Dennis Aris, writer of one of the most popular columns ever to appear in The Westmorland Gazette, has died at the age of 76 after battling against coronavirus for more than two weeks.

Dennis was diagnosed with the disease after being admitted to Furness General Hospital and appeared to be showing signs of recovery when further complications set in, leading to his death on Tuesday.

His wife Jean praised his courage and spirit.

"I was so privileged to have him in my life for as long as I did," she said.

"He was such a big-hearted man and gave us all so much."

Mr Aris spent his working life in journalism, first on the Beds and Bucks Observer followed by two years on the Honiton Herald before returning to the Observer.

In 1972, drawn by the attractions of the Lake District, he left his home town Leighton Buzzard with first wife Stella and young daughter Merryll to join the Gazette as a general reporter.

Apart from a ten-year spell with the North West Evening Mail, Barrow, he stayed with the paper until his retirement in 2008.

His column The Way I See It was launched in 1990 and quickly established itself as a favourite feature of the newspaper, continuing for a remarkable 18 years.

Former editor John Lannaghan said: "Giving Dennis his own column was one of the best things I ever did. He had a quirky sense of humour and used it to wonderful effect, highlighting the absurdities and oddities of everyday life but often with a serious point to make.

"He liked nothing better than puncturing the pomposity of politicians or other figures of authority and no-one was safe from his sharp wit, including his own colleagues. He was also quite happy to poke fun at himself as he did in one of his best-remembered columns when he recalled how he and his colleagues on the Beds and Bucks had been too busy typing up wedding reports and the like to pay much attention to a tip-off about activity around a stationary train on the nearby track. It turned out to have been The Great Train Robbery.

"He could be hilarious when he launched into one of his flights of fancy. Hence we had the notion of triple-decker buses operating in the Lake District, the prospect of Jumbo jets landing at Cark and the image of Lakeland farmers growing vines in a warming climate and flogging Cabernet Howgill to the French in revenge for inflicting Beaujolais Nouveau on us.

‘"But it wasn’t just as a columnist that Dennis excelled. He was a first-rate general reporter, operating as the Gazette’s man in the lake district for many years, while sports-writing came easily to him – hardly surprising as he was involved throughout his life in a wide range of sporting and outdoor activities.

‘"Judo – he attained black belt status with Kendal Judo Club - rugby union, squash, badminton, hockey, wind-surfing, surf-boarding, orienteering, were among those activities. Cricket, he would happily admit, remained a blind spot though he did on occasions turn out for the Gazette in the Kendal midweek league. Needless to say, it became the subject of an irreverent column."

Mr Aris was also an accomplished musician and was still actively involved with Flookburgh Band after chalking up 25 years as trombonist.

Previously, he played with Ulverston Town and other bands in the district and was a current member of South Cumbria Brass Band who entertain Ulverston townsfolk on Thursday mornings.

He could play a number of other instruments and in his younger days was bass guitarist with a rock group playing in pubs and clubs throughout Cumbria and beyond.

After the untimely death of Stella from cancer in 1994, Mr Aris subsequently met Jean, an Ambleside nurse, and the couple married in 1997. Jean was soon introduced to what was probably his greatest passion – sailing.

Dennis was a member of Barrow Sailing Club and the couple – who lived in Field Broughton - had their own four-berth sailing boat Sioux. They sold the vessel last year as it was getting too big to comfortably handle but had no intention of giving up sailing and were looking forward to their annual trip to Cornwall where they spent many happy hours in their mirror dinghy in Cawsand Bay.

The funeral at Field Broughton Parish Church at a date yet to be fixed will be for close family members only but it is hoped to arrange a celebration of his life later in the year.