Character Number Sixteen

And then there was Norman Gresty.

I didn’t know much about Norman Gresty’s early life because I first met him in 1975 in Jacksonville, FL   Norman was President of the British American Club and we were on a double decker, ex-English bus taking members on a mystery tour.  We had been invited as new members and we immediately knew we fitted in.  The bus was filled with ex-pats with accents from Scotland to Lands End.  There was a lot of singing on the trip even before the first refreshment stop.  No-one who was on that trip, ever remembered where we went, but we all remember the last stop.  It was down a narrow road to a restaurant next to the St. Johns River but it was mainly a fishing camp.  We just fitted in the small bar that already held about a dozen ladies.  We soon began to realize that we were in a lesbian bar when our ladies started to be sought out.  After a few drinks, it became quite a party with more singing, mostly baudy army songs.  Norman Gresty arranged most of the activities of the BA Club and he was successful in knowing when ships of the Royal Navy were going to be docked at Mayport, Jacksonville’s military port.  He then managed to get our club invited on board some of the larger vessels such as HMS Ark Royal and HMS Hermes aircraft carriers.  We responded with invitations to our club dances.  We held separate events for officers and NCO s as well as quite a few smaller dinners in private homes.  Our teen-aged boys played soccer against the navy teams without ever winning a single game.  Some of the on-board events were larger with the Mayor of Jacksonville and city officials being invited.  One in particular was for a performance by the Royal Marine Band that marched up and down on a long deck below the flight deck where folded-up planes and helicopters hung on the walls and white coated junior shipmen served trays of canapes and horses-necks, the Royal Navy’s favorite cocktail, brandy and ginger ale.  My wife, Doris and I hosted a dinner for some of the Ark Royal officers including the chief cook who was nick-named “Captain Fodder”.  He liked Doris’ cheese grits and got the recipe from her, amusing us by converting it for a 3500 man crew who he referred to as, “the boys.”  On another occasion we entertained crew members of HMS Hermes, a helicopter carrier that was later in action in 1981 in the Falkland Islands War when Prince Andrew was a helicopter pilot on board.   After making a few phone calls and a little brow-beating, In February, 1977, Norman Gresty and I, with our wives, were entertained by the Jacksonville Mayor as he signed a declaration making that month, “Silver Jubilee Month”.  Norman and I decided we had done our duty for the queen.

As I got to know Norman better, I learned that he was a member of the pit-crew for Stirling Moss in the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix. This race, together with the Le Mans and Daytona 500 are jointly considered the Triple Crown of Motoring.

Stirling Moss was considered the best driver to never win the World Cup but he had been runner-up four times and third three times. He bought his first car with money he won as a champion horse rider.   In 1955, Moss was 25 and he won the Italian Mille Miglia 1,000 mile race called by some as the toughest single days drive in motor racing history and Moss’ performance as the “most epic drive ever”.  His 10 hours, 7 minute, 1,000 miles were made at an average speed of 98.5 mph through the towns, villages and country-side of Italy.   This is one record that will never be broken as they cancelled the race two years later as being too dangerous for drivers and the public.

In 1961, Moss, like his friend and mentor, Fangio and one other driver, had twice won the Monaco Grand Prix, in 1950  and 1957.  He won the 1961 race making him the first triple winner but the remarkable thing about his victory is that he was in a private Rob Walker Racing Team Lotus competing against three Ferrari factory teams.  Norman Gresty told me that he has no idea how they kept the car on the road for 78 two mile laps around the streers of Monte Carlo.   Moss was knighted by Prince Charles in lieu of the Queen in the 2000 honors list.

Norman became a swimming pool salesman in his retirement and it must have felt dramatically different from 1961 when he witnessed part of motor racing history.

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