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Philanthropy rewarded with ‘dinner of a lifetime’

By Allan Benner, The Standard

Peter Partridge with Prince Charles

Peter Partridge with Prince Charles

Westminster Abbey in London, England, has long held a place close to the heart of Peter Partridge.

Earlier this month, the St. Catharines businessman’s generosity towards that majestic cathedral was rewarded with the hospitality of The Prince of Wales.

As a student in the early 1960s at the Royal Academy of Music, Partridge was assistant to the Organist of Westminster Abbey and lived in the Abbey Choir School. And as a boy growing up in the 1950s, Partridge had the honour of singing soprano at Westminster with a choir from his hometown of Kingston, Ont.

In the many years since, the now 75-year-old owner of Partridge Wealth Management said he has continued his association with the Abbey, keeping in touch up with musicians who have worked there — including current organist and Master of the Choristers, James O’Donnell.

But things have been changing at the Abbey, compared to the quiet spiritual cathedral Partridge remembers.

“The Abbey has become such a busy place that one can’t practice the organ during the day, and there’s more going on in the evening,” he said.

When O’Donnell told Partridge about the problems the four organists at the Abbey were facing, Partridge saw an opportunity to help.

He offered to buy them a new practice organ.

After a formal procurement process, William Drake Ltd. of Buckfastleigh in Devon was contracted to design, build and install the small pipe organ.

While it might be considered small — at least compared to the massive Harrison and Harrison pipe organ used during services — when an instrument is meant for musicians that fill the halls of Westminster Abbey with music, even a small practice instrument is still “a considerable gift, actually,” Partridge said.

After a year of work by William Drake Ltd. building the instrument, it was installed in February and officially dedicated in early March by the Dean of Westminster Rev. John Hall. Since then, the organ — located in a private practice room — has been getting a lot of use.

“The organists are loving it. It’s a gentle sound,” Partridge said.

“It’s absolutely delightful — beautifully made. The workmanship is absolutely terrific and it will go on for generations.”

For Partridge, knowing he helped make a difference for the Abbey and its organists was all the thanks he needed.

He said the Abbey has been “an important part of my life for a long time, and I thought this was one way to give back and say thank you for all the great things they’ve provided for me over the years.”

A few months ago, however, a letter arrived for him from London, England.

The invitation within that letter was so beautiful Partridge said it was fit for framing.

He was invited to be the guest of Prince Charles at a recital and dinner at Buckingham Palace on July 4, to celebrate The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries at Westminister Abbey.

Partridge joined about 200 other guests at the opulent event, many of them members of The American Fund for Westminster Abbey – a U.S. based organization that assisted in raising about £23 million for building a museum in the Abbey’s medieval triforium — a part of the cathedral that was built in the 13th century and has never before been open to the public.

Partridge recalled arriving at the gates of Buckingham Palace, accompanied by his friend from Watertown, N.Y., Pamela Carrington, who worked at Westminster Abbey for 35 years.

“The security we went through to get inside the palace, and even in the car outside the gate,” he said, adding he was asked for his passport as well as a utility bill that included his home address.

“The checked under the car with mirrors, and engine and truck and all that sort of thing. They were very thorough.”

Even entering the palace grounds was memorable, travelling slowly among horse-drawn coaches and passing through archways until they reached the inner sanctum of the palace.

Partridge has visited Buckingham Palace before, attending events in the gardens that surround the building, “but I’d never been inside Buckingham Palace,” he said.

The event began with a reception where Price Charles greeted “everybody, I think, in the room,” he said. “It was great.”

Westminster Abbey Choir then performed a recital for the guests in the Throne Room.

That musical performance was followed by “the dinner of a lifetime,” Partridge said.

“You could imagine the crystal, the china, and the centre decorations, the flowers were absolutely extraordinarily beautiful and colourful,” he added, laughing. “It just wasn’t three daffodils stuck in a vase. It really just an absolutely fabulous experience.”

ABenner@postmedia.com 



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