Henry Strzelecki, who died on Boxing Day aged 87, was known universally as “Mr. Henri”. He devoted much of his life to the benefit of others. Born in Poland, he became as English as the next man in his adopted city of Manchester. The transformation was neither easy nor immediate, but it was determined; he did not, however, shun his native land as could be evidenced by some of his later business developments.
Born in Brodnica, midway between Warsaw and Gdansk, he fled occupied Poland, the scene of much human suffering, after making himself a nuisance to the Nazis, to join the Polish 2nd Corps in Italy; it became part of the British Eighth Army. He fought with Corps in many campaigns, notably in the liberation of Bologna, earning recognition in the form of medals from both the Polish and the British authorities. He was demobilised in Britain and opted to stay here as by then his native Poland was in the hands of the Communists.
He worked and studied in the textile industry. It was while working in the Double Two shirt factory that he met and married his wife, Sheila, a strong-minded Yorkshire woman, in 1952. She became the rock at home so that he could devote all his energies to the clothing business he was to start ten years later when he felt he had absorbed as much as he could of the essential details of every aspect of the trade. He only needed a suitable “cause” to develop.
It came from one of his recreational activities. “Henri” was a keen sailor and knew as well as any that the available clothing for that sport was woefully inadequate. Materials constructed from man-made fibres were in their infancy, but true to the traditions of the garment industry, “Henri” uncovered those that were suitable for his purpose – that of producing wearable weather-proof clothing – among them Bri-nylon, which was to become the base cloth of his early foul-weather gear.
Entering a partnership with Angus Lloyd in 1963 to form Henri-Lloyd Limited, he devoted the rest of his working life for the benefit of others. Those who wear his clothing today will respect the innovations he inspired from the hand-taping of the seams to prevent leakage to the development of non-corrosive nylon zips with the Swiss firm of Riri; and for personal safety, the inclusion of integrated harnesses that have saved many lives.
Henri-Lloyd Limited began life in a converted chapel in Salford where the managing director worked doubly hard to prove himself as equal, at least, as an immigrant (a term he hated) against the regular tradesmen and women of Northern England. He rebelled passionately against the restrictions imposed by post-war trades unionism in the work place and refused to allow trades unions in the business. He felt that he had received the ultimate accolade when the trades unions visited and told him that he didn’t need them.
It was in 1993 that the Henri-Lloyd business took a step to restore its founder’s heritage when it established a factory in “Mr. Henri’s” hometown of Brodnica. That gave him considerable satisfaction – gone were the overtones of communism in the restructuring Poland and he wanted to be part of it. Like all his business, this one has grown regularly.
His tests were carried out on those who were adventurous and went on to become famous – Francis Chichester for his round the world voyage; Alec Rose, for his; Robin Knox-Johnston for his non-stop solo circumnavigation, Chay Blyth and Naomi James for their world girdling in opposite directions. Never averse to publicity for his products, “Henri” Strzelecki always had some gimmick display on his stand at Boat Shows to prove the reliability or strength of his garments, even inviting “Karate chops” on the taped seams to prove their toughness.
In 1985, Henry Strzelecki was awarded the MBE for services to the clothing industry, and in both 1986 and 1987 Henri-Lloyd Limited received the Queen’s Award for Export Achievement. Also in 1987, he was made Marine Personality of the Year by the Marine Trades Association. The Gold Cross of Merit was awarded to Henri by the President of Poland in 1990. The following year he received the Personality of the Year from the Sartorial Society for services to the British clothing industry, and the same year he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the British Marine Industries Association and the Royal Yachting Association.
Recognition awards continued after his official retirement from Henri-Lloyd in 1996. That year he was awarded an honorary MA from the University of Salford and in 2009 the Joseph Conrad Award for Innovation and a Lifetime Award from Boating Business and the Marine Trade Association. Last year Henri received an honorary doctorate of technology from Manchester Metropolitan University for his outstanding contribution in the fields of clothing technology. He was due to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Yachting Journalists’ Association in January; it will be presented posthumously.
For more than 35 years, “Henri” Strzelecki actively contributed to the Marine Industries Federation Grand Council and the Marine Trades Association. For six years he was a director of the National Boat Shows. His association with the Lil Stockdale Spastics Centre in Sale goes back more than 20 years, and through the Henri-Lloyd Trust he was involved in helping disabled people to take part in and enjoy water-sports.
“Mr. Henri” was a man who made friends easily and never, ever forgot a face or the name that went with it. His famous “table tours” during the dinners he gave at the Polish Club in Kensington during the London Boat Shows, were as unforgettable as the man himself. Towards the end of the meal, he would slowly perambulate around the tables, stopping behind each chair and introducing its occupant to the rest of the assembled company. There was never a hitch, nor was he stuck for a name or a relevant story. No one who saw one of these performances has ever forgotten it.
The spirit of “Henri” Strzelecki lives on in the tradition of his business – one, whose products are appreciated by all who now go properly clothed for their leisure pursuits.
Henry Strzelecki, born 4th October 1925, died 26th December 2012 pre-deceased by his wife Sheila (d 1999), is survived by two sons, Paul and Martin, (the joint chief executives of Henri-Lloyd Limited) and a daughter, Diane, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Funeral/ Memorial service details to follow.