Tributes: ‘Gentle gentleman’ Geoffrey Thrower, from the Norfolk ginger beer and pop company
PUBLISHED: 00:23 13 February 2019 | UPDATED: 00:33 13 February 2019
A beloved father and grandfather who was part of King’s Lynn’s commercial heyday has died aged 94.
Geoffrey Thrower grew up in the 16th Century Grade I listed Thoresby College (in Queen Street), which his father Robert had bought following the success of the company he established in the wake of the Great War.
Geoff recounted a boyhood trip with his father to meet a business associate by the name of Smith, who had come up with the idea of salting slivers of potato fried in hot oil and packaging them in greaseproof paper bags. The two men had spotted the potential of pairing the snack with a thirst-quenching drink.
War injuries eventually caught up with Thrower Sr and he died in 1938, leaving his widow to take charge of the business and 13-year-old Geoff to leave school and help keep it afloat.
One silver lining for the family was its now-reputable name: in the same year, Thrower & Co added to a growing list of accolades with an international gold medal for its ginger beer.
Before long, King’s Lynn was preoccupied with another great conflict. In his later years Geoff would recall how, sitting on the quayside as a boy, he once watched a German bomber fly up the Great Ouse, low enough to see the pilot’s face, on its way to hit the Cooper Roller Bearings factory.
Meanwhile, he helped his mother steer the business through the war, supplying RAF and Army camps as well as local pubs.
Geoff enlisted as soon as he turned of age, joining the glider section of the 1st Airborne Division (the original holder of the “Red Devils” nickname) as an airborne infantryman. He was called up for the operation that saw the disastrous Battle of Arnhem – but was struck off the list moments before boarding the train.
Private Thrower’s first assignment proved to be Operation Doomsday, which saw the Red Devils take the surrender of the German forces in Norway.
It was a morbid affair, with the fresh-faced young man tasked with recovering the remains of fallen British glider pilots, but it didn’t pass without celebration. Geoff recalled him and his chums drinking vintage champagne seized from the U-boat commanders, out of their mess tins, before the rest was recovered to official stores.
He stayed in the forces a few more years, including a spell in India helping to oversee the often violent transition to independence under Lord Mountbatten.
On his return to Lynn, Geoff and his late brother and sister, Derek and Doris, took over the business from their mother. The trio lived and worked from Thoresby College, with a second factory in Hunstanton.
Geoff was quickly recognised as one of Lynn’s most eligible bachelors, turning many a head at society parties. His marriage to Jennifer Kiddell in 1955 bore three children – Gary, Lindsay and Simon – before the two parted.
By this time the family had come to struggle with the costly upkeep of Thoresby College, and in 1963 Geoff’s mother elected to sell it for a relatively small sum to her friend Lady Fermoy, the founder of the King’s Lynn Festival and maternal grandmother of Princess Diana.
The Throwers continued to produce their soft drinks from the quayside part of the property until 1964, when they moved operations to a purpose-built site on Lynn’s Hardwick Estate.
The firm ceased manufacturing in 1971 but continued to trade as wholesalers from Hunstanton until 1984, when Geoff took well-earned retirement. From then, as ever, explains Lindsay, “he was an absolute constant for his family.
“This is the man that never sat down. He was always supporting his family in the best way he could – which was often practically.” Geoff would eventually become a doting grandfather of eight.
In later years, he and long-time friends Graham Mayes and Ted Barber would without fail arrive at the Conservative Club bar at the same time, three times a week, and became affectionately known to staff as the Three Musketeers. Their attendance at the London Road establishment earned them lifetime honorary memberships.
“The phrase I’ve heard the most from those who knew him is that he was a gentle gentleman,” said Gary. “He had the ability to be liked by nearly everybody with whom he came into contact.”
“He was warm and perfectly mannered,” Lindsay added, “but always had a twinkle in his eye and a sense of fun.” She recalled him playing with his three-year-old grandson in his 90s.
His granddaughter Sarah taught him the “Malteser challenge” – a game of who can keep one of the chocolate treats in their mouths the longest before it disappears. Even after speech proved too difficult in his final days, he beat Sarah and Lindsay at it comfortably, and with a wry smile to boot.
“I feel lucky to have loved and been loved by him for all of my life,” said Sarah.
Geoff died peacefully of old age, having lived fit and self-sufficient until just weeks before he passed on. A service will be held at Mintlyn Crematorium, King’s Lynn, at 4pm on Wednesday, February 20.
* Sam Courtney-Guy is Geoffrey Thrower’s grandson