John (right) with his brother Tony
Victor John Smith was born on 1st July 1922 at 128 High Street, Pershore, Worcestershire where he lived right up until very recently. The fourth of five sons and six children of William Arthur and Daisy Olive Smith (nee Preece). His father was a master baker with a business in Pershore up to the date when he volunteered for service in the Great War of 1914-18 but when he returned home after the cessation of hostilities, he discovered his business to be in ruins through bad debts. He was taken into the work force of former Pershore Gas Company which was managed by his father-in-law, James W. Preece. Victor John Smith's Father thus had the distinction of being the last in line of gas-lamp lighters before Pershore's street lighting was electrified.
John received his early education at the local Infants School and later proceeded to the Church of England Junior School where he was successful in winning two national awards. He was entered for an essay competition through the auspices of the Diocese of Worcester and the Church of England Temperance Society and his entry was placed second best in the whole of England. He was awarded four books of his choice and a certificate of merit signed personally by the Bishop of Worcester, the Rt. Rev. Dr Perowne.
With another local boy (Charles Grinnell) he entered a national Bird and Tree Competition which necessitated keeping a silent watch on one particular bird building its nest, laying its eggs and rearing its young. It was necessary for notes to be kept from week to week. The same applied to the tree of their choice. Their entries were judged to be excellent nationally and a tree was planted in St. Andrew's churchyard at Pershore to commemorate their achievement. The headmaster of the Junior School, Mr G H Bramford, suggested to John's parents that he should sit an examination for Grammar School education and offered to give their son free additional educational tuition out of hours but Mr and Mrs Smith felt they would not be able to afford the cost of school uniform and additional expenses and that one of their children proceeding to grammar school would not be fair to the other members of the family.
Victor John Smith was transferred to Pershore High School which was then known as Pershore Senior Modern School; at the age of eleven and it was there he had an essay published in the school magazine which came to the attention of one of the Pershore-based teachers, Mr J R Pointer, who gave the young pupil every encouragement to develop and expand his interest in composition and writing. It was during his years at the High School that John tried his hand at writing verse and composed his first three poems which people appeared to appreciate.
He left school at the age of fourteen and was taken on to the clerical staff at the Pershore Co-operative Fruit Market Ltd. where he had been employed in the evenings for six months previously, addressing countless envelopes. He remembers his wages for the first twelve months to have been seven shillings and sixpence less a stamp of twopence for National Insurance per week. He was to remain in the employ of this company for forty one years of unbroken service and to proceed in stages to the position of cashier until the Market was taken over by another company in 1977 when John was made redundant.
Outside work, John showed an interest for flair for voluntary work. He was bitterly disappointed when declared unfit for War Service so besides serving for over five years in the Home Guard, he threw himself wholeheartedly into promoting welfare projects for the members of the forces who happened to be stationed locally during hostilities. With a band of other local people of similar mind he organised regular dances, concerts and parties etc. and to show their appreciation, he was presented with a book signed by many members of the forces who had appreciated his efforts.
At this time John was also into Youth Work and became Chairman and then Club Leader of the local Youth Club spending up to five nights each week in organising various activities for the young people of the town with ages ranging from fourteen to twenty five. With the assistance of a dedicated band of helpers and the young people themselves, numerous fund raising efforts were launched and sufficient thousands of pounds raised to enable the Youth Club to built their own Youth Centre which Victor John Smith was invited to officially open in May 1964. The building was eventually transferred to the County Youth Authorities who now administer it and whilst the original building has since been demolished to make way for the new Co-op building, the Riverside Centre is still well used today. John served the Youth Club as Chairman and then Leader for thirty five years.
When he was twenty three years of age, Victor John Smith (or just John being the name by which he is best known) was persuaded by local people to allow his name to go forward as a candidate in the election for Parish Councillors to Holy Cross Parish Council, Pershore in those days being served by two separate Parish Councils – Holy Cross and St Andrew's. He was successfully elected at the first attempt and remained a Parish Councillor up until his retirement in 2003.The two Parish Councils were amalgamated into one in the 1950's and John served the Council as Chairman for a 3-year term. When Local Government was re-organised in 1973 and Pershore was allowed to appoint a Town Mayor, he served as Mayor for a 2 year term from 1980 to 1982.
John fought a by-election for a seat on Pershore Rural District Council in November 1969 and became the first ever candidate to top 1000 votes. He kept clear from party politics, not ever having been a member of a political vote and right up to retirement, he managed to attract a substantial vote. He remained a District Councillor right up until his retirement in 2003, even though the much larger Wychavon District Council superseded the former Pershore District Council. In 1973 he fought his first election for a seat on Hereford & Worcestershire County Council when he had a substantial two to one majority over his opponent. He was returned four years later, was given a “free run” in the next round of County elections and then obtained a 1000 vote majority in 1991 in a three-candidate contest. John Smith was elected co-coordinator of the small band of “True Independent County Councillors” following the election in 1985 which brought him even more work.
He remained a bachelor and when elected Mayor of Pershore in 1980 he invited his 17 year old niece to be his Mayoress and this moved proved to be an outstanding success. Not only was his Mayoress the youngest in the country to hold this office but she also endeared herself to the people of the town, particularly to those of advanced years confined to hospital or old peoples' homes in Pershore and in neighbouring towns. John Smith is well known for his 'bag of sweets' which he took to hospitals and old persons home week by week and should he miss out just one week, there was a hue and cry for his presence!
John Smith was one of a band of people who formed the Pershore Junior Football Club which catered for young soccer players in competitive games up to the age of 18. Later on, a Senior section was formed and all manner of success followed. Pershore Junior Football Club came into being in 1954 and finally disbanded thirty years later. During the war, John was instrumental with others in setting up the Pershore District Darts League in 1943 and he served as honorary secretary for the first ten years of its operation. In 1960 he branched out into another field by assisting to form the Pershore Town Cribbage League which he also served as honorary secretary for the first ten years of its life. Both organisations are still in operation today and are providing a popular pastime as ever. During the War too he assisted to raise many thousands of pounds for the Red Cross and for the Forces Gift Fund which provided many comforts to be sent to Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen from Pershore serving in the forces and funds to be distributed among them when they returned home. Around this time John Smith became the founded Treasurer of the Pershore & District Young Farmers Club when such organisations first came into being.
One of John's proudest moments was when he was appointed to the Governing Body of the Pershore High School which gave him the distinction of being the first pupil of the school to return as a Governor. He served as Vice Chairman for a time. He was also a Governor of the Abbey Park First School, the Abbey Park Middle School, Cherry Orchard First School, Holy Redeemer School and Pershore College of Horticulture.
It was a rare thing for John to miss a meeting of any of the bodies on which he committed himself to serve. He wrote a great deal of verse, particularly for family birthdays and a vast number of elderly people who he visited regularly. He wrote his own poems for his Christmas cards each year and appropriate poems to commemorate local events. He was also a keen correspondent and wrote regularly to former Pershore residents now living overseas as well as to foreign friends in Germany, France, Nigeria, the USA, Canada and Australia.
During his active years at the Youth Centre, he led several parties of youth members on overseas holidays when they were privileged to visit Holland, Italy, France, Belgium and Germany. It was following such a visit to Austria that one member of the party returned with the key of his hotel room still in his pocket. John Smith parcelled it up and returned it to the hotel to which the hotel manager responded with a letter of thanks which he addressed “Mr Pershore, High Street, Pershore”! John Smith was never been able to establish how or why the letter should have found its way into his letter-box, even though in fact it had been delivered to the correct address. It was fully intact when it reached him .... From that day onward he has been affectionately referred to as “Mr Pershore”.
Ernie G Fuller