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20 April 2019

In Memoriam Peter Short

Tag(s): Worshipful Company of Marketors, People, In Memoriam
This week I attended a Service of Thanksgiving to celebrate the life of Peter Short who passed away following his third stroke on Thursday 28th March. He was 79. Peter was a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Marketors of which I am a Past Master. He was a particularly active and supportive member of the Company and was highly regarded by all who knew him. He joined the company as a Freeman in 2005, was clothed in the Livery in 2006 and had racked up so much of a contribution that in 2012 a special award was created for him, the Exceptional Service Award. He packed a great deal in to his life; a devoted family man, a successful businessman both in the corporate sector and running his own businesses; a major involvement in the community and in charity work; and an ardent churchman. Above all he was a good man, nay a good gentleman.

The service was held at Windsor Methodist Church, situated not far from Windsor Castle. It was remodelled in 1993 with the main body of the church on the second floor. This was officially re-opened by near neighbours Her Majesty the Queen accompanied by her husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh on 6th April, 1993.[i] The church was full to the rafters with the many friends and colleagues from the multiple facets of Peter’s life.

Peter was born in London in December 1939, perhaps not the best time to come into the world. His family moved to Oxford to escape the destruction of the Blitz but his early years were certainly marked by austerity. His son Jeremy, delivering the eulogy, speculated that this may have stimulated his strong sense of community. Growing up he was a keen Scout and became a Queen’s Scout, the highest level you can reach.

He was apprenticed to British Overseas Airways Corporation, (BOAC), which was later merged with British European Airways to become British Airways. He rose through the ranks and by the time of Lord King’s chairmanship and privatisation of BA Peter had become Lord King’s ‘fixer’. He would be sent at no notice to any point of difficulty in the world with carte blanche to sort it. Peter once described this role to me as like being a Rottweiler. But he never came across to me like that. Rather he had exceptional people skills, what today we call emotional intelligence, but Peter would just describe it as being a good listener and liking people. He combined these soft qualities with exceptional organisational skills and attention to detail, the highest level I have ever known.

He first met the lady who would become his wife, Jane, at a Conservative Party function in 1966 and looking at her across the room he knew this would be the lady he would marry. They got married in 1969,  so this would have been the year of their Golden Wedding as well as his 80th birthday. It is sad to think he could not quite make those milestones, but there were many other causes of celebration in his life.

They had two children, Jeremy and Philippa, and Jeremy and his wife produced two grandchildren. Peter, of course, made a fine grandfather.

Jane has a twin sister whose husband Graham Rose also shared with us reflections about Peter based on a close family association of fifty years or so. He also shared the reflections of another close friend and business associate, Clive Thomas, who was unable to attend in person. After leaving BA Peter set up his own business in the travel world. Clive, through Graham, told the story of a visit they both made to New Orleans. Checking in to a hotel Peter, who was 6 feet 5 inches tall presented his passport and announced “I’m Mr Short”. The receptionist looking up at him collapsed into a fit of laughter and then pulled herself together and completed the check-in. Clive, who was a hearty trencher man and not exactly of a sylph-like figure, followed and announced that he was Mr Thynne. This time the receptionist kept a straight face but it was Peter who got the giggles.

Both Jeremy and Graham talked admiringly about Peter’s excellent work in the community. In the early 1970s he became active in the Round Table/Rotary movement. That was its heyday with large memberships and Peter became the local Chairman in 1977/78. He became famous for miles around for his strong organisational skills and created and ran some major events, raising large sums for charity.

But they spoke most lovingly about Peter, the family man, his devotion to Jane, his exemplary role as a father who set such high standards and his care and interest in everyone. Some people feel daunted going to new places with roomfuls of strangers. Peter looked forward to it as he knew it meant making new friends.

In 2005 Peter was introduced to the Marketors and became a Freeman. Right from the outset he joined in a large range of activities, attending and then helping to run events and also making a major contribution to the Heritage of the Company. Past Master Michael Harrison contributed his reflections of Peter with whom he also enjoyed a business relationship as well as collaboration on a range of projects for the Marketors.  Michael is 6 feet 7 inches and tall people tend to find each other.

Michael has led the Marketors’ Annual Golf Day for many years now. He is a member of Verulam Golf Club in St Albans. It is known as the “Home of the Ryder Cup" because the seed merchant Samuel Ryder who sponsored the Cup was for some time Captain at Verulam. The golf day involves invitations to all the other livery companies as well as our military affiliations and is invariably fully subscribed.  In fact for two years running it was so popular that a second, consecutive day was organised. Peter managed all this demanding process by dint of his rare attention to detail invariably secured through complex spreadsheets, using multiple levels of formulae.

I too have experience of drowning in Peter’s spreadsheets as I was recruited to the Heritage Committee in March 2010. Peter was then the Historian and he had been given the task of updating Past Master Harry Druce’s History which was entitled Forty Years On - A History of the Worshipful Company of Marketors 1969-2009. It was just a Word document that was never published. I was invited on to the Committee to support Peter in this task.

In fact Peter spent his whole time in organising the Archives and behaved as the Company’s Archivist rather than its Historian. He realised that the archives of the Company were not just its official records in the vault at Stationers’ Hall but also the boxes of mementoes in the attics of Past Masters. He found a company that has the machines and the software to create digital records of all these. He committed himself to numerous forays around the country collecting this stuff, then taking it down to SDS in Hampshire to be copied. I still have the spreadsheets that organised all this material and they are a sight to behold. As a result we created a section of the Company’s website with different levels of access so that any member of the Company, or indeed the public for some material, can access archives easily.  It is a good thing that he did this as without it, it would have been much harder to write the Company’s history as originally envisaged. 

When the Company received a legacy from one of its founding fathers I saw the chance of reviving this work by doing it professionally. I think if we had continued to rely on volunteers it would never have happened. I found an author who interviewed all living Past Masters as well as a number of other senior members and with their testimony and the records Peter created I was able to bring out an electronic version to commemorate the 40th anniversary of becoming a Livery Company in December 2017 and then earlier this year I brought out a high quality printed version paid for by subscription by members. But without Peter’s work that would not have been possible. 

Peter also organised one of my events in my year as Master. I had the initial idea but he created so much more value. I had been mentoring one of BA’s directors and she had shown me their excellent museum in their new offices next to Heathrow. The museum has old uniforms and models, correspondence from Royalty and many other treasures. But we did not just visit the museum; we had talks by a senior manager who explained the thinking behind the museum; the curator who explained exactly what we were seeing; a brand manager who explained the developments in their latest marketing strategy; and, best of all, a pilot officer who gave up his day off to drive from Shropshire to describe the life of a pilot. For the many in the room who had dreamt of becoming a pilot when they were young here was a man who had lived his dream.

Michael told a story he had got from another Marketor, Ian Dockreay. Both Ian and Peter had served on a committee chaired by HRH Prince Edward to review some issues of the Scouting movement.  Meetings were held in Buckingham Palace. The Prince had to leave early and he just said “See yourselves out”. They managed to get lost in the vast corridors of the Palace and until a Footman rescued them Peter was in his element. We shall not look upon his like again.

[i] Prince Philip is an Honorary Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Marketors.


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