Geoffrey Joseph Louis was born in London on 21 April 1927 to Louis (Lew) and Leah Gewirtz. Lew’s parents had arrived in London from Tarnov, Poland in 1899. Leah was born in Warsaw and moved to London with her parents in 1902.
A Kinder Transport Sister
Just before the outbreak of the Second World War Geoffrey’s father was Chairman of the Refugee Committee. Many children were arriving on the Kinder Transport at this time and in 1939 a seven-year-old girl called Mathilda arrived with no home to go to. She was the eldest of four children from Austria. Her parents could only obtain visas for three of them to go to Palestine and so Mathilda was placed on a train headed for London. When Lew and Leah heard she needed a home they invited her to live with them. She grew up as a precious sister to Geoffrey and his brother, Alan. After the war was over her parents arranged for her to return to them now that they were settled in Palestine. It was hard for them all to split up after six years together and they never lost contact, often visiting each other throughout their lifetime.
Settling in Leicester
The family moved from London during the war going first to Bognor Regis and then to Woburn Sands. In 1940 Geoffrey’s father and his friend Maurice Krett decided to move their families to Leicester where they jointly rented a factory in Redcross Street. Geoffrey’s parents already had a business making and selling dresses and this new joint business venture was to make children’s dresses. At this point Geoffrey was at Alderman Newton Grammar School with dreams of going on to study in accountancy but, in 1942, his father died and, at the age of fourteen, he was taken out of school to work in the factory.
Following his father’s death Geoffrey travelled with his brother across Leicester to Rabbi Dunner’s every day to say Kaddish and became a regular attender at Rabbi Dunner’s yeshivah. This gave him his lifelong love and attachment to the Jewish religion. It was at this time that Geoffrey and Alan changed their surname to Louis.
Geoffrey was a regular member of Maccabi and this was where he met Stella Most. He had had taken on the role of secretary of Maccabi and Stella was chairman. They married in Leicester’s Synagogue and went on to have four children: Lesley, Lawrence, Sharon and Nicholas. Geoffrey continued to work in the family business until the factory closed in 1964 but he was never out of work. He had many jobs including working with his brother, Alan, in Metice Fabrics, and for Monty Simmons in his zips, buttons and trimmings business.
One of Geoffrey’s favourite jobs combined his love of horse racing with his super mathematical brain. He worked as a bookies clerk at the horse races and was a whizz at calculating the odds and sending tic-tac messages from one bookie to the next with information about betting odds.
Leicester’s very own ‘Tevye’
Geoffrey was one of those members of the Leicester Hebrew Congregation who took on multiple roles. It was from one of these roles that he earned the nickname of ‘Tevye’ because each year at Pesach time he supervised the milk at a local farm. He was Hon. Secretary of the Synagogue for twenty-eight years. He registered all marriages, supported people at times of mourning and was always available to make up a minyan at services in the Synagogue. He was part of the Shul choir under the direction of Joe Kay and, as Registrar of Marriages, he would run up and down the Shul’s stone steps several times during a wedding ceremony to carry out both of these roles. He did have a lovely voice and was able and always willing to daven from the bimah.
As a member of B’nai Brith Geoffrey attended regular cultural evenings. He was a founder member, along with his daughter Sharon, of the Council of Christians and Jews. He was made a life vice-president of both Maccabi and the Synagogue and was an active member of the Council of Patrons. It was in one of the Council of Patrons revues that Geoffrey displayed his dancing skills – or rather his lack of for Geoffrey, it would seem, had two left feet and, whenever the line of dancers turned one way, Geoffrey turned the other.
Dancing may not have been a pastime of choice, but football was a whole different ball game. The sport featured large in his life, both as a spectator and a player. He had a season ticket at Filbert Street for many years. He was a member of the Maccabi football team and played for Minyan Athletic where he was a veteran player. At the age of seventy he and his family played a full ninety-minute match against the rest of the Community to raise funds for LOROS.
Three years later, in 2000, Geoffrey passed away quite suddenly at the age of 73 and his loss was felt throughout the community as it became apparent how many “behind the scenes” jobs Geoffrey had quietly been responsible for.