Local Face: Leslie Smith

  |  Published: Mar 1st 1998

Leslie Smith has become, as he would put it, a "weel kent" face in Wendover since he moved here in 1973. His is a classic story. Born in a mining village near Falkirk he left school at 15, with a few "highers" and went to work for the railway. His organisational abilities were recognised and he was selected for management training in his early twenties. There comes a time in such big enterprises when head office beckons and in his mid-thirties he was summoned, rather reluctantly, from Edinburgh to the then Marylebone H.Q. of British Railways.

Where to live? Several Scots colleagues had already settled in Wendover and Weston Turville but the 1972 house price explosion caused him to look as far afield as Rugby, Colchester and Brighton. It made sense, though, to use the Marylebone line and Wendover was the first place outside the Metropolitan sprawl which emanated a real sense of communal entity.

For him, then, Wendover was attractive as a small enough place to relate to and in a way he was returning to a village environment (though one just a bit more affluent). Quite quickly he was drawn into local activities, most memorably helping in the beer tent at the annual carnival to raise money for the swimming pool.

One Saturday afternoon in 1975 Leslie strolled over the station footbridge to watch the cricket, a game he had played a bit at school and on national service.

He was engaged in conversation and to his consternation found himself selected to play the following weekend. He found that his life had taken a new turn.

He was elected to the committee in 1976; started the 2nd XI (and captained it until 1980); and began the youth section of the Club in 1977. His management and marketing skills allowed him to attract an excellent team from the first. Under his leadership as Colts Manager this side of the club's activities developed to the extent that up to six junior sides are fielded with around 100 youngsters involved. As well as introducing so many to the sport, the club has had the reflected glory of numerous county competition victories.

Through this connection Leslie became involved with County administration and became Chairman of the Buckinghamshire Cricket Association, a post he occupied from 1983 to 1994, while also running the under-16 representative team for 16 years.

During the 1980's Leslie found himself occupying increasingly senior positions in the Railway culminating in his appointment in 1990 as Managing Director Freight, with 15,000 employees and a turnover of £500 million a year. After the 1992 election, as well as running the business, he also had to prepare it for privatisation which included much time dealing with consultants; merchant bankers; civil servants and, not least but worst, politicians. By March 1994 that task was completed and, after 42 years, it was the right time for him to retire. He was awarded the D.B.E. for services to the transport industry. Leslie marked his going appropriately, with a party for colleagues and Wendoverians at Lord's - a privilege he was afforded as an M.C.C. member. During these latter years at work his available time for cricket was stretched but once retired he was elected as Chairman at Wendover. Apart from overseeing the completion of the major refurbishment of the Club's facilities he slanted its main immediate objectives to greater community involvement.

Leslie was already recognised as coach of the highly successful "Wendover Cricket Club 200 Club" team in the Wendover Village Quiz, winners in 1993 and 1994. Following on from this autumnal village event, he encouraged the setting up of the 8-a-side village cricket tournament for the Lord of the Manor's Cup which is open to all groups and takes place on summertime Friday evenings at the Witchell ground. He also supported the revival of 200 Club matches which generate wider participation in their own brand of informal cricket. Leslie believes that these are tangible ways of recognising the sustained support from the Community Trust over the last 15 years.

Any regrets? Yes, he tried several times to get girls more involved in the Colts section and to start a women's team but neither really caught hold.

Leslie retired as Chairman at the AGM in December. He has some long envisaged projects, postponed during his working life, which he now wants to realise while there is time! This will involve him in researching sources only available in Edinburgh. So, nearly full circle, he will spend periods there, but he will not, he emphasises, be leaving Wendover.

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