Francis Keith Drake - beloved father
LIFE is full of little ironies. They often escape observation. One such irony is that Francis Keith Drake, a direct descendant of Sir Francis Drake, should have spent so much of his life in Tobermory, on the Hebridean Island of Mull. Tobermory, it will be remembered, was the final resting place of one of the Spanish galleons of the Great Armada, which was forced to circumnavigate the British Isles to try to escape, only to fall victim to winter storms and the treacherous rocks and reefs off Scotland’s west coast.
Despite his illustrious ancestry, ‘Keith’ always preferred to be known by his middle name, and if anyonebrought up such a connection, he quickly changed the conversation.
Born into a naval family in Weymouth, his father, Francis Derek Drake, was in the Royal Navy following a centuries-long, Drake family tradition. Keith’s first schooling was in Malta, then, following a spell in the home counties of England, he was given his first experience of the West Highlands as the family lived for a spell in Lochgilphead.
No one actuall remembers Keith being taught to sail; rather the art of sailing seems to have been in his genes.
As his DNA would dictate, he enlisted in the Royal Navy at age 16, becoming a sailing master on the sail training ship Royalist by 19, teaching others the sailing skills and discipline so necessary for a life at sea. Despite Keith’s father being the ship’s captain, such was the professionalism of the duo that no one who sailed with them was aware of their relationship.
Following a five-year spell with the navy in India, Keith returned to England and gained a professional diving qualification and started his own business in underwater construction as well as hand diving for scallops and other seafood.
This brought him to Tobermory, where he met his wife-to-be, and life-long fellow crewmember, Rhoda MacLeod of the well-known Tobermory family of that name. Together, they founded the famous Tobermory Chocolate Factory. From then on, one of Keith’s many passions was as the firm’s master chocolatier.
Keith was a crewmember on the Tobermory Lifeboat, often seen coming off an all-night shift, and going straight to the shop to make chocolate for the day ahead. In 1993 he was awarded official Certificates of Commendation from the Royal Humane Society and Chief Constable, for saving a man’s life who had fallen into Tobermory Bay.
More recently, Keith and Rhoda bought the derelict old church on Tobermory’s Main Street, renovated it and opened it as The Gallery craft shop and eatery.
Keith was approachable, knowledgeable and helpful if one cared to listen. He always had an infectious and disarming smile, which could leave all he encountered instantly speechless. He possessed a wickedly dry sense of humour, and was able to give and take the banter of the islands.
Keith died suddenly and unexpectedly at his beloved home Erray House in Tobermory, on an otherwise quiet Sunday morning. He had just celebrated his 60th birthday a few weeks before. He is survived by his wife Rhoda, and three sons, John Francis, Rudi and Matthew, as well as his mother, Joyce. His funeral service at Tobermory Parish Church on August 7 was a joyous celebration of his life, with not a dry eye among those in the congregation – tears of mirth mixed with tears of sadness. He was fittingly carried from the church to a rousing rendition of A Life on the Ocean Wave (Henry Russell 1838) by the church organist with full sound effects, and closing one’s eyes, one could see and hear the massed band of the Royal Marines.