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Wife of Highbury shopkeeper tells of heart-breaking last moments with husband

Tributes paid to Danny Michelson who co-founded La Fromagerie cheese shop

05 May, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Danny Michelson outside La Fromagerie in Highbury Barn 

THE wife of a popular Highbury shopkeeper has paid tribute to her “loving” husband and spoken about the heart-breaking last moments she spent with him in hospital.

Patricia Michelson, who set up the La Fromagerie cheese shop in Highbury nearly 30 years ago with her husband Danny, sat around his death-bed with their two daughters Kate and Rose for four hours.

He was “not very responsive”, but the doctors said he could hear them so the three women kept talking.

It was only when they finally stood up to leave that he reached out his hand to grab them and pull them close to him one last time.

“That was the last contact,” Ms Michelson told the Tribune. “He tried to fight this virus. He really did try. But this is a virus that can take anyone, it doesn’t matter who you are, how fit you are or how old you are. It’s awful.”

Danny died suffering with coronavirus on April 8. Tributes have since poured in, with Islington North Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn describing Danny as an “iconic” Highbury figure while former Liberal Democrat council leader Terry Stacy said he was a “defender of independent traders”.

The La Fromagerie cheese shop in Highbury Park was set up 28 years ago by Patricia and Danny.

Danny, who was a life-long Gooner and held an Arsenal season ticket, took charge of the shop, curating the design and training staff, as Patricia took the lead on procuring the cheeses.

“We were partners in life and partners in business,” Ms Michelson said. “He loved shop-keeping and he loved the barn area. Danny started the traders association. He wanted to make sure that the street was catered for.

“He was the one who instigated the flower baskets on the street and sorted out the Christmas lights.”

Danny was born and brought up around St John’s Wood. He attended the prestigious St Paul’s private school.

He joined the Marks and Spencer’s management training scheme in the 1960s and spent a lot of time working in the M&S store in Holloway Road.

He then opened a string of menswear shops called Westfield starting in Kentish Town.

He married Patricia 48 years ago and the couple lived around Belsize Park and Highgate before they moved to Highbury Crescent after La Fromagerie was opened in 1992.

Danny became a prominent figure in the area, often seen jogging around the fields or playing tennis, and he was never shy about making his opinion known, whether that was to local politicians or in letters to the Tribune.

He was one of the most vocal voices calling for the council to ban barbecues in Highbury Fields, he was infuriated by what he saw as the failings of the council and Transport for London (TfL) especially in the redevelopment of Highbury Corner and he “always” challenged parking tickets.

He once took TfL to the small claims court over a ticket he received.

As La Fromagerie grew in popularity, Danny and Patricia opened stores in Bloomsbury and Marylebone.

Patricia said: “Danny loved challenges and he was very well read. He loved music and he was a beautiful crooner. That’s how he won my heart, he used to sing Frank Sinatra to me when we were driving in the car.

“He loved the theatre and he loved the whole Highbury scene.”

Highbury East Green councillor Caroline Russell said: “Danny was truly one of the anchors holding things together at Highbury Barn.”

Osh Gantly, Labour councillor in Highbury East, got to know Danny as they both campaigned for Britain to remain part of the European Union during the Brexit referendum.

“He will be sorely missed,” Cllr Gantly said. “He was a staunch remainer. I think the bulk of his cheese came from France and I believe his passion for Europe manifested itself in his beautiful cheese shop.”

Mr Corbyn said: “So sad to hear we’ve lost such an iconic character as Danny Michelson, whose iconic cheese shop was such a big part of his life; Danny always spoke up for The Barn, though often did not see eye to eye with the Council on parking. He always supported the local community, and my condolences go out to Danny’s family and friends.”

Above everything else though, Danny was a devoted husband, father-of-two and grandfather-of-four.

“He was always there for the kids,” Patricia said. “And he was always there for me.”

Patricia wants to hold a memorial service when bigger gatherings are allowed. A smaller funeral was held in the days after Danny died.

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