For 40 years, Gillian Fowler has dedicated her time and effort to supporting Herne Bay’s Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital. It is a mission that has become all the more poignant since her dying husband was cared for there
Are you a native of Herne Bay?
I was born in Herne Bay in a nursing home at the bottom on the Downs in 1941 during the war. The matron said to my mother, ‘such a shame your husband isn’t here – I suppose it must be a year since you saw him’. She then suddenly realised what she had said and apologised. Fortunately, I also looked like my father, but I have got his temper. I went to the Girdlers – a small private school for young ladies. It was very strict. You didn’t eat in the street and weren’t allowed into Woolworths.
What career were you drawn to?
I went to secretarial college because that is what many young women of the day did. I guess I was a bit spoilt. We were certainly comfortable, and I liked that. I then worked for a solicitor’s for three years.
How did you meet your husband?
I picked Ian out when I was a precocious nine-year-old and he was 18. He shared a birthday with my sister and came to her party. I remember peering over the banisters and thinking how good-looking he was. I didn’t see him again until I was 15, and we were married in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral on Easter Monday when I was 19. He was a barrister. He didn’t practise but went into running the inner London magistrates’ courts, which is why I think I became a magistrate. We had our house built in Dence Park, close to the Queen Victoria Hospital, 52 years ago, and I have lived here ever since. We had three children – Sarah, who is a special needs coordinator at Briary School, Aidan, who’s a consultant surgeon, and Edmund, who is a barrister.
How did you enjoy being a magistrate?
It was interesting and stimulating. But I later did a lot of family work, which required a lot of reading. When it also started to involve driving to other courts outside Canterbury, it became more tiring. I was chairman of the bench, but had to step down when I was 70. But, to be honest, I don’t miss it.
How did you become involved in the League of Friends?
I joined the committee in 1974 after being asked by the chairman if I’d like to be secretary. I said I’d love to because I enjoy being an organiser. I was secretary for 20 years. and became chairman in 1998. I just feel passionate and protective about the hospital and its value to the local community. It would only ever be closed over my dead body. When they wanted to shut our operating theatre, we got up a petition and went to Downing Street to save it. Now it has a beautiful new operating theatre. In the past some very misleading figures have been used to try to justify closing it. I will fight and all I want is a level playing field. I don’t like lies and subterfuge. The land was given to the people of Herne Bay in the 1930s, and the money to build it was raised by local people. It really has a family atmosphere and everyone who goes there says it is so lovely. I am sure it has a positive effect on outcomes for patients. The League of Friends has also raised millions over the years to help equip and support it. My husband, who had been mayor of Canterbury, died in 2006 from prostate cancer, and he was looked after at Herne Bay hospital and had brilliant care. It made me value it even more.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I enjoy walking my dog, who is a bouvier des flandres, and cooking and having friends and family over. My husband used to say I should open a restaurant but I didn’t fancy that. It seems too much aggro to me.
Herne Bay Gazette, June 26th 2014