Tribute for John Pearl by Stephen Plummer.
John Edward Pearl (hence the ‘JEP’ on his car number plate) was born at Old Church Hospital, Romford on Sunday 25th April 1937 to Edward & Jessie. The family lived in 34 Ingreway at Harold Park, Harold Wood, near Romford. They had a really long garden where his father, Ted, would grow most of the family’s vegetables. At the end of the garden was a small stream and, beyond that, the railway embankment of the main east coast railway line. Dad’s lifelong love of honey probably arose from being the son of a keen beekeeper who set up his hives there.
The railway, of course, was a regular target for German bombers during the war and the back windows of the house were blown out on at least 2 occasions (Dad and the family would probably have been sheltering in the Anderson shelter in their garden). In a piece documenting those wartime memories of his early years Dad talks about collecting shrapnel….and buttons after a button factory in Romford was bombed and buttons of all shapes and sizes were spread over a wide area, becoming precious collectors’ items for the local children. He talks about Christmas’s at his grandparents’ in Chadwell Heath and the toys that his Dad made and gave him as presents including one year, he writes ‘…a lovely wooden fort complete with wooden soldiers on lead bases, it must have taken him hours to have made it.’
Dad was given a second hand girl’s bicycle for either his 6th or 7th birthday on which he learnt to ride. In later years he was to spend many hours and adventures in the saddle cycling around various parts of the country.
He had joined the Cubs when he was 7, and was later a keen member of the Scouts. When they went away on camp all of the lads were supposed to send a postcard to their parents to say that they had arrived, but Dad confessed to sending his from the post box at the end of the road before he left!
Dad’s school reports from Redden Court County Secondary School have been forensically examined by Matthew! He pointed out how Dad started in Class B, becoming top of the class a few years later when he was 14. He then went up to class A where a year later – guess what? – as he prepared to leave school he was top of the class again. His Class Mistress wrote: ‘By his intelligence and quiet determination John has risen to the top of the A class exactly a year after his promotion!’
Colin Powell, the United States’ famous 4-star general and statesman, was also born in April 1937 and he could have been writing about Dad when he said, ‘If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.’
It was this attitude that helped Dad to thrive as he made the jump from the schoolroom to the workplace.
Dad followed his father, Ted, into the world of the GPO (that’s the General Post Office for the benefit of the grandchildren!). He joined in May 1952 as a callow 15 year old ‘Youth in Training’. Dad kept a copy of his Supervising Officers’ reports and they tell a story that will not surprise any of us:
“This youth is a good worker; endeavours to learn; is willing and polite and has made good progress” (1/6/53).
“J.E. Pearl is an exceptionally intelligent lad and can absorb diagram details to a remarkable degree. Definitely T.O. (Technical Officer) material” (15/2/54).
“He is one of the better types of youth!” (2/2/55).
“T.O. material – one of the best boys seen” (10/5/55).
Apart from 2 years National Service in the RAF, Dad spent the whole of his working life devoted to the Company, mainly in the old City Area.
With Stock Market business booming once more in the late 1950s Dad was in charge of installing the telephone system in the new Stock Exchange Tower that began construction in 1967 before being officially opened by the Queen in 1972.
He had a really good career with BT – as it became in the early 80s – and in later years he led a team from Baynard House connecting the telephone exchanges north of the Thames with Optical Fibre before taking early retirement with an inflation-proof pension in September 1990, an opportunity that he didn’t dare pass up!
During his farewell speech he said that he was looking forward to developing dormant hobbies, spending more time with the family and the grandchildren, and completing some long-distance walks.
He also commented, and I quote from his notes: “My wife has high expectations too. She is looking for the return of her gardener and for many jobs to be both started and finished.
Her quality expectations are also well in advance of BT’s. She looks to a job being done right first time, to time and to budget. I am not confident about my next years appraisement!”
Marriage & family.
Dad had met Mum at Harold Park Baptist Church at the end of Ingreway, and they married nearly 60 years ago on 26th September 1959, moving into their new bungalow at Delmar Gardens in Wickford. Carole was born just over a year later, followed by Judith & Christine. A few years later the family moved to a house at Long Meadow Drive on the other side of Wickford.
The girls will tell you about all of the holidays they shared over the years. In the summer the family would often visit Wales and the Lake District, and there were regular trips to the Norfolk Broads, too. Dad would buy walking boots for the girls because there was always a lot of hiking, hill and mountain-climbing involved. They used to take turns in sorting out a round trip for a day. Carole remembers a walk in the Lakes to Ambleside and then taking the boat back across the lake…and there was always a jigsaw for a rainy day. Dad would do the cooking and the girls had to put together a rota for setting the table, washing up, drying and clearing away! Dad would choose a book to read each holiday and Carole remembers Dad reading most of Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallows & Amazons’ series.
She also remembers the little kitten that they found in the copse at the bottom of the garden. Dad wasn’t overly keen on animals but he was persuaded to keep it and so ‘Twink’ joined the family. Dad was well known for his stock-in-trade phrases, and Christine remembers how he would always say to her, “There’s no flies on you but you can see where they’ve been!”
When I first met Carole, Mum & Dad were living in Hatfield Peveril near Chelmsford where Dad would commute to work and back. Following Dad’s retirement, they moved to Mickleden in the little village of Much Birch between Hereford and Ross-on-Wye where we will always remember the amazing views of the Black Mountains from the back garden. It was there that Dad was really able to pursue one of his great loves – gardening.
Mum & Dad had the most amazing garden, and the highlight for me was Dad’s picture-perfect, ultra-neat-and-tidy vegetable plot. When Dad had a problem with his knee one Spring, Carole and I drove down to help him plant out his potatoes….it was akin to a military operation, and Dad watched over us like a hawk, making sure that we got the spacing spot on with the measuring stick and the depth exactly right!
Dad was Secretary of the Garden Club in Much Birch, and his slide collection is crammed with photographs of plants and scenes from gardens across the country which he enjoyed sharing in his public slide shows. Dad loved his photography. When he was younger, he used to develop all of his own photos. And many of you will have received Christmas cards with a special photo from the previous year on the cover. He liked photos to be empty of people and would be prepared to spend a long time set up and waiting for the opportune moment when he could quickly press the shutter with no one in shot!
Whenever we went down to Mickleden as a family the evening would be spent playing boardgames like Masterpiece, Scrabble and Scotland Yard, and card games like Uno and, of course, Sevens!
Over the years Dad managed to fulfil another of his retirement ambitions walking various long-distance footpaths: Offas Dyke; The Ridgeway; The Cotswold Way; The Coast to Coast Walk and Peddars Way in Norfolk….and he loved the many holidays that he and Mum were able to share together, both at home and abroad.
Dad’s Christian faith was an integral part of his life. We’ll hear a bit more about this in a little while, but I want to mention his involvement with the Boys Brigade at this point.
He had been involved with the Anchor Boys at Harold Park when he was a teenager and, latterly, spend many years as Secretary of the Chelmsford & District Battalion. He was also the Captain – or Skipper – at Wickford Baptist Church, and Mum and the girls can tell you all about the meetings at their home, the construction of various canoes…and Mum churning out the Minutes of various meetings on the duplicator!
Robert & Sonia Treavett have driven from Essex to be here this afternoon and Robert has passed on to me some insights from that part of Dad’s life. He writes, ‘I have known John for the past 57 years, and it has been a pleasure. He taught me a lot about the countryside via Boys Brigade: map reading, trees and flowers. The highlights were the camps and the Duke Of Edinburgh Awards. We also went sailing in my later teens on the Norfolk Broads.’
Robert then shared a particular story: ‘We were going to moor on the side of the river which was all new to us. John jumped off onto a nice patch of grass and we threw John the rope to tie us up. …But the boat did not come to a standstill but kept going! John was determined to stop the boat so he carried on running through all the stingers on the bank shouting, “Let go of the main sheet!” …which we did at last after realising that he meant the sail!! The boat finally came to a rest – John was not a happy skipper!
We also went on midnight walks with breakfast at John and Margaret’s. Being rather dirty we all had a bath at their home. The colour of the bath was not white when we had all finished! The climax to a Sunday evening service was a sing-song and quiz for the youth around their house, and when we went into the hall the stairs were lined with three beaming smiley faces in their nighties as they listened to all our singing!! Yes, you’ve guessed it: Carole, Judith, and Christine all ready for bed.’
We will always remember Dad’s special character: methodical, practical, available, reliable, sociable….and with a great sense of humour! He loved his one-liners, often laughed at the thought of the 2 Ronnies’ ‘Four Candles’ sketch, and I love the way in which he would often smile to himself as he spent time with the family he loved.
I was really nervous when I met Dad for the first time. I drove down to the Marks Tey Hotel in Colchester with this Essex girl that I had met and fallen in love with. What on earth would he think of this future son-in-law that he had never met and who had had the audacity to propose to his eldest daughter after going out for a mere 2 weeks?!
I needn’t have worried. I was welcomed into the family and quickly grew to love this special person so much over the years who has encouraged me, believed in me and he has left me, as he has left us all, with so many special memories to cherish.