John Sargent obituary | Organic gardening

My friend John Sargent, who died at the age of 101, spent much of his professional life working as an ambulance driver, but also ran a grocery store in Coventry for more than 20 years, where he and his wife Vera sold organic products they grew themselves had on their own property.

John was born near Hungerford, Berkshire, to William, who ran the family mill, and his wife Alice (nee Brooks). He learned how to grow groceries from his grandfather while he was still in the local community school, and after moving to Coventry at the age of 14, he began working as an apprentice toolmaker at the Rootes car factory while engineering, Studied drawing and mathematics.

He joined the St. John Ambulance Association when he was 16 and drove night-time ambulances in addition to his work at the Coventry factory at 20 when World War II began. After the war, he worked full-time in the ambulance at the Saturday cash desk, where he was also responsible for vehicle repairs.

During the war, John met Vera Ross, a nurse. They married in 1953 and together ran a grocery store on Humber Avenue in Coventry. Two years later they settled on a small farm in nearby Corley Moor, where the land was impoverished after the war but was soon produced again with tons of pig dung. They grew fruit and vegetables on the small farm to support their business.

The business closed for redevelopment in 1973 and the following year John became a first aid officer at the medical center of a local colliery in Keresley, where he stayed until the mine closed in 1983.

At this point he retired but continued to drive ambulances in his spare time and ended up working for St John Ambulance for 55 years as a driver, instructor and volunteer. He also became a volunteer guide at Ryton Organic Gardens in Coventry when it opened to the public in 1986 and served in that capacity for more than 30 years and well into his late 1990s.

He was a lifelong member of Garden Organic (a charity dedicated to researching and promoting organic horticulture), a member of the Heritage Seed Library, and a founding member and president of the Heart of England Organic Group, of which I am secretary.

Vera died in 1988 and married his widowed cousin Flo Liddiard the following year, who died in 2005.

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