Obituary: Urias Todner (Hughie)

The former CEO of the Nuneaton and District Co-op and former chair of the Co-op Union has died aged 92

Urias Scoble Todner MBE – known to all as Hughie – has died peacefully on 15 June, aged 92. 

Born in Ryhope, Co Durham, his co-op career began early. “I left school at 14 and started at the village Co-op the very next morning, helping to deliver the milk on a horse-drawn cart,” he said, in an interview with Coventry Live in 2012, on the occasion of his 60th wedding anniversary. 

Urias ‘Hughie’ Todner

Todner met his wife, Lilian, when they were children growing up on adjacent streets, and married at the local St Paul’s Church on 23 February 1952.

A turning point for Todner was the opportunity to attend the Co-operative College at Stanford Hall in Loughborough and graduate from there. His co-op career then took them on 13 moves around the country, and he eventually came to Nuneaton to supervise the building of a new central store. It was here that he and Lilian settled, making their family home in Burton Hastings, on the outskirts of the town.

Todner, who was christened Urias to maintain a family tradition, was appointed chief official of the Nuneaton and District Co-op, which, through a series of mergers, formed part of Coventry & East Mercia Co-operative Society (now Heart of England Co-operative). In 1981, he was elected to the board of the CWS (now the Co-op Group) and in the same year, he became chair of the National Co-operative Chemists (later Co-operative Pharmacy), a position he held for 16 years. He later served on the board of the Co-operative Bank and was elected chair of the Co-op Union (now Co-operatives UK).

He received an MBE in the 1993 New Year Honours (when he was secretary and chief executive of Coventry & East Mercia) for services to the retail industry, and a year later, was president of the 150th Co-operative Congress. As part of the Congress, Todner escorted the Queen when she attended the anniversary celebrations in Rochdale, and unveiled a bronze statue of Robert Owen outside the head offices of the Co-operative Bank on Balloon Street in Manchester.

Todner retired on his 65th birthday, and in later years served as a Warwickshire county councillor, remaining active with the Rotary Club and the British Legion.

“Hughie Todner was a CEO when I became CEO at West Midlands Co-op,” says Ben Reid, former CEO of Midcounties Co-operative and a current director at the International Cooperative Alliance.

“He was one of a group of strong chief executives in the Midlands who were determined to do all they could to maintain the independence of their societies in the belief that this was in the best interests of their members. He was very supportive of me in my new role and I really appreciated the help and advice he gave me. In his time he was one of the leaders of the movement and it was a privilege to have known him.”

Hughie and Lilian Todner

Todner is survived by his wife Lilian, daughters Diane and Karen, sons-in-law John and Ian, grandchildren Jessica, Alasdair, Sarah, Alexander, Harry and Matthew, and great-grandson Max. 

A funeral service will take place at St Botolph’s Church, Burton Hastings on Wednesday, 5 July at 3pm. Family flowers only please, but donations may be made in Hughie’s memory to the British Heart Foundation. Further details from the Heart of England Cooperative Funeral Directors (Park House, Riversley Road, Nuneaton CV11 5QS, 02476 382535)