Monday, October 8, 2018

Remembering Peter Partridge Sr.

Much has been written this weekend about the untimely passing of a local business and arts leader on Thursday morning, Peter Partridge Sr.  All of it richly deserved by a man and family committed to making St. Catharines a better place for all of us to live.

I can't aspire to offer tremendous insights into the numerous contributions Peter and his family have made to the city beyond being eternally grateful he accepted the position to become fundraising chair for the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, kicking off the campaign with a hefty donation of 1-million dollars from the family.  It is because of that commitment to the arts in St. Catharines the largest venue in our arts showplace downtown is named Partridge Hall in the family's honour.

But I can offer some insights from my personal contacts with Peter and his wife Janet, which go back to when I first moved here in 1981.  By then, Peter and his family had been here for about 17 years, already firmly entrenching themselves in the culture of our city, both professionally and socially.

Peter was vice-president and portfolio manager at RBC Dominion Securities for 48 years, working just steps away from our house downtown.  But only once did I meet him in his business environment, when I once delivered a CD he had ordered directly to his office one day.

Most times, he was away from the business world, doing what he did best in my estimation:  being a goodwill ambassador for the city he loved and making us all the better for his being here.  Rarely would you go to a Niagara Symphony or Chorus Niagara concert, for example, and Peter was not there.  If there was a bigger booster for the arts in St. Catharines, I don't know who it could possibly be.

I first met Peter and his wife shortly after I started my evening show at CKTB Radio in the big white house on Yates Street.  Peter and Janet were there most evenings as well, picking music for the classical music show he hosted on our sister station, then known as QR-FM.  I would often run into them in the library sifting through the maze of old albums for music for that evening's show and we would often talk about our shared love of classical music in particular and the arts in general.

While his show Invitation to Good Music was widely known at the time, I had little realization back then just how high his profile was in the local arts community.  When they retired from the show after some time, a new classical programme was hosted by a local teacher, the late Henry Goerzen for a time, before I finally assumed the position and renamed the show Classically Yours.  I had the honour of hosting that show on CKTB Radio for a period in the late 80s and again in the early 90s.

Most of my contact with Peter during later years was through my online music business, A Web of Fine Music, following several years at the bricks & mortar store Downtown Fine Music where I worked as a music consultant for many years.  Janet was a regular customer with both businesses, although it's been several years since I've seen her; the last time I was actually driving by her neighbourhood as she was out walking the dog one cold winter's day some years go.

About ten or so years ago I got a call from Peter inviting me to sell my CDs at a special organ concert to be held at St. Thomas Anglican Church on Ontario Street.  I believe the concert coincided with a local convention of church organists, which Peter would have been involved with due to his position as music director of the old St. Paul Street United Church (now Silver Spire Church) for many years.

His only stipulation was that I sell only organ discs, so I scoured the audio catalogues for anything I could get my hands on in time for the concert.  The concert turned out to be a great event, and yes, sales were very good that evening.  Were it not for the kind foresight of Peter, I never would have experienced either.

My last business related contact with Peter came a few seasons back when I was still distributing my online music newsletter of new releases, and featured an item I knew would get his attention.  I would often do that with regular customers, put something in the newsletter I knew they just couldn't resist.

Sure enough, I soon received a call from Peter.  The lure was a new box set of recordings by The Choir of King's College Cambridge, with most of the recordings featuring long-time conductor Sir David Willcocks.  Peter had a long-standing relationship with Sir David dating back to his time in England before coming to St. Catharines, when Peter studied at the Royal Academy of Music and eventually became the assistant to the organist at Westminster Abbey.  That's about the time Peter and David would have worked together, as he related to me when he ordered the box set.

When Sir David himself came to St. Catharines to guest-conduct Chorus Niagara at St. Thomas' Church in the early part of this century, you can bet Peter and Janet hosted him while in the Garden City.  I still recall that magnificent performance the choir gave with Sir David on the podium.

I had not seen Peter much in recent years, although I remember attending the ground-breaking ceremony for the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in the early fall of 2013, and he spoke eloquently about the need for the new venue to better serve the growing needs of the arts community in the city.  He was there from start to finish, doing a spectacular job along the way raising funds for the new venue.

In an odd twist of fate, my current job with Canada Post brought my final contacts with the Partridge household last winter when I filled in on the letter-carrier route in Old Glenridge on a couple of occasions between Christmas and New Years, and of course delivered to their home.  This time it was mail rather than CDs, of course.

My biggest regret is never having the chance to attend the Civic Christmas Carol Concert Peter conducted at St. Thomas Church every December for the past 27 years.  Every year I planned to be there and every year it seemed something came up and I didn't make it.  This year's concert will no doubt include a tribute to the man whose spirit and talent made the event one of the must-attend concerts of the Christmas season for so many in our city.

Peter was 76 and when you think about it, that is still far too early for anyone to pass away.  Everyone is in shock - including me, frankly - that he was taken from us far too son.  But his considerable legacy will live on in the many contributions he made to the community in so many ways.  That is what would please him most, I suspect.

So this Thanksgiving weekend, be sure to be thankful for blessings bestowed upon you and never take them for granted.  Our time on this earth can often be far too short, so be grateful for the time you have and all the good you can do too.

Take care and have a special Thanksgiving with those who matter most to you.

October 8th, 2018.