TRIBUTES have been paid to a former York solicitor and RAF navigator who has died at the age of 89.

Gerald Eric Dempsey, whose legal career in York spanned 30 years, was born in Islington, London, in 1924, and was evacuated with his family to Harrogate at the outbreak of the Second World War, where he studied at Harrogate Grammar School.

Mr Dempsey, who was a keen sportsman in his youth, was captain of the school’s cricket team. He completed an arts degree at St Andrew’s University and gained his first flying experience with the university air squadron. He joined the RAF, training in Tiger Moths in Ontario, Canada, and later flew with the Mosquito Squadron of Coastal Command.

After the war he studied law at Durham University and qualified as a solicitor, first practising in Newcastle, then moving to York, where he and Noel Hetherton founded Hetherton & Dempsey, with offices in Castlegate. His other interests included horseracing.

Son Ian said: “He enjoyed success as a breeder from stables in the village of Farlington, near Sheriff Hutton, with a broodmare called Sambell, who produced several winners.

“The highlight was a victory by one of her offspring, Sammy Waters, in the Garrowby Handicap at York in 1981.”

Mr Dempsey, who later lived in Easingwold, was also among the owners of Petrushka, who won the Yorkshire Oaks at the Ebor meeting and the Irish Oaks and was voted champion three-year-old filly of Europe in 2000.

His wife, Lorna, who he married in 1950, died in 1997. He is survived by his sons, Ian and Derek, his daughter, Ruth, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Derek said: “He was greatly respected, very friendly and with a very nice gentle sense of humour. He had a really interesting life. He was a tremendously well-liked and respected man.”

He said his father enjoyed a very active life, even in later years. “He managed to get a full season of racegoing in It would have meant a lot to him not to have to missed a season.”

Ian said: “He enjoyed life to the full and was an inspiration to us all. He loved meeting people and entertaining everyone with a fund of amusing stories.

“Although he grew up in London, Yorkshire was the place that was dearest to his heart.’’

Mr Dempsey died at St Monica’s Hospital in Easingwold, on December 30. A funeral service will be held at Easingwold Parish Church on Monday, at 11.45am.