Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The life of Hugh Price

A great crowd of Wellingtonians gathered at Unity Books on the evening of Monday 23rd April - writers, librarians, booksellers, publishers, editors, academics and many friends, including old school friends of Susan's - for the launch of two books celebrating the life of Hugh Price, publisher and bookman extraordinaire.

Hugh died in December 2009 aged 80, and Hugh Price, Publisher includes tributes paid at the time, along with his own brief memoir and a timeline of his achievements. The accompanying book, A mind of his own, is Susan Price's record of her father's childhood.

Susan's warm relationship with Hugh shone through her speech in which she talked about some of the influences on him up to the age of 20. He was born with club feet and endured a series of operations up until the age of 13, a fact that she was sure many in the audience who knew him would have been totally unaware of, as he never referred to it himself. His early schooling was blighted by a "horrible" headmaster who was bigoted, racist and intolerant - all qualities that Hugh eschewed for the rest of his life. The title of the book comes from Hugh's realisation, sitting in a school assembly at age 8, that he didn't have to believe all the rubbish being spouted out by this man - and from then on, he always had a "mind of his own." Susan said that that his childhood stammer vanished within two days of leaving college, but his earlier unpleasant schooling experiences never blighted his sunny personality and she had never known him in a bad mood.

The book had been easy to write, Susan said, because it had Hugh at its heart, but it was undoubtedly helped by the fact that she had been assiduously taking notes for years, grabbing pen and paper whenever he started a new anecdote, and occoasionally having to resort to Hugh's chequebook if she had no paper on hand.

The whole evening was a heartfelt tribute to a man who was only 5' 4'' in height but huge in spirit, someone I never met but now wish I had.

Also I was delighted to find out that Susan has been steadily building up a collection of books for the two children of a friend of mine. I knew that she has sent books to many children and young people over a number of years, but I didn't realise that my friend's children were the recipients of some of them, and it was lovely to hear them talk about what books they have been sent and what it has meant to them.

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