Saturday, 17 March 2012

VERY SANDERSON

St. Patrick's Day. We've so often stood on New York's streets, three sheets to the wind and beating our legs in time to the marching bands. We've downed a good few gallons of Black Velvet while crooning Happy Birthday to our cherished honorary Irishman, Gerry Sanderson.... who was always honorary something or other, come to think of it, because Gerry loved people and was that kind of bloke. He is no longer with us, having succumbed in 2008 to the cancer he fought so bravely for the sake of his wife and children. His soul marches on.

Armed with a knife and a bag of shells, dressed in a sexy white bikini and crooning ‘Underneath The Mango Tree’ as he welcomed guests to the Sanderson James Bond-themed ball back at Bucklebury, Gerry was the classic English eccentric who loved a laugh at his own expense. From his impression of Ursula Andress’s Honey Rider in Dr. No to a Heroes Ball get-up as John Lennon in Sergeant Pepper Lonely Hearts Club garb, there were few extremes to which Gerry would not go in search of the crack… including presenting himself butt-naked in the bedchambers of female house guests, invariably protesting that he had been on his way to the toilet and must have lost his way …

Born between two sisters in Norwich on St. Patrick’s Day 1953, Gerry was a lifelong supporter of Norwich City football club from the moment he could walk. One of the proudest moments of his life, he’d later claim, was following Delia Smith into the shareholders’ box … and he wasn’t after the Christmas pudding on which she must have modelled her haircut …

His lively, diligent school years spent at Greenacres, Great Yarmouth and Peers School Oxford led to a place at Manchester University’s School of Architecture in 1971. He graduated with Honours 7 years later, and became a chartered member of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1979. His early career was spent affiliated to a number of architectural partnerships before he launched his own, Sanderson Associates, in 1990.

The fun started, he once admitted, when he met his match, at a party to celebrate his future wife’s 30th birthday party at Bibury Court in 1990. He told anyone who would listen that it was love at first sight. He was terminally besotted with Lynda, and their love affair was for all time. Having wooed her relentlessly with poetry, drawings, illustrated love letters, days at the races and nights at the opera, he moved her into his Shepherd’s Bush flat and then on to Dodbrooke House, South East London - their first family home and the scene of much merriment and many a raucous turkey-and-mince-pie, dance-til-dawn-and-throw-up-in-the-bald-Christmas-tree bash. Oliver was born the following year. Their wedding, four years later, was by their wild standards a modest affair in Gibraltar. They compensated with a two-day Bucklebury event for the rest of us on their return. The hangovers lasted a week. Some longer. Hermione arrived in 1997. Gerry remarked, on her birth, that his eyes were now brimming with apples and that he felt that his heart would burst.

Whilst forever insisting that his wife and children were his greatest and most fulfilling achievements, he was never neglectful of his talent. Highlights included the £110 million extension to the Grade II Listed Prudential headquarters, Holborn; award-winning shopping centres in Birkenhead, Preston, Chorley and Ealing Broadway; a £4 million Trust House Forte hotel redevelopment in Hull. Ever the Italophile, he bought and renovated a villa in Umbria, which inspired him to take on another in Murcia, Spain, a barn conversion in Normandy and major chateau rejuvenation project in the Loire valley. Various healthcare and commercial work included Maidenhead’s Grade I Listed Huntercombe Manor special care unit, a 90-bed nursing home/brain injury unit in Blackheath, and a major film editing and post-production facility in Soho. In 1992 he designed Windsor House, the award-winning £6.7 million headquarters for South West Water in Plymouth, which earned him a short-list nomination for Italy’s Andrea Palladio International Award for young architects.

It was shortly after his return from a fund-raising trek in the Andes in 2004 that Gerry fell ill unexpectedly, and was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Having responded well to gruelling treatment which he described with typical understatement as ‘just a little prick’, he could only stand and stare in astonishment as Lynda bailed the family out, building a business from nothing at The Manor House, and hosting weekend hen-parties for unruly gaggles of guests. Gerry and Lynda later put their minds to some major investments in Somerset and Devon. The former, a deconsecrated church, was to be redesigned as self-catering hen party accommodation, while the latter, an obsolete family hotel on the North Devonshire coast, would be developed as luxury seaside apartments.

Late 2007, Gerry began plotting with Tony Sykes, to run the New York Marathon in celebration of his return to health and in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. But by the time the application forms arrived, Gerry had developed metastatic tumours in the liver, and was forced to withdraw from the race.

Still talking with Lynda, if only in the abstract, about taking Manhattan with Tony in five weeks’ time, Gerry lost his fight for life on Saturday 6th September 2008 - ironically in Frenchay Hospital’s Macmillan palliative care unit, the very charity for whom he had planned to run.

It is Gerry’s unquenchable thirst for life, his easy smile, his modesty, his huge intellect, his sense of fun and taste for the ridiculous - his energy, in essence - which we will never forget.

In the words of the Remembrance Day Exhortation, which seem appropriate,
'They grow not old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.'




1 comment:

  1. What a fabulous life. I wish I'd known him! Shine on Gerry.

    ReplyDelete