A MUCH-loved and admired former rector of Wisley with Pyrford and canon of Guildford Cathedral has celebrated his 100th birthday.

The Rev Canon Philip Gardner reached the milestone on 4 March, a date which, much to the amusement of his family, can be written as 4-3-21.

“He has such a capacity for helping people and that’s never been forgotten here,” said Philip’s son-in-law, Ian Lamaison.

“There are still so many people that think of him with great affection, and they are grateful for the empathy he had for them.

“He’s had more than a hundred birthday cards, which is quite something when you think of his age and how long ago he retired. Even now cards keep dropping on the mat.

“When people asked us about his birthday we suggested they write a few lines to the  parish magazine with their recollections of him, and those letters ended up filling pages and pages.”

The celebrations began with Iain Raymond, from the Oatlands Park Pipe Band, leading the Rev Dr John McCabe, the Rector of  Byfleet, and the Rev Pippa Ross-McCabe, his wife and curate of St Mary’s Church to Philip’s home.

Once outside Philip’s assisted living property in Byfleet, Iain played a selection of Scottish tunes, ending with Amazing Grace, as Philip and Pauline, who is 90, listened at the window.

The Rev McCabe then read a short speech, using a loudhailer to enable those inside the building to hear him.

Philip was born in Liverpool and joined the Royal Navy in 1940. His service during the Second World War included D-Day and the Far East until VJ Day in August 1945.

After the war, he qualified as a chartered accountant until he decided to become a priest.

He was ordained in 1950 and married Pauline in 1951. They will celebrate their 70th anniversary in December.

His first curacy was at Ashtead, followed by Bromley, and then he became vicar at Larkfield in Kent. He moved to Wisley with Pyrford in 1970 and was rector until he retired in 1987.

“When Dad retired they moved for a few years to live near Northampton,” Julia, Philip’s daughter, said.

“It’s not the ‘done’ thing for clergy to live in their former parish, and they made a lot of friends here whom they missed when they moved away. They returned about eight years later.

“While he was in Northampton, Dad volunteered as a chaplain at the local prison in Wellingborough.

“He loved the work as it was very different from parish life. There was one particular prisoner who had been wrongly imprisoned for an alleged drug offence, and Dad was instrumental in supporting his appeal. He was eventually cleared and freed. They have remained in contact ever since.

“Mum and dad bought a caravan when they retired and they enjoyed many trips around Europe, they were like a couple of backpacking teenagers.

“They drove the caravan to the South of France every year until they were well into their eighties.

“They enjoyed walking and Dad loved golf. He was a regular player in the Friday Seniors’ games at Hoebridge.

“He also enjoyed gardening and the Arts, particularly opera and theatre, which they regularly attended in Woking at the New Victoria Theatre and also in London.”

Philip still has plenty to occupy him, with three children, six grandchildren and one recently arrived great-grandchild.