A WELL-KNOWN character from South Shields, who showed his true mettle working on the streets of the town for decades, has died at the age of 89.
Tommy ‘Wheelbarrow Man’ Owens worked as a scrap metal collector into his late 70s.
He was a familiar diminutive figure in the town – always pushing his wheelbarrow, looking for scrap to sell.
Even when working in the late 1990s, he was something of a throwback to bygone days. And now his passing marks the end of an industrial era forever.
The father of five only became involved in the scrap trade by accident – after he was made redundant from the old boilerscalers Barber and Heron at Templetown, South Shields.
His daughter Karen Parvia, 54, of Mile End Road, South Shields, said: “Dad was a really colourful character. He was old-school and believed you had to pay your way in life. He was a good dad and a good provider for his family.”
Another daughter, Deborah Conner, 43, added: “He was never afraid of hard work. He thrived on it.”
Second World War veteran Mr Owens, who spent his last few years at the Lodge residential care home in South Shields, suffered a stroke in March 1998 but discharged himself from his hospital – and was back pushing his wheelbarrow within 48 hours.
Talking to the Gazette in that same year, he said: “I’ll never retire. I’ll go on until I drop dead in the street.”
He died on Friday, May 2, at Primrose Hill Hospital in Jarrow after battling a stroke and dementia.
Mr Owens’ funeral service is taking place at South Shields Crematorium today.