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Tribute to Grantham’s much respected ‘Music Man’

Geoff and Cecilia Winter, pictured last year.
Geoff and Cecilia Winter, pictured last year.

Grantham’s highly respected and much loved ‘Music Man’ has passed away.

Geoffrey William Winter, beloved husband to Cecilia and father to Yvonne, Stephen and Helen, passed away at St Barnabas Hospice, last Thursday, aged 85.

Geoff Winter with his choir at St Wulfram's School between 1956 and 1965.
Geoff Winter with his choir at St Wulfram's School between 1956 and 1965.

He was well known throughout Grantham for being one of the longest-serving church organists, having taken up the prestigious role at St John’s Church, Spitalgate, in 1960. He was also a well loved and respected pianist, choirmaster, teacher and a great champion of local musicians whose talents helped to inspire a generation of music enthusiasts.

Cecilia told the Journal: “He was the very best thing to happen to me, even before all of our children and grandchildren. We have always been a team working together on everything, home, music, family, church.”

Geoff was born the only son to Albert and Louisa Winter in June 1932 at their family home on Gorse Rise, Grantham. He started his schooling at the Brownlow School in Castlegate, but was transferred to Harrowby Infant School during the Second World War, as it was closer for him to run home during the air raids.

He later attended The National School and The King’s School after passing his 11+.

Geoff’s passion for music began at an early age when he started playing his parents’ piano at the tender age of two. His mum used to tell him that he could play pretty much anything he heard by ear by the age of two-and-a-half.

After a few piano lessons Geoff began playing for the Sunday School at the hut on New Beacon Road when he was 10 years old. Shortly after this, he was invited by a family friend to go with him while he played the organ at Fulbeck church and thus he was smitten.

Geoff carried on with his piano lessons when he moved to The King’s School under the guidance of Stephen Mundy, the organist at St Wulfram’s Church and music master at The King’s School. Despite having high hopes of being a cathedral organist, Mr Mundy told Geoff that he should play the organ for fun but to look into teaching if he wanted to make a career out of music.

When Geoff was 14, he became the youngest church organist in England at that time, being offered the organist post at St John’s Church, Manthorpe. He achieved his Associate of the Royal College of Organists (ARCO) in July 1951, shortly before beginning his teacher training course at St John’s College in York. Whilst in York, he also gained his Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music (LRAM).

From here, he took up his first teaching post in Nottingham and became a organist at St Anne’s Church, Grantham, in 1953 where he met his wife Cecilia, two years later.

Cecilia said: “My brother, Roger, wanted to join the choir, so I would often take him to St Anne’s for choir practice on a Friday and Sunday. Here I met Geoff and we started courting.”

During this time, Geoff watched as St Wulfram’s School was built on Queensway and he became their head of music shortly after it opened in 1956, switching to St Hugh’s School nine years later where he remained until he took early retirement, aged 57. During his teaching career, Geoff organised many concerts, festivals and musicals.

In 1960, he took the post of organist at St John’s Church, Spitalgate, Grantham, establishing St John’s Choir soon after his appointment and where he remained until planning to retire this year.

After five years’ of courting, Geoff and Cecilia were married on August 17 1961 at St John’s Church, a place which already held so many memories for the couple.

The couple’s first daughter Yvonne was born in 1962 and their son Stephen followed two years later. Their second daughter Helen arrived 12 years later in 1976.

As the children grew up, the family enjoyed taking their caravan on many holidays including to Bridlington, France and, in particular, to Germany where Geoff would often play a series of cathedral organ recitals. “It paid for the holiday,” Cecilia laughed.

Despite being offered various prestigious posts over the years, Geoff chose to remain in Grantham, where his family and parents were settled. As well as his teaching roles, he was also musical director of The Grantham Singers, co-founder of The Grantham Operatic Society and co-founder of The Grantham Music Festival.

It wasn’t long before his children followed in his footsteps.

Yvonne became a maths and music teacher, based near her home in Stafford, Stephen tunes pianos in his spare time and plays with ‘The Commitment Brothers’ in Grantham whereas youngest daughter Helen went on to became a professional opera singer and teaches in London. The devoted couple also have four grandchildren who are also musical in their own rights, three step-grandchildren and one great-granddaughter with another on the way.

Despite retiring, Geoff continued to teach from home with pupils ranging from six to 70 years old. Cecilia added: “Many of his pupils have had successful music careers as a result. His pupils and his choir meant a lot to Geoff. The choir at St John’s in particular are like our extended family. When Geoff was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease five years ago, the choir rallied around him and enabled him to carry on as organist.”

In 2013, Geoff was named in the New Year Honours list and received the British Empire Medal (BEM) in recognition of his services to music in the Grantham area.

Speaking to the Journal in 2013, Geoff said: “I get pleasure out of giving pleasure to other people. That’s a good reward - although it’s the only reward there is in being a church organist apart from this one from the Queen, God bless her!”

Speaking from the home they shared together for 57 years, Cecilia added: “Geoff never had a bad word to say about anyone. He had a lovely, cheeky sense of humour. He was a real gentleman.”

Geoff’s funeral will take place at St John’s Church, Grantham on Thursday, 17 May at 1.30pm. Donations will be collected and split equally between Parkinsons UK and St John’s Church, in Geoff’s memory.

A concert will be held at a later date as a tribute to Geoff, featuring a musical miscellany of well-known anthems and other pieces.


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