Book pays tribute to 'charismatic' father
WHAT began as a daughter’s tribute to her dad by transcribing his D-Day letter home on June 6 last year has culminated in a book celebrating his lifetime of achievements.
Before he died in 1991 Capt Geoffrey Gilbertson survived the Second World War without a scratch, battled triumphantly against polio, successfully negotiated new working practices between bosses and trades unions during a time of great industrial upheaval and was knighted for his relentless campaigning to improve the lot of disabled people.
Now his daughter, Mary Stastny, has produced a book which contains both his letters home during the war and gives an insight into his character.
Mrs Stastny, from Whorlton, said: “He is someone who did something with his life in spite of what it threw at him.
“He went through the war without a scratch and afterwards joined ICI. Just as he was beginning to enjoy his new career he was struck by polio and he spent two years in hospital.”
Despite being paralysed from the waist down, he returned to work in ICI’s personnel department and was sent to Billingham during a time of severe industrial strife.
Ms Stastny said: “He was able to bridge the divide between the men at the top and the trades unions.
“He was very charismatic. He grew up in Sunderland where his father was a doctor at Roker and his mother’s family had a small shipyard. He was always on the docks so he knew how to talk to everybody.”
It was a tribute to his skill at bringing the differing parties together that ICI enjoyed some of the best industrial relations in the country during Prime Minister Edward Heath’s three-day week in the 1970s.
He also used those skills when he retired to Greta Bridge to champion the cause of people with disabilities.
Mrs Statsny said: “He got his knighthood during the International Year of the Disabled in 1981, basically for the work he did for the disabled.
“He knew about the problems of access, the problem of transport and the attitudes of employers.
“I am very proud of my dad. He wouldn’t let his disability defeat him. He always said, ‘It is from the waist down, not from the neck up’.”
But it is the letters that he wrote to his wife Dot during the war years that make up the bulk of the book and it is why the Maj Graeme Green, of the Royal Dragoon Guards, has ordered a bundle of copies for York Army Museum.
Ms Stastny said: “He said it is like gold dust because it is primary evidence for historians – it is someone on the frontline telling how it is.
“He [my dad] also writes well and tells a good story. He was often asked to make speeches because he could be quite funny and make people laugh. The family are thrilled – there was a debate if it was appropriate to share these letters because it is a man writing to his wife, but there is very little in them that is private.”
She said another remarkable feature of the letters is how upbeat they are despite the nature of war, and it is also this upbeat nature of his character that allowed the tank commander to get his men through the conflict.
Fittingly, the book is entitled Dearest Dot and it was produced with the help of Jon Smith, of Barningham.
Ms Stastny said: “He volunteered to typeset it all for me. He has done the design and the front cover, and I am really grateful to him.
“He is the one who got this over the line.”
Anyone interested in a copy of the book can contact Mrs Stastny on 01833 627419.