Friend fulfils book promise to old Sidmothian

Jullian King with Holmsley resident Vera Counter and her daughters Sue Cook and Olwen Taverner. Juli

Jullian King with Holmsley resident Vera Counter and her daughters Sue Cook and Olwen Taverner. Julian has completed the autobiography on behalf of the late Gerald Counter. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref shs 8640-46-13AW. To order your copy of this photograph go to and click on Photo Orders - Credit: Archant

A fledgling author has completed his Sidmothian friend’s autobiography – and fulfilled his final wish – so the memories are preserved for his family.

Gerald Counter had been penning his life story, but when he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) and the condition set in, Julian King stepped in.

The pair completed the draft together in June, the day before the 86-year-old died, and now Julian has seen it through to publication.

“We are here today to remember Gerald and witness the fulfilment of a promise I made to him,” he said. “To [wife] Vera, [and daughters] Susan and Olwen, here is Gerald’s life story from him to you.”

The two met in 2010 when Julian was following an interest in Sidmouth’s history and wanted to draw from Gerald’s wealth of knowledge.

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The elder worked for more than 40 years as an engineer for what is now South West Water, a job that took him into most of the homes in the town. They became fond friends, and when Gerald revealed he was writing his autobiography, dad-of-four Julian encouraged him to take it forward.

“When he was diagnosed with MND in January, he realised he would never finish it, especially when the condition took hold,” he said. His friend ensured the book was completed, and has now self-published it. A Life in Sidmouth was launched on Tuesday at Holmesley Nursing Home, where Gerald moved with wife Vera in January – the couple barely spent a day apart in 65 years.

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His daughter, Olwen, said: “It’s a great honour to dad to have this done. He would be so pleased to know people are picking it up and reading about his life.

“People can learn a lot from the book; he knew everything about the town and everyone in it.”

Her sister, Susan, added: “It’s fantastic – all his stories, all his mementoes – we’re so grateful to Julian.”

Cynthia Hopkins, a volunteer at the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA), which is receiving the proceeds of the book, said: “I’ve never heard anything like it in 20 years.

“A lot of people make promises they don’t keep. Julian is quite unique for doing this.”

Holmesley owner Stephen Barber said he plans to read Gerald’s autobiography to remember a ‘popular character’ in the house and outside, and plans to buy several copies for the residents.

The MNDA is always in need of more volunteers, and positions include stewarding at Exeter Chiefs matches. To help out, call Cynthia on 01395 272966.

A Life in Sidmouth is available now in Paragon Books and will be at Sidmouth Museum in the spring.

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