land mine while driving a jeep in Cyprus. His first wife, Janet, was tragically killed in a car accident but he was fortunate to meet Penelope Barlow (Plep) to whom he was married happily for many years.

Michael Johnston was extremely active in the council affairs of the British association Shalta, as was his father before him. His keen mind gave him a good understanding of the international contact. In fact, there were few to equal his ability to argue contract law.

He was president of Shalta from 1983-1985; member of the ICHSLTA contracts’ committee from 1984-2000; vice president of ICHSLTA from 1992-1993; and president of ICHSLTA from 1993-1998. He was awarded the Frank Johnston Award for service to the industry in April 2000.

As a token of appreciation for the ‘marvelous work’ done at Papworth Hospital in carrying out his successful heart transplant operation, the Johnstons set about raising funds amounting to many thousands of pounds. In the end, it was not the heart but a virulent and fast acting form of cancer that took his life.

The little extra time that he enjoyed with his family and friends made him appreciate how precious life is. Whatever the problems, he said, a heart operation teaches you to be grateful for each day and for the gift of yet another day.

Editor’s note: Michael Johnston was a lovely man and I am just one of many who will find the world a poorer place without him.