Gerald’s prospects at birth were pretty grim: abandoned on a doorstep in Bristol, with a cleft palate and very limited sight. He was taken into the care of Barnardo’s, and he became a pupil at the West of England School for the Blind.
He came to work at West Buckland in 1949, just before his seventeenth birthday, working there happily for fifty one years, with hardly a day off sick. He will always be associated in people’s memories with the dining room, which he ran with great cheerfulness and efficiency, necessary when the houses were formally seated for meals served at the table. The key to this efficiency was his remarkable memory. Numbers had to be adjusted for each meal, especially at weekends. Boarders on leave had to be subtracted, also those on away matches, and the correct number calculated for home team teas. So it was not unusual for him to report to the master on duty along the lines of one missing from Brereton and two from Fortescue, and one too many on the Grenville table. He knew exactly what had to be done, although he never wrote anything down to remind him, and everything had to be exactly right. Chris Ponder recalls that he was trusted by Gerald to supervise laying up when the hall had been used by Pathfinders: Gerald told him that everything was correct, except that the Courtenay table was one floorboard too far over. His day was very long – from ringing the rising bell at 7.00 until about 7.00 in the evening and the end of the masters’ dinner – and Gerald lived in, as did several of the support staff. He was still required to sleep in after he had bought his cottage at East Buckland. The Governors offered it to him for £150 in 1965 and he paid for it by weekly deductions from his wages, Here he could indulge his love of his garden: a small front garden which was a mass of colour and a large vegetable garden which was most productive. Gerald did not believe in picking vegetables young. Other memories: his close interest in the weather (especially if bad), his ability to recognise staff and pupils by their voice or by the sound of their footsteps, even twenty years after they had left the school, his detailed knowledge of football results or cricket scores, on which he was often questioned by those keen to know how their team had fared. His was the Arsenal. Much more importantly, his friendly cheerfulness, his loyalty, helpfulness and total dependability. His final years were not easy, with what little sight he had lost, much of his hearing gone and frequently in pain. The school helped by delivering a hot lunch during term-time. But he only managed to cope thanks to the love and care given to him by many, especially Sylvia Ridd and her family. Michael Downward 79-97 S