Tributes have been paid after the death of a former Assay Master who helped make the Birmingham office a leader in its field.

Bernard Ward OBE, who worked his way to the top of the historic Assay organisation from humble roots, and also played professional football for Sheffield Wednesday, passed away aged 78 on Friday, March 15, after a lengthy illness.

Current Assay Master Michael Allchin paid tribute to the part Mr Ward played in expanding the Assay Office for 15 years until 1998, and described him as an exceptional man: “who truly stamped his mark on the UK jewellery industry”.

Mr Ward, a married father of two, received an OBE at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace on May 20 1999, the day of his 65th birthday, in recognition of his services to the industry.

Mr Allchin said: “Bernard will be fondly remembered for many, many years to come, not only by his colleagues and friends at The Birmingham Assay Office but by the whole of the UK jewellery and precious metals industries.

“During his 15 years at the helm of the Birmingham Assay Office, Bernard reinvigorated the business.

“He encouraged progress through expansion and exemplary customer service, acquired new equipment and boosted team effort, to position Birmingham as the largest assay office in the UK in just three years.

“Today the Birmingham Assay Office enjoys a reputation in the jewellery industry and beyond as leaders in the field of service and technical expertise.

“A fitting testimony to the ground work laid down by Bernard Ward.”

Mr Ward came from a working class family in Sheffield. He lost his father in the Second World War and was left in the care of his grandparents when his mother remarried.

Shortly after, his grandmother died, leaving the young boy with his grandfather, a steel mill worker, to get along as best they could.

At 17, he was noticed by the headmaster of his school for his flair in chemistry and physics, which led to a role at the Sheffield Smelting Company.

He then began a football career that took him to Sheffield Wednesday and Peterborough United, all the while attending night classes to qualify for university where he obtained a degree in metallurgy.

In 1978, 27 years after he had started as a laboratory assistant, he was appointed managing director of Sheffield Smelting and director of operations at Engelhard Industries in Chessington, with 1,000 people working under him, before moving to the Assay Office in 1983.

In 1994 Mr Ward’s eldest daughter died from a brain tumour, and he later became trustee and chairman of the fund raising committee at ARCOS, a charity focusing mainly on rehabilitation.

After retiring as Assay Master at Christmas 1998, Mr Ward told everyone described the Assay Office team as “my other family”.

He said at the time: “Looking back at my life, I must say, I have no regrets. There have been bad times, but I have been very fortunate throughout in my working life and in my marriage”.

Mr Ward leaves behind widow Margaret and his children Val and Michael.

His funeral is set to take place at 11am on March 23 at Hutcliffe Wood Crematorium, Sheffield.