Today treasured Whitgift House resident George turns 90, to celebrate we gathered in the community room with George’s friends and family to enjoy live jazz and scrumptious carrot cake.
Master craftsman, councillor, jazz band player, magistrate, author, school governor, deputy mayor….
After spending time with George, it is not long before you realise that you are in the company of a true inspiration. Whilst recalling aspects of his life, George eagerly brings out mementos helped by his eldest daughter, Sue, a regular visitor at the home. Items include an exquisitely crafted woodwork box, a book filled with newspaper cuttings, an autobiography, a woodwork college text book and images of a young man playing the trombone - all of which relate to George’s lifetime stories.
With a passion for politics and the community, it is no wonder that George has spent a great deal of his time either campaigning or helping others. In his youth, George embarked on an apprenticeship in joinery which saw him serve as a camp carpenter during WW2. He continued on this career path after the war and joined a trade union. This fuelled his interest in all aspects of community life. An involvement in the 1959 General Election further wetted his appetite for politics until the time came when, in 1971, George was elected to Croydon Council. From improving road safety to supporting recovering alcoholics and women experiencing domestic violence, George tirelessly focused his energy on helping local people. He had the honour of becoming Deputy Mayor in 1976.
Such was his involvement in the community that he was asked to become a magistrate in 1968. With Croydon covering such a large area of jurisdiction, the workload was heavy and often involved very serious cases. The most terrifying moment, George recalls, was having a suspected IRA bomber in the courtroom surrounded by armed police officers. He adds, “I looked at them and thought, what have I got myself in for!” On refusing to give his name, the prisoner decided to make a dash for it, so the police pushed him up against a rifle, “I thought a gun was going to go off!” George admits that out of his 30 years as a magistrate, his proudest achievement was holding the position of Chairman to the Bench.
George was also keen to focus his attentions on the young and so he was a School Governor of Broadmead School for 21 years including being Chairman of Governors. With the children speaking up to 50 languages at the school at one time, it was important to support the teaching staff and Headteacher. They were aware that the nearby Tavistock School was to be demolished and on behalf of their governors, George lobbied the Council and had a petition taken to Downing Street. They knew they were unlikely to save the whole school, but they compromised by leaving up the separate Annexe, which became a base for the local ‘Gingerbread’ group- a charity for single parent families. Finally in 2007, in recognition for all of these tremendous services, George was appointed an Honorary Alderman for Croydon.
Aside from his community work, George was a talented trombone player and part of the Frank Clark Seven Jazz Band that performed regularly at the Fairfield Halls. He has written a book entitled Carpentry and Joineryused today in colleges around the country and available from Amazon. After some persuasion from those who knew of George’s remarkable work, he has also published his autobiography - a fascinating read for someone who has lived ‘a gem of a life’.
Today, George is a keen supporter of all of the activities and events that take place at Whitgift House describing the home as ‘second to none’. Residents now appreciate one result of his carpentry skills, a small and beautifully carved oak table which holds the Book of Remembrance in the Chapel.
As George had the privilege of helping so many people across the borough, and outside, he is now a well known figure in Croydon. This now brings George a steady stream of visitors alongside his two other daughters, Jennifer and Ruth, all to share in the wonderful stories of this local legend. We hope he had a fantastic day celebrating!