Peter Bird - 1934-2017
St. Cecilia Chapter No.811
Peter passed on 16th August 2017. The folowing is the eulogy given by his son Philip, at the funeral.
Reading the condolence cards we received these past two weeks I was struck by the qualities attributed to my father Peter. His knowledge, his wry sense of humour, his kindness, warmth and tenacity. But there was one quality that stood head and shoulders above the rest and that was his generosity, both in spirit and deed. I can probably count on one finger the times when he said he was unable to help me. Nothing was ever too important to get in the way of Peter helping others and Peter offered his help unconditionally. I would hazard a guess that nearly everyone here today has at some point benefitted from Peter's generosity and I have yet to meet anyone that has come close to his generous nature. He set the bar incredibly high.
Peter was born in December 1934. He was delivered two weeks early in front of the fireplace. This set the pace as he was always in a rush! He was brought up in Walthamstow. His father, Jack, was an office clerk for a firm of solicitors and his mother, Eileen, looked after him and his older brother Brian as well as working herself. It was undoubtedly her hardworking and ambitious character which lay the foundations for Peter. Whilst not quite a war baby Peter was certainly a child of WW2. In 1940 the family were bombed out by Hitler's Luftwaffe and found themselves in a smart requisitioned flat in Kensington. The living room was so big that Dad remembers riding his bike around it. After this began a series of evacuations. Dad would often retell his experiences, with his favourite being on a farm in Suffolk. The upheaval whilst no doubt exciting did no favours for Peters schooling, he went to over 10 different schools during the war. By the time he was 14 he had to consider his career choices. One apprenticeship caught his eye, merchant mariner and in 1949 he duly signed up to the merchant navy.
So began his first career rising to the position of first officer. He travelled the world and was particularly struck with Japan and he spent considerable time in Australia where he met lifelong friends. These were exciting times for a young man from north London, as well as instilling a sense of duty and self sufficiency that he never lost.
But in the early 1960's everything changed after he met my Mother, Sylvia on a blind date. She must have made quite an impression as he was supposed to finish his masters exams to qualify as a captain. But within a few months Peter and Sylvia were engaged and he had left the navy. They were married two years later. It was also during this time that Peter embarked on his second career - in computing. In 1963 computers were still largely unknown and for most people existed in the realm of science fiction. After applying to many companies he landed a position at J Lyons and Company working as an operator of their LEO III machine. J Lyons who were more famous for their tea shops and cakes had lead the way in the 1950's by creating the World’s first business computer LEO. The story behind this extraordinary development was written by Peter 30 years after he joined the company.
Peter had an enjoyable career at Lyons and worked with good friends and colleagues, many of whom are here today. He rose to the position of Company Director for Lyons Computer Services. Whilst he had an impressive work career he never once sacrificed time for his family. He was a very loving and attentive father, always there for me, particularly around school report time which I dreaded and he wasn’t too upset when at 4 years old I took the handbrake off his new car and went into the garage wall.
As well as being a thoughtful and generous father he was a loving husband to my mother Sylvia, they enjoyed a happy marriage even when after my birth she had a few stays in hospital. The early 1970's were challenging times for Peter who sometimes found himself having to juggle work, look after me and care for Sylvia, all with good grace and his usual strength of character. Luckily we also had good neighbours and friends and I know both Peter and Sylvia were always grateful for the help they received.
We certainly had our fair share of adventure as well. Not for us a two week summer holiday to Spain. Why visit one country when you could pack the tent and drive to 8 European countries. I suppose his wanderlust never truly left him.
In 1978 we moved to a brand new house in Luckley Wood, Wokingham. We were the second family to move in and until Peter's recent passing were the longest residents of the estate. I know there are many past and present residents here today and I am sure all of you will agree that Peter's generosity and help went beyond the call of duty. I often considered him as the guardian of the estate.
Peter it must be said was always on the go. Even when he retired from J Lyons & Co rather than take it easy he embarked on writing two books. The first was LEO The First Business Computer and the second The First Food Empire: J Lyons & Co. These were meticulously researched books that told important business and social histories. They set him up for his third career as the custodian of the Lyons archive and whenever anyone was researching about the company they more often than not contacted Peter for information. This led to a few television appearances, most notably on Who Do You Think You Are with Nigella Lawson whose great great grandfather Barnet Salmon was a founding director of J Lyons and Company. I asked what the experience of meeting Nigella was like and all he could talk about was the whiteness of her teeth. She clearly made an impression!
In 2011 after a happy marriage, Sylvia my mother sadly passed away, after a long illness. Whilst a difficult time for Dad and I, he managed to pick himself up and enjoy the last 6 years with close friends and enjoyed the arrival of his two grandsons Alexander and Jake. When I asked him what he wanted to be known as to the boys, he retorted ‘Sir’, but then suggested G-Dad which we happily agreed on. Again he was very generous with the boys and he got joy from seeing them often. One memory I will always treasure was seeing Jake take his first steps when Dad was in the hospice. It was a bittersweet moment knowing that Dad had witnessed this seminal event but that he was unlikely to witness any more.
He dealt with his illness like he did with anything, with resilience and humour. Although his health was slowly deteriorating he still maintained his friendships, still sought to help people as well as continue his Masonic duties, which was a very important part of his life.
Peter was someone you would always want on your side during a crisis. So generous with his time he is a hard act to follow. He achieved so much from relatively humble beginnings and had a rich and full life. He will never be forgotten for all that he gave to others during his lifetime, for his achievements and the love he gave to his family.
Peter was one of a kind. A true rock as my mother would say of him. Dad you will always remain in our hearts.