‘Mr Letchworth’ has the surprise of his life

A TOWN stalwart was in for the surprise of his life when he was taken to a church on Saturday afternoon.

Family and friends of John Stoddard, known as ‘Mr Letchworth’, gathered at Letchworth Free Church for a This Is Your Life-styled tribute to the man, who will be 89 next month.

BBC presenter and personal friend Pam Rhodes played the part of compere Eamonn Andrews – complete with the big red book – as she revealed to a 250-strong audience the story behind a man who moved to the town in the 1930s.

Tales from the panel included how after marrying his wife Sheila in 1950, the couple turned Stoddard Manufacturing Company’s dental brush-making business into a worldwide success.

Former magistrate Roy Evans spoke of the World War II veteran’s 25 years on the bench, while Richard Beazeley passed on his thanks for a quarter of a century spent as chairman of the Lister Hospital Appeal, a period which saw more than �2m raised for equipment.

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Peter Harkness recalled how he and Mr Stoddard, who lives in Pasture Road, helped found the Letchworth Garden City Corporation in 1978, while Rev Jeanne Ennals praised his Christian commitment to the Free Church, and the contribution he continues to make for special services in the town.

Cllr David Levett, chairman of North Herts District Council, and North East Herts MP Oliver Heald both spoke personally of the help they have had from Mr Stoddard over the years, while his involvement with St John Ambulance, The Round Table, Rotary and the Freemasons were marked by representatives of each organisation presenting him gifts.

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Granddaughters Hannah and Georgie then read out a poem they composed together entitled ‘Granddad’ to an audience which included Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire Lady Verulam, before the afternoon concluded with music from the Letchworth Salvation Army Band and singing from 50 members of The Letchworth City Chorus.

Mr Stoddard said: “When I walked in the church was packed with people and I thought ‘what’s going on?’. It was amazing to see.

“I’m not quite sure what it was in aid of but I’ve got my birthday coming up next month so it must be that!

“I’ve just recovered from the shock. So many people spoke and it was quite moving really. I didn’t know I had so many friends!”

Event organiser Pam Rhodes, who met Mr Stoddard 20 years ago when he was chairman for the Lister Hospital Appeal, added: “The reason for doing it was because he’s never really been thanked. He’s such a humble man and the tributes to him were wonderful.”

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