Vol. XIII No. 6
Friday February 11 - February 17, 2005

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Local Personalities

Peter Smith

by Dr. Iain Corness

Smith is the commonest name in the UK, but Peter Smith, the director of AA Condo Real Estate and AA Insurance brokerage, is a most ‘uncommon’ man. He has traveled extensively, been in a movie starring Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman, allowed Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles to have a picnic, introduced Chinese gooseberries to the UK and Jaguar XJ6’s to Australia (UK got the better deal) and shown the Rolls Royce company where they were going wrong making bootlids! Such people have to be interesting.

He was born in Oxford, in the UK, in the Churchill Hospital, which apparently owes nothing to Sir Winston, but a lot to the pre-fab huts used by the Americans in WW II.

He admitted that he was lazy in grammar school, doing just enough to get pass, because unlike most of us, Peter actually knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to go to sea. He looked at the Royal Navy, but decided that there was a fair chance he could be the target of an unfriendly nation’s bombing practice, so opted for the Merchant Navy instead.

The Merchant Navy sent him to engineering college and then he went to sea as a ship’s engineer. He spent nine years afloat, in a job that took him all over the world. It was during this time that his ship took the first Jaguar XJ6’s to Australia, where they then picked up the first shipment of Chinese gooseberries to take to the UK. “Chinese gooseberry” as a name did not catch on, so they were renamed as Kiwi fruit (so now you know). Incidentally, the ship’s engineers carried out so much ‘taste testing’ on the return voyage that he is still unable to look one in the face!

However, even though he was earning good money, he had also married, and in an attempt at meeting his domestic responsibilities he returned to the shore. “I resigned. It was maybe the worst thing I did in my life,” said Peter, after having had several minutes of nostalgia, telling me about his days ‘before the mast’!

On returning to the land, he took a job as a hospital engineer in a UK National Health Service run hospital. He did not last long. Having come from running 250,000 ton supertankers for the Kuwaiti’s, where money was no object, he was told that unfortunately there was no budget this year to carry out much needed maintenance, and it would have to wait till next year. Peter said it could not wait till next year and walked out. “I was a hot-head,” said Peter, but he was shown to be correct when the hospital had a major engineering failure before the next year’s budget came through.

He had no job, but very quickly he was snapped up by Eutectic, a company that made specialized welding rods and was heavily involved in metallurgy. He was an engineer and loved factories and engineering processes, and it was during this time that Rolls Royce were having a problem with cracking alloy bootlids. Peter was the person to show them that the items were made from the wrong grade aluminium. Heads rolled in the RR purchasing department after that gaffe!

However, after three years with Eutectic, Peter felt that it was time for him to chase the ‘big money’ and go into business for himself. This he did, starting a welding and fabrication outfit and also a plastic injection molding company that made knobs for Jacuzzi’s.

He did have some spare time, but rather than remain on land, he took to the air, becoming a glider pilot, and also went underwater, becoming a very competent SCUBA diver. This latter hobby was to have a great influence on his life.

By the early 1990’s, another watershed was to occur. He had been away from home so much that his marriage succumbed, though Peter and his ex-wife have remained friends. He felt that it was time for him to do something new and in 1991 he sold up his businesses, to go to America to become involved in SCUBA training. Like many divers he wondered if he could make it a job, and then heard of a small island that was looking for an engineer slash dive instructor. The position was made for him, and he was to spend the next three years on Little Cayman Island.

There he rose to become the resort manager, but as he said, “I became burned out with Island Fever,” and he resigned. However, that was not before he was woken one morning by a Royal Navy warship requesting permission to use one of Little Cayman’s atolls for a “royal picnic”. Charles and Camilla can thank Peter Smith for the sand between their toes. It was also there that he met Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman when he ‘starred’ as an extra in the movie ‘The Client’. “I hid behind a beer at the back,” said Peter.

After Little Cayman, he returned to the UK where he worked as an auxiliary nurse in a hospital. “I enjoyed it. For the first time I felt I was actually doing something.”

But this was not to be his swan-song, as he began traveling again and discovered SE Asia, “I’d been everywhere else!” He enjoyed Pattaya so much, he stayed, setting up a real estate company and is now happily married to Wan, and enjoying being a father to their little daughter. He is also the President of the English speaking Lion’s Club, again enjoying ‘doing’ things for other people.

Peter Smith is certainly here, but is still saying, as he has done for many years, “I want to retire!” He also said in the next breath, “But I’m too busy right now to think how I can do it!” Peter is certainly a man who has lived life to the full, and still is.

AA Condo and AA Insurance can breathe easy for many years yet, I am sure!

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