KGH gardener Ralph rewarded after almost 60 years’ service

Ralph Howe.
Ralph Howe.

A gardener at KGH who is believed to be one of the longest-serving members of staff at the NHS has been rewarded for his service.

Ralph Howe, 76, has worked for the hospital for an incredible 59 years after joining at the age of 17 in 1959.

Ralph with members of staff from KGH.

Ralph with members of staff from KGH.

Yesterday (Thursday) he was rewarded with a long service certificate as part of the 70th birthday celebrations for the NHS.

He said: “I absolutely love my job and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.

“I guess I first started gardening with my father when I was about ten years old because we had a big garden and allotment in Woodford.

“When I was at Thrapston Second Modern School in 1955 I won the prize for the best allotment plot.

Ralph plants the cherry tree.

Ralph plants the cherry tree.

“When I left school in 1956 I worked on a farm briefly but the dust irritated my asthma and a relative suggested that there was job opening up at the hospital.”

Ralph was interviewed by KGH’s head gardener, Percy Chester, and group secretary, Mr Dowgill, for the job and started work on May 25, 1959.

He said: “When I first started there were four of us and as well as maintaining all the flower and shrub beds and cutting the lawns we also had a huge vegetable field which provided all the fresh vegetables for the hospital patients and staff.

“In those days we would pick the vegetables to order in the morning and deliver them in baskets on the wheelbarrows to the kitchen – where they would be on the patient’s plate at lunchtime.

“At that time we grew all of our own vegetables and had our own orchards for fruit.”

But times changed in 1961 when the hospital rapidly expanded with new ward blocks and departments and the vegetable plots were discontinued.

Since then Ralph has worked as part of a team of groundskeepers at the hospital planting flowers, cutting hedges and lawns, and looking after trees on the hospital’s 33-acre site.

He received the MBE for his services to the hospital in 1997 from the Queen but said he doesn’t like a fuss.

Ralph's plaque.

Ralph's plaque.

He said: “I feel very honoured and lucky to have had a job I love which has kept me in pretty good health for all these years.

“I love creating new areas and maintaining our grounds to a high standard.”

Kettering General Hospital’s director of facilities and estates, Ian Allen, said: “Ralph does an amazing job helping us to keep the hospital’s grounds at a very high standard throughout all the seasons of the year.

“It is easy to underestimate the amount of time and planning that goes into looking after a huge site like this hospital and keeping it in top notch condition at all times.

“We have been extremely lucky to have someone as dedicated as Ralph who has taken such pride in his work over such a long period.”

A park bench with a name plaque has been positioned in the hospital’s grounds in his honour along with a cherry tree.

He was thanked for his outstanding service by the hospital’s senior independent director Phil Harris-Bridge, medical director Prof Andrew Chilton, director of estates Ian Allen, director of nursing and quality Leanne Hackshall and deputy director of human resources Sue Newing.

Ralph was one of 122 members of staff at KGH presented with long service certificates for serving the NHS for more than 30 years each.

These staff have a combined total of 4,351 years of service between them – an average of 35 years each.

The hospital held the long service awards in its Prince William Education Centre.

Director of human resources and organisational development, Mark Smith, said: “We are very fortunate as an organisation to attract people who devote their entire working lives to looking after local people.

“They provide care on our clinical front line or in support services that ensure the hospital itself runs smoothly and is clean, efficient and well-run.

“On the NHS’s 70th birthday it is fitting for us to honour those staff who have spent the most time delivering hospital services.

“But of course we couldn’t run the hospital without the hundreds of other staff who have service records running up to 29 years.

“On this historic day I would like to thank all of them for their ongoing daily efforts to provide first class NHS care in Kettering and North Northamptonshire.”

The long service awards were one of many events held at KGH on the NHS’s 70th birthday.

Throughout the day the hospital also ran tours of its endoscopy department, pharmacy, simulation suite and clinical skills lab and enabled people to see progress on our dementia garden.

The events were attended by scores of local people.

The hospital also held its annual members’ meeting on the day and showcased hospital services at more than 30 stands in the Prince William Education Centre.