Peter Towner's Life and Times ( May 2008)
A modest and understated gentleman, Peter Towner became an emblem of St Francis Hospital and it was hard to think of the place without thinking immediately of him. His wonderful voice and calm manner were a magnificent way for the visitor, patient or guest to have first contact with St Francis. If Peter couldn't help you then you probably couldn't be helped!
Peter was born in Bexhill in 1922, joined the hospital service in 1947 at Dorking General and transferred to St Francis as Head Receptionist in 1953. Peter recalled an incident at Dorking when he was working as a telephonist there. He heard a woman's scream as she ran up the drive. A very pretty womam, Peter recalls! Anyway Peter went out to see her. She was in the early stages of labour. Peter made her comfortable, rolling up his jacket as a pillow for her head. In due course a Nursing Sister attended to her and everything turned out fine. The surprise was when there were phone calls coming in to speak to the 'Doctor Towner' who had attended to her initially!
Peter was very reluctant to let me have details and photos of his past and current life when he entertained me at his home recently. I really had to work hard on him to tell him how people would love to read of his life and many exploits. He gave in finally but only after I threatened him with a request for another charity bikeride! Only joking - I'm sure Peter would be the first to do it if he was able.
Peter had many and varied interests whilst at St Francis and included amongst these were membership of the Tenanats Association, service on the NALGO Committee, Chairman of the Social and Sports Club, bowls club member and later Honorary President of the Bowls Club, correspondent for the' Franciscan' hospital magazine, drama section member and producer, extraordinary charity bike rider and so the list goes on. There is no possible way I could include it all. Peter contributed so much and so widely that it says a lot about the man.
A particular bike ride in aid of St Peter's and St James' Hospice is recalled with some humour. The bike ride from there to Alfriston and back - 50 miles - raised £1,525 for the hospice in ideal weather conditions but one or two of the riders had not been on a bike for some years. One of them , mentioning no names but recently awarded an MBE, fell off! On their return they were offered oxygen or a glass of champagne to revive them. Along with Peter and Paddy on that trip were Nick Mitchell, Bob McNally, Alan Janes, Willem Moehn, and Colin Scott.
Never one to dwell on his health issues over the years, Peter takes a positive view of life and always took the attitude of what he could do rather than become bound up in any possible limitations. To this end he is a great role model for anyone beset by disability. As a young man he had problems with his feet which resulted in amputation of the toes. Later in life he had a quadruple heart bypass operation but nevertheless went on to do the Alfriston charity bike ride at the age of 73! Wow!
Outside of St Francis his main interest was drama and he belonged to the Franklands Village Players. He is also a keen photographer and artist and Peter treated me to a viewing of his very accomplished work. Another great love of his and his family is music.
Peter speaks highly of his wife Marjorie and of his four children, Peter junior, Linda, Annette and Michael. Having suffered various health problems and the loss of young children over the years he has always bounced back especially with their help and support.
Peter said of Marjorie at their recent celebration of 60 years of marriage that Marjorie's musical talent played a large part in their romance as she played love songs to Peter on the piano. In those days love was a respectful slow dance instead of a rush. Peter said, ' I took her home after our first date and just said goodnight. I was a perfect gentleman. I didn't even kiss her. I was going to but I didn't.' Marjorie commented how important having fun is to their relationship - just the little things.
Peter retired in 1983 and was immediately missed, not only for the fine qualities he brought into his work but also for his personal standing as a very approachable and understanding man.
I had to confess to Peter that I once did the dirty on him. He knew nothing of it but could recall some of the circumstances when I related it. It was back at the time when I had recently been given a hospital house. The allocation of these, at that time, was very unfair. Paddy Henry and myself set out to change the method of allocation and to bring about improvements in the general standard of the estate. There was no central heating, for example. In order to get the whole matter highlighted we arranged to squat newlyweds Chris and Joan Gannon in a house in Colwell Gardens but that was easier said than done. Access had to be gained to the house and I agreed to do this. I had to 'tell a white lie' in order to get in and Peter was the receptionist in charge of the key. We gained access, moved Chris and Joan in and then achieved local and national press coverage. Bill Margetts later interviewed me but I managed to avoid any disciplinary action. Phew! I recently apologised to Peter and he gave me a warm smile of forgiveness.
Peter wants to thank all his countless friends and colleagues, far too many to mention, who have made his connection with St Francis so enjoyable. Likewise, Peter, we want to thank you for letting us have this insight into your life and we wish you and your family all the best for the future.