It’s 1992 and Turley Associates are holding a reception to celebrate the company’s 10th anniversary. The venue is Manchester Airport. The guests include developers, planners, clients, architects, businessmen and the usual smattering of councilors.
The reception is in full swing. Canapés, drinks and guests are doing the rounds. A developer who has amassed a fortune, a fleet of Ferraris, and a Home Counties accent into the bargain is holding forth. As the night wears on his accent begins to slip like a badly fitting toupee.
The host introduces me to a man who is a good few years older than most of the other guests. We shake hands. Something tells me the man I have just been introduced to is not one for small talk; possibly a combination of the firm handshake and the no no-nonsense Chorley accent. Having introduced myself I decide to cut to the quick, take a chance, and plunge straight in.
‘So what are you doing here’ I ask, adding for good measure, that he doesn’t look like the sort of person that makes a habit of turning up to this sort of event. “Kicking these bloody planners up the arse.” Gerald Hitchen was his name and no he didn’t do small talk.
Gerald had a nose for what might politely be described as bullshit and a twinkle in his eye that belayed a razor sharp sense of humor. When we met he was trying to get planning permission for part of a farm he owned - hence the party and his reference to arse kicking. The meeting turned out to be the first of many and the beginning of a business relationship that would last for over a decade.
Gerald’s father Harry earned his living as a horse trader come wheeler-dealer. His mother, a staunch Catholic looked after a small farm and the two boys. While Gerald’s younger brother Anthony went on to become the auxiliary bishop of Liverpool, Gerald followed in his father’s footsteps.
With some money from his father Gerald bought a horse and cart, he was 14 years old. The first stock of fruit and veg came to the grand total of £4, luck money they called it, a down payment made in good faith. The stock sold well and Gerald made a tidy profit. It soon became apparent that Gerald had his father’s eye for business.
Eventually the horse and cart was traded in for a van, the van for a fleet of lorries. Not content to sit back on his laurels Gerald turned his eye to the farms that supplied the produce buying one and then another and along with the farms the factory that processed the fruit and veg. When I met Gerald back in 1992 he supplied most of the major supermarkets with ready-made salads and pre-prepared fruit bowls.
Unlike so many self made men I have met Gerald didn’t have an inflated sense of himself; he knew what he could do and what he couldn’t and if he didn’t know he wasn’t scared to pick up the phone and ask. Gerald did kick arse, but never as far as I know, for the sake of it. He was careful to give praise where praise was due, knew how to get the best out of people and the most out of life.
Gerald was into New Orleans swing; the jazz parties were a treat not to be missed. Every summer he invited my wife and I to the party and every Christmas he never forgot to send a Christmas card.
I learned a lot from Gerald a man who called a spade a spade, went to church every day of his life and knew how to enjoy the fruits of his hard work. I learned that a few simple words honestly spoken are the most easily understood and the most effective. I learned that in the right hands £4 of luck money could go a very long way.