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Guildford Says Goodbye to Gordon Bridger, Who Made His Mark on Our Town

Published on: 24 Dec, 2020
Updated on: 30 Dec, 2020

Gordon Bridger by Nathalie Scott, as displayed in the Faces of Guildford exhibition

By Martin Giles

Guildford said a fond farewell to Gordon Bridger, one of our senior and most active aldermen, at a funeral service in Holy Trinity Church yesterday (December 23).

Pandemic rules allowed only 30 mourners, sitting in socially distanced chairs for the service by the Rector of Holy Trinity, the Revd Canon Robert Cotton who knew the late Alderman well.

He praised Mr Bridger, who died on November 27 aged 92, for his public service. “His autobiography was entitled, ‘How I Failed to Save the World’, but he certainly left Guildford a better place than he found it.”

The socially distance congregation.

The rector recalled watching Mr Bridger ascending the High Street on a zig-zag, switching from side to side to speak to people who wanted to chat.

As well as his wife Jean, son Jeremy, daughter Diana and grandchildren Liberty and Jake, also in attendance were the Deputy Mayor of Guildford, Cllr Marsha Moseley, Hon Alderman Tamsy Baker, Cllrs John Rigg and Maddy Redpath, Guildford’s Honorary Remembrancer Matthew Alexander, the chair of the Guildford Society Alistair Smith, David Stokes, the chair of Holy Trinity Amenity Group and editor of The Guildford Dragon NEWS, Martin Giles.

The hymn “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” could only be silently “sung” because of pandemic rules but Revd Cotton assured the congregation that, “Angels would be making up for the lost volume.”

Matthew Alexander reading his eulogy.

Matthew Alexander read the eulogy, reproduced here with kind permission:

I hold it a great honour to be asked to speak about the life of Gordon Bridger. It was a notable life indeed. He was born in 1928 in Buenos Aires, into a long-established Anglo-Argentine family and brought up bilingual in English and Spanish. Educated at a private English-speaking school, he became for a time a clerk in the Buenos Aires office of a British oil company.

At the age of 19, Gordon left Peron’s Argentina, working his passage on a merchant ship to England. One of his tasks was to steer the ship at night, and this resulted in his nearly running it aground on the Cape Verde Islands.

Reaching England, he studied first economics at the LSE under the Marxist Harold Laski, then agriculture at Manchester.

A young Gordon Bridger as pictured on the order of service

At that time, Gordon felt his life’s mission was to save the world through central planning. His socialist principles led him to accompany Peter Benenson, the founder of Amnesty International, as interpreter at a trial of anarchists in Franco’s Spain.

He wrote an article about it for the communist Daily Worker, which led to him to be blacklisted by MI5. But MI5 didn’t notify the Rhodesian government, who engaged Gordon to come out and advise the British colonial farmers on agricultural improvements. There he met and married Jean and they had a son, Jeremy.

They moved to Ethiopia, working for the United Nations Economic Commission, then back England, where his daughter Diana was born. The family went to Chile for three years, and Gordon subsequently undertook other missions to countries in Africa, South America and the Pacific.

In 1966 he came back to England, becoming Director of Economics for the Ministry of Overseas Development, advising on foreign aid. They moved to Guildford, where he became involved in local affairs, especially planning matters.

Gordon was for a time chairman of the Guildford Society and in 1971 was a co-founder of the Holy Trinity Amenity Group.

In 1991, he was elected as a Liberal Democrat councillor for Holy Trinity ward, serving 16 years on the Planning Committee. Two grandchildren, Liberty and Jake, were born.

Made Mayor of Guildford in 2003, he initiated the Mayor’s Awards for Community Service and went out to Uganda to help found the Guildford Mukono Link. Retiring from the council in 2007, he was made an Honorary Alderman. He turned his attention to his allotment but continued to be involved in community matters until the end of his life.

I met Gordon at one of the weekly gatherings of a rather miscellaneous group of men who, drinks in hand, debated every subject under the sun. It came to be called the Montgolfier Society, as it was held up only by hot air.

Here Gordon was in his element, for he was never afraid of controversy. The Falklands War made his dual nationality somewhat embarrassing, but it didn’t prevent him marking one of the Montgolfiers’ annual St George’s Day celebrations by singing the Argentine national anthem.

Gordon Bridger with his wife of over 60 years, Jean.

We became close friends of Gordon and Jean and sometimes went on holiday together. One epic excursion was to Buenos Aires, where he showed us the city of his childhood and took us out into the pampas to visit the graves of his Anglo-Scottish ancestors. He was proud of the contribution that British settlers had made to Argentina.

On other occasions, he would organise weekend house parties in hotels, where a group of like-minded friends would enjoy each other’s company. Laughter was never far away.

His gradual disillusionment with his youthful ambition is reflected in the title of his autobiography, ‘How I Failed to Save the World’. This is unfair. He left many parts of the world, including Guildford, better than when he found them.

It has been a privilege to know a remarkable man, whom I consider my best friend.

At the end of the service, the coffin, with a wreath of white lilies, was carried from the church.

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test 2 Responses to Guildford Says Goodbye to Gordon Bridger, Who Made His Mark on Our Town

  1. Gary Durrant Reply

    December 25, 2020 at 11:17 am

    Thank you for your interesting and illuminating tribute to Gordon.

    He will be dearly remembered but never forgotten.

    Is his autobiography still in print?

    Editor’s response: Yes it can be obtained here.

  2. James Strawson Reply

    December 25, 2020 at 2:46 pm

    Matthew Alexander’s tribute to Gordon Bridger is typically thoughtful, well written and full of interesting information.

    Gordon was a good friend and supporter of the University of Surrey over many years and he is remembered fondly on Stag Hill for that reason. A true “Guildford Great”.

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