Frugal Peter Gibbons who fished old fridges from the dump leaves £1.5m legacy to Ipswich Hospital
- Credit: Archant
“He always joked to the ambulance men and women, ‘I am donating a lot of money to the hospital!’”
But what Gary Walton thought was just a playful passing comment from his friend Peter Gibbons has this year become a reality as Ipswich Hospital has benefitted from a £1.5million legacy from the unique landowner – the biggest donation it has ever received.
Peter John Gibbons died at the age of 90 on May 22 last year at Ipswich Hospital from heart failure, following a six-year battle with coronary problems,
After years of care by hospital staff, Peter decided to leave his entire fortune to charity – with £1.5m going to the hospital and then £2,000 was also left to St Mary’s Church in Willisham.
But remarkably, those who knew Peter best described him as a thrifty character who “had lots of money and didn’t like to spend it.”
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Gary and Tricia Walton, friends of Peter for 14 years, were left as executors to Peter’s will as the landowner had no family, and were stunned to find so much left in his will.
“You heard rumours about his money, but when we found out how much it was we were quite shocked,” Mrs Walton, 66, said. “He was a lovable rogue – a bit of a wheeler dealer.”
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The couple initially got to know Peter when they moved from Devon to Somersham in 2002. The couple rented a house from him and soon got to know his canny cash principles first hand.
“When his fridge packed up, the first place he would ask me to look for another was the dump at Bramford,” 55-year-old Mr Walton recalled.
Mrs Walton added: “He used to moan if he had a £20 shopping bill!”
Peter was born in Barking Tye, Suffolk, in 1925 to wealthy landowners. When his parents died in the 1980s, Peter and his sister Edna inherited the farm and woodland.
Peter also made a name for himself dealing in revamping cars and trailers, which helped to bolster his wealth in addition to the money he earned from the land. Edna died in 2009 at the age of 82, and in a remarkable parallel left her £600,000 fortune to charity.
But why was Peter so frugal with his money when he had so much of it?
“I think it was the way he was brought up,” Mr Walton said.
“I believe his parents were very much the same – he would say how tight his father was, never buying rounds at the pub. I used to love listening to the stories.”
“People who knew him just knew that was the way he was – that was him and he was quite happy,” Mrs Walton added.
The couple found out they were to be his executors around three years ago, as Peter did not trust solicitors, and knew then that his plan was to leave his money to the hospital in his will.
“He always praised the hospital and said the nurses didn’t get paid enough. He had an eye for the nurses and would love to chat with them,” Mr Walton said.
“He lived with a lady for a good few years until she passed away in the early ‘90s, but he told her she wouldn’t get anything.”
The phenomenal donation now means the hospital can renovate four wards, help provide for children and babies in the children’s ward and set up a special pot of money to be used on projects suggested by staff.
Laurence Collins, non-executive director of the Ipswich Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Thousands of people will be touched every day by Mr Gibbons’ kindness when they come into the hospital and see an environment which is completely transformed.
“This legacy will mean that we can go way over and above what we would normally be able to afford so that we deliver the best experience for patients, carers, visitors and staff. We also want to set up an innovation fund in Mr Gibbons’ name which will be available to finance great ideas which bring better care or a better experience in hospital for patients.”
While largely being treated for heart problems over a six-year period, doctors also believed Peter had signs of dementia, although Mr Walton said he did enjoy “winding up doctors.”
“He knew they were checking his mind,” he said.
“They would ask him what the date was and he would tell them a date a week ago on purpose and he used to say afterwards he strung them along!”
Indeed, Peter’s playful character is the part of him they cherish the most.
“He was cantankerous, stubborn and lovable,” Mrs Walton said.
“He was just grateful he had lived to a ripe old age. He knew he was on the way out,” Mr Walton added.
“People say you cannot take it [money] with you, but I sometimes think he thought he was almost indestructible. Right at the end he wanted to keep control of his assets. “He could sometimes be a bit crude, but he always had a twinkle in his eye.”
Church cheque came out of the blue
While every single penny of Peter’s legacy went to charity, not all of it was given to Ipswich Hospital.
In his will, Peter outlined his desire to donate £2,000 to St Mary’s Church in Willisham, having been christened there as a youngster.
The donation was gladly received by the church, which put the money to good use in replastering the building.
Church warden Rosie Cage said: “Our treasurer received a cheque completely out of the blue, so we were very, very pleased.
“We are a small church and it’s really hard work finding the money to keep the church going.
“We made the church look really lovely so it’s nice to think he remembered the church.”
He escaped from care home
Gary and Tricia Walton remember Peter as a fiercely independent man who liked to look after his own affairs, often refusing to let Mrs Walton tidy up whenever she visited.
Peter’s stubborness would never be bettered than when he escaped from Barking Hall care home, near Ipswich, after just three days.
“He tried that for a week and only stuck it for three days,” Mrs Walton said. “In the end he got a mate to bring him home without telling anybody!”
Mr Walton added: “We went to visit him the next day and they told us he had taken himself home – but we were his next of kin and he hadn’t told us.”
Even gang of burglars could not get his money
When it came to his finances, Peter was something of a private man, meaning all knowledge of just how much he owned was merely rumour and speculation until he died.
But that didn’t stop three men from threatening him in the middle of the night in a bid to claim some of Peter’s cash.
“Three chaps burgled him in the middle of the night when we lived next door to him,” Mr Walton said.
“We heard a lot of shouting and they threatened him, but he didn’t give them any money and they sped off in his car.
“He was elderly but he was quite a stocky gentlemen and was no-nonsense with his money.”