TAXI, the newspaper of the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association, chatted to Gerry about his work supporting cab trade charities for almost 60 years.
How did you get into the trade?
Gerry: My father got his badge in 1951. I had five uncles and a cousin who were all cab drivers so I think you could say it was definitely in our family DNA. I got my badge in 1966, so I have been driving for 57 years and I still really love what I do, so I’d really like to hit the 60-year milestone before I think about retiring.
I know you are a huge supporter of various taxi charities; how did that start?
Gerry: I began volunteering as soon as I got my badge, as it was something I always wanted to do. In 1951, my Dad had formed RODA, a radio taxi company for owner drivers, and I was surrounded by family and friends who talked about the good work the trade charities were doing, so I was keen to volunteer.
Which charities have you volunteered for?
Gerry: The Taxi Charity for Military Veterans, The London Taxi Drivers’ Charity for Children (LTCFC), The Albany, ELCO, the East London Cabbies outing to Maldon and driving children to Disney.
You must have seen some things over the years and heard some stories?
Gerry: I certainly have. As well as volunteering for trips with the Taxi Charity to Normandy, Germany and the Netherlands, I haven’t missed a trip to Worthing since 1966. Back in the 1960s we probably had about 100 cabs and, as well as veterans from WWII, we also picked up those who served and had been badly injured in WWI, from the Star and Garter. I remember Vera Lynn, the Taxi Charity patron, singing for the boys at Worthing Town Hall. She was so deeply loved by the veterans and singing the old favourites from the war always brought a tear to their eyes.
Sometimes the old boys you picked up could be a bit cantankerous. I once picked up two WWI veterans from the Star and Garter, in Richmond, who clearly didn’t like each other and didn’t speak a word to one another all day! It was hard work keeping them both entertained and came home shattered. But they both said it was one of the best days they had ever had.
Tell me about the London Taxi Drivers’ Charity for Children?
Gerry: I’ve had a long association with the LTCFC. I have been their treasurer for over 20 years and was fortunate to be their Chairman for four. In 1928, a driver named Mick Cohen, who had grown up in the Norwood Orphanage, recruited 12 drivers to organise an outing and raise money for the children’s home and the LTCFC was born. My dad and his brother had been sent to Norwood Orphanage in 1916, when their father was killed in an accident and the family could not look after the four siblings, so it felt right to support them.
In 1989, while I was Chairman of the LTCFC, I met David Cavell who was helping children in Romanian orphanages. I held a dinner dance which raised £2,000 for his cause and made a throwaway comment about contacting me if he needed a driver. Some time later, he took me up on that offer and I drove over to Romania four times, taking lorry loads of vital goods.
I understand you were instrumental in setting up the Disney trip?
Gerry: When building for the Eurotunnel began, I wrote to ask if the LTCFC could be the first convoy of taxis to use the new route over to France. Some four years later, in 1994, they replied to say yes, we could. Unfortunately, the LTCFC couldn’t participate as the September date we had been offered was too close to something they had already planned. Not wanting to lose this wonderful opportunity for the trade, I worked with the Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers, which was then called the Fellowship of Hackney Carriage Drivers, to plan a trip for children to Disney. 30 years later, it is so wonderful
that we are still taking kids, who have a range of chronic, debilitating illnesses and life limiting conditions.
You were awarded an MBE in 1994 for your services to charity, how did that feel?
Gerry: It was a shock and unexpected. The work I have been doing transporting goods to Romania had been covered by the trade press and the then Prime Minister John Major was looking for some ordinary people to receive awards, and my name was put forward. It was an incredibly special day when I went to Buckingham Palace to be presented with my MBE.