Obituary: The Woolies girl known for her kindness and zest for life

Daphne Nichols, with husband Bob and her six children. 

Daphne Nichols, with husband Bob and her six children. - Credit: Supplied by the family

Making weekly donations to food banks, taking in stray cats and building Lego with her grandchildren - Daphne Nichols' kindness was legendary. 

And now her family has paid a loving tribute to the Erpingham local, who has died at the age of 84. 

Trish Sankey, one of her six children, said: "Her generosity of spirit and caring nature enable her to support those around her when they needed it most – people and animals.

Daphne Nichols, from Erpingham, who has died aged 84.

Daphne Nichols, from Erpingham, who has died aged 84. - Credit: Supplied by the family

"Mum had a great zest for life, an insatiable curiosity, a quick mind and, until very recently, bundles of energy to go with it."

Mrs Nichols grew up on her parents' farm in north Norfolk, and, as a young child, huddled in fear with her mother and sister Anne as German planes flew overhead, in search of airfields to bomb.

She attended primary school in Aldborough where she excelled at lessons but had several run-ins with a notoriously rough teacher pupils nicknamed “old Turnip Tops”.

An early photo of Daphne Nichols, with a pet dog. 

An early photo of Daphne Nichols, with a pet dog. - Credit: Supplied by the family

Mrs Sankey said she recalled one day she got in trouble for talking. "She was dragged by her hair to the headmaster’s office where she spent the rest of the day."

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Aged 19 and against her parents' wishes, she joined the Women’s Royal Air Force where she trained as an air traffic controller. She then met her first husband, Roy. 

Mrs Nichols took a job at the Woolworths head office in south London and with Roy they had children Trish, Richard, Rosalind and Peter. The marriage ended and she returned to Norfolk in 1972 to be closer to her family.

Daphne Nichols, sitting centre, with her friends during her time in the RAF.

Daphne Nichols, sitting centre, with her friends during her time in the RAF. - Credit: Supplied by the family

She soon met her second husband, Bob, with whom she had children Vernon and David. She continued to work for Woolworths on the shop floor and in the back office.

Mrs Sankey said: "She was a Woolies’ girl right up until her retirement and even then, regularly met up with a group of ex-colleagues."

Bob died in 2006, and Mrs Nichols continued to live in Erpingham with Vernon and his partner Marion and later their daughter Shelby.

Daphne Nichols, right, during her time working in the office at Woolworths. 

Daphne Nichols, right, during her time working in the office at Woolworths. - Credit: Supplied by the family

Mrs Sankey said she was "definitely a people person" and made great effort to stay in touch with the many friends she had made over the years, starting to write her Christmas cards in September. 

"The door was always open and the kettle was boiling before you had a chance to step over the threshold," she said.

Her hobbies included baking - Victoria sponge and sausage rolls were favourites - playing with her nine grandchildren, encouraging them to be curious about the world and taking them on outings including steam train rides.

Mrs Sankey said she also loved cats, and had a close bond with a feline called Baby, who died last year.

She said: "All waifs and strays were welcomed, fed and watered, wormed and de-fleaed as necessary.

Daphne Nichols, with husband Bob, on her retirement from Woolworths in Cromer. 

Daphne Nichols, with husband Bob, on her retirement from Woolworths in Cromer. - Credit: Supplied by the family

"I’ve lost track of how many cats she cared for over the years, but at one time I think we counted 11 either living in the house or for those less confident, in the outhouses."

Mrs Nichols raised money for charities including the RNLI, air ambulance, and Banham Zoo. She volunteered her time with the Red Cross, the Brownies, Erpingham Youth Club WI and many other groups.

Mrs Sankey said: "Her religious faith was important to her and she loved going to church services. Her faith in God helped her through the sad times and the bad times."

Mrs Nichols had cancer several times but fought it "every step of the way", living for almost 25 years beyond her initial prognosis.

After her first recovery she travelled regularly with her sister Anne, they together explored cities including Florence, Tallinn and Copenhagen. 

Mrs Sankey said: "She had visited the Amalienborg Royal Palace and spent a penny on the Queen of Denmark’s lavatory. She was also fascinated by the work done at Bletchley Park during the war and visited the facility on several occasions."

Mrs Nichols also loved the theatre, local history, countryside walks, visiting the beach and rock pooling on the north Norfolk coast.