I was sad to learn of the death today of Sir Patrick Moore. I met him once – and it was way before I started interviewing famous people for my job as a journalist, but nevertheless I never forgot his personal kindness to me.
Back in early eighties my home city Portsmouth gained a new building – a shiny new Royal Mail sorting office and with it a Philatelic Counter – basically a shop for collectable stamps and first day covers. Back then – aged about 12 – I was an avid stamp collector. So I caught the bus down to the city centre and queued up excitedly with hundreds of others to see the shop opened by none other than Sir Patrick Moore.
After about an hour of waiting, the great man arrived and shortly after he opened the counter and then sat down at a table to sign autographs. It was only when I reached the table that I discovered he was only signing special postcards which you had to buy with all the proceeds going to charity.
I was there clutching my autograph book (which I think at the time was completely empty) and as I literally only had enough enough money for my bus fare home must have cut a rather forlorn and disappointed figure. I was about to leave when Sir Patrick said: ‘I think we can help you…’ and proceeded to produce a old red leather purse from his pocket. He took out a couple of coins which he put in the charity box on my behalf and duly signed my autograph book.
It was a very kind gesture. It probably wasn’t a huge amount of money – but it was more than I had. But on top of that it was one of those lessons you pick up in life as you grow up, about helping people and hopefully doing the right thing. I’ve certainly never forgotten it.
Despite his fame, from what I have read about Sir Patrick, it seemed his life had been very much marred by the death of his fiancee Lorna, a young nurse killed during a German air raid during the Second World War.
Earlier this year, in an interview with Chris Owen of The News, Portsmouth, Sir Patrick, who served with the RAF during the war, spoke movingly of his loss, saying: “I was 20 when my girl was killed. I knew there would be no-one else. I still think of her about once every 30 minutes.”
And while his comments about Germans may, from our modern perspective – particularly to those of us who have been lucky enough not to have faced war – may have seemed, perhaps a little intemperate, it’s not hard to understand how the passage of time does not always help or heal following the death of a loved one.