Town pays tribute to town crier

WHEN writing a tribute it is often good form to overstate the impact an individual has made on the lives of others.

WHEN writing a tribute it is often good form to overstate the impact an individual has made on the lives of others.

But when somebody like Tregarthen Gibson, Exmouth's colourful, gregarious town crier who died last Wednesday evening aged 83 -outside his beloved Manor Gardens following a meeting with Exmouth Civic Society, which he was president - is lost to us, you find the opposite is true; nothing you write really seems to do justice.

Despite the tired old clich�, hundreds of tributes have been flooding in; actually it's been more like a tidal wave - from local dignitaries, traders, friends, acquaintances, holiday makers, the list is endless.

Even now, after he has gone, everybody wants a piece of him; regardless if you saw him every Saturday in the Magnolia Centre with his booming voice and clanging bell projecting the latest news - often in a style he saw fit - or if you knew him through the town council where he could lighten the tension with a little well placed humour when political differences saw things get a little heated; or even if you were a holiday maker enjoying what Exmouth had to offer; for everyone, the loss of this larger than life character is a very personal one.

The truth is since his death we have had so many tributes and messages of condolences, to print them all we would literally need to publish a Garth Gibson edition of the Journal.

"He just made everyone he met feel special," said John Wokersien the town clerk, who accompanied Garth during his last afternoon. John smiled and added: "He loved everyone and everyone loved him!

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"On the day he died I had the pleasure of spending some four happy hours with Garth on an Exmouth Shanty men the Berry Head Hotel Brixham.

"We had lots of fun and banter between us all with a love of life that only Garth could impart. Everyone knew him - and it was not just Exmouth people; he would talk to visitors, people on coaches and people strolling on the seafront and make sure they were enjoying their day trip or holiday in the town.

"People loved him and I am sure people returned to Exmouth having been welcomed to Exmouth in his inimitable style."

John said it would often take 'ages' to walk through the town with him - because he had to talk to everyone.

Without prompting, his granddaughter Jo, with a little chuckle, admitted as much, and sometimes she felt a little envious: "He was my grandpa, my soul mate- we used to walk through the town centre together, but a simple two minute walk could take half-an-hour

"He used to flirt with the ladies as they walked past and they used to flirt back, have a laugh and a joke."

Garth was born in St Just-in-Penwith, in Cornwall on 21 Feb 1926 - despite subsequent varying claims by him, with his tongue firmly in his cheek that he was in fact born in the 18th Century - to Willy and Mary-Jane Gibson, who ran the family business Gibson Brothers combining two curiously unrelated services - an undertakers and a builders.

He attended the St Just Elementary School and then Truro Grammar School - but little did he know those years later his time there would not only shape his love life - but his career for the next four decades.

He went to Loughborough University to study as a teacher before spending several years from 1945 to 1948 in several countries including Gibraltar working for the Army advising former services personnel following their release from National Service on suitable career paths.

"He always wanted to be involved in the community, to help everybody he could," said Jo. "The elderly, the disabled, the less fortunate, regardless of background he always wanted to help them.

"He believed everybody was equal and everybody should have the same chance in life."

His life then came full circle and he landed a job teaching PE and Religious Education and eventually as Resident House Master in Truro Grammar School - where he met his eventual wife Marjorie, who was then Head Matron.

They married in Shakespeare's adopted home of Stratford-upon-Avon in October 24 1953 and had two children, Jenny and Neil - Jenny would go on to give them three grandchildren and in turn, two great children.

He remained in education until the 1980s, using his expertise, as a Schools Inspector and they moved to Halsdon Road in Exmouth in 1983, before moving to Dolforgan Court, Louisa Terrace in 1987.

While they had both retired, Garth showed no signs of slowing, and in many ways it was the start of the rest of his life.

He immersed himself in the day-to-day goings on of Exmouth and in 2000 'volunteered' to become Town Crier for the newly formed Exmouth Town Council.

"I had worked on him to take on the job of Town Crier thinking he would really look the part," said former mayor and close friend Cllr Brenda Taylor. "After several weeks of cajoling and gentle arm bending he agreed, and what an asset he has been to Exmouth, always there at Civic functions and doing his Saturday cry in the town centre in all weathers."

Jo added that it was a role he was perfect for - and one he made his own: "It fitted his personality to a tee.

"In the nicest way, he always wanted to be the centre of attention."

Former mayor Joy Whipps said as Town Crier he: "....spread light and laughter wherever he went and was never happier than when talking to the people he met.

"Indeed Garth was comfortable talking to anyone especially children and was always amused when youngsters mistook him for a pirate!"

His commitment to the community was outstanding; and sometimes he seemed to be almost omnipresent, being everywhere: "He attended everything in town," said John. "He must have visited every church, every organisation, group, school, business and club and brought laughter and joy everywhere he went."

The Clyst Valley Lions Club was just one organisation he backed and Cynthia Hopkins, President, said: "He supported many of our events, and most notably he started our Duck Race on Easter Sunday, just a few short weeks ago, and his presence made a huge difference."

Joy said: "(As mayor)....the majority of the time was spent in the company of Garth attending functions, events, celebrations and birthday parties for people reaching their centenary.

"Sadly Garth never made his century although he always said he was born in the 1800s!"

Another former mayor and close friend Eileen Wragg recalled his unique sense of humour: said: "On one occasion... (at the) Littleham Ladies Circle, we arrived, both in full regalia just as the members were saying their prayers.

"We shuffled out backwards through the door, murmuring our apologies whilst they finished their prayers, and on re-entering Garth announced that as we had arrived, their prayers had been answered!

She added that on another engagement, they were to visit a couple celebrating their diamond wedding anniversary: "I was driving, but unfortunately Garth had made a mistake with the address and we arrived at the wrong house, to the surprise of the occupants.

"Despite our concerns at being unpunctual, Garth had a gift for taking such concerns out of such situations and was actually able to transform stress into enjoyment."

In 2007 he joined the Exmouth Shanty Men: "He was a raucous member...I remember with great affection our trip last year to Falmouth Shout, the international event for shanty singers," said Joy.

"Afflicted with knee problems Garth was very disappointed not to be taking part so my family had a 'day trip' and we spent a happy day pushing him around Falmouth in a wheel chair."

Martin John Nicholls Founder of the Exmouth Shanty Men said: "He loved nothing more than to be outrageous!

"Even his chosen Shanty Man name, Rigger Mortiss, would bring screams of laughter from audiences all over the country, and he would stand there with that wicked glint in his eye, revelling in the connection he always made with people.

"We know that no-one is immortal, but Garth gave it his best shot! He was performing with the Exmouth Shanty Men and attending to his Town Council duties right up to the end.

"No-one could guess his age. I have overheard him telling enthralled holidaymakers that he was 135 years old and that he only found himself in Exmouth because his mother had placed him in a reed basket and floated him down the River Tamar from his beloved Cornwall!"

He was blissfully happy surrounded by his family - Marjorie his devoted and loving wife of 55 years who never grumbled about having to 'share' her husband with the rest of Devon's largest town, his son Neil; and Garth's daughter Jenny and her children Michael, Joanne and Maria and Joanne's daughter, his great-granddaughter, Tilley-Alice and Michael's son, his great-grandson Reilly.

"He was so proud," said Jo. "He was absolutely besotted with them. My Nan said she always felt so lucky. I haven't just lost my grandpa; I have lost my best friend."

His daughter Jenny said: "The thing I always remember about him was that even when he was teaching he always had time for us when we were young and he always put us at the front be it canoeing or swimming or whatever.

"When I was 18 we had a dog called Suki which was his dog, and when he died my father grieved for weeks.

"He loved that dog and was still talking about Suki recently and Suki died over thirty years ago and in some way I hope that now they are now together."

Tregarthen Gibson - Feb 21 1926 to May 20 2009 - leaves a wife Marjorie, two children, three grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

If you want to pay your own special tribute to Garth a book of condolence has been set up in the Foyer of the Town Hall, 9am to 5pm Mondays to Thursdays and 9am to 4.30pm Fridays. Funeral arrangements will be announced as soon as they are known.

The public are invited to Garth's Funeral Service - the time on Friday, June 12 at 2pm at the Holy trinity Church.