Peter Harrington Gibbs

Peter Harrington Gibbs

Passed away on September 13, 2013 in Trail, BC at the Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital from complications of diabetes.

Peter was born on December 20, 1928 in Swansea, South Wales, Great Britain. He helped his parents who ran a small Guest House overlooking Oystermouth Bay during the war, by keeping chickens, which he was proud of. He was a good athlete: played tennis, was a lifeguard at Langland Bay, and captain of the rugby team in his third year of College, where he broke his nose. In 1946, at the age of 16, Peter and his friend Marcus Holt who had rigged a sailing boat were swept out to sea around the Mumbles headland. They were finally deposited 30 miles across the bay, and were forced to catch a train home in their swimming trunks after borrowing the money for the fare. At the age of 17, Peter enrolled at Swansea College, University of Wales, on a full national scholarship to study chemistry.

Four years later, in 1950, he started working at Glaxo Laboratories in Stoke Poges where he participated in development of a procedure for producing penicillin, allowing a commercial trial run to become feasible. Also in 1950, in Willisden, London, Peter married his sweetheart Rheanfa Silvey of the Uplands, Swansea. During the next 5 years in London three children were born, Denise in 1951, Theodore in 1952 and Clare in 1954.

The family returned to South Wales where Peter went to work as a research chemist for Dunlop Rubber Company in Bryn Mawr, Breconshire. Later, as Chief Research Chemist, he ran the Semtex pilot plant in Cwmavon. This work in polymer chemistry resulted in 5 patents and one world patent for amongst, others gas water pitch and linoleum sheet flooring. During this time a second son, Gareth, was born in 1958. After Dunlop sold the linoleum patent to a US competitor, Peter and his family emigrated to Canada. Dunlop offered Peter the position of manager in their Sarnia plant which he refused, preferring to move to Alberta where his brother John lived, and hoping to start his own company.

In February 1962, the family moved to Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta where Peter worked for Sherritt Gordon Mines on their nickel sintering process. Finding that the company’s research culture was stifling, Peter then moved to Edmonton to start a small manufacturing company, Foothill Chemicals, that he ran for many years. Foothill Chemicals made putty and later other sealants for the building industry, including: caulking compounds, form release, flooring adhesive, asphalt roofing and foundation coatings, and latex paints. Products were eventually sold across Canada from Revelstoke to Thunder Bay.

Early after the move to Edmonton twin boys Philip and Caradoc were born in 1963. However, a fire around 1963 on the second floor of the City of Edmonton Commercial Building, where Peter’s company was initially located on the third floor above a furniture upholsterer led to the loss of the company’s initial capital investment. This led Peter to take a second job, to pay off the cost of the fire, and he worked for the University of Alberta where he ran the High Resolution Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscope in the Chemistry Department. Peter’s work was so trusted, that a post doc with a drop of product in a vial that took 6 years to make requested that Peter run his sample. (Since the sample is vaporized during the test, if incorrectly done the results of 6 years research would be lost.) It took 5 years for Peter’s company to pay off the debts incurred during the fire.

In the late 1960s Peter’s company also manufactured pipeline primer under license for the Kendall Company of Canada. In a horrible explosion in the primer mixer in September 1969, Peter suffered 3rd degree burns to 50% of his body. He was lucky to survive, and had skin grafts to both legs and the back of his hands. He returned to work, aided by Rheanfa who had continued to run the caulking side of the business while he was in hospital.

In another tragic blow, after returning home from hospital 3 months later, Peter’s eldest son Theodore who came down with flu like symptoms was diagnosed with acute leucocytic leukemia. He died a year and a half later.

In the mid 1970s, Peter moved his family to Strathmore, Alberta where they farmed a quarter section and kept horses. At the height of his farming experience, Peter with the help of his 3 remaining sons harvested an additional section of rented land, planted in wheat and barley. However, a tragic industrial accident in 1981 led to the boys’ deaths. The economic recession then underway in Alberta forced Peter to close his business and he and Ray moved to Lillooet, British Columbia.

After touring BC with Ray, Peter eventually moved to the Trail area in 1989 and lived in Oasis while working for Johnson Matthey in the Electronic Material Testing Laboratory producing electronic wafers, for a year and a half, until the operations moved to the US.

At this point Peter finally retired, and loved to sail with Ray and family in his houseboat up the Arrow Lakes from Scotty’s Marina, enjoying the spectacular scenery and crystal clear water, for many years.

Peter was predeceased by his parents, Aubrey and Elizabeth Gibbs; his sisters Julie and Audrey, and his brother John; his sons Theodore, Gareth , Caradoc, and Philip; niece Stephanie. He is survived by his wife Rheanfa; children: Denise Brown(Mark) and Clare Loggie(Jim); grandchildren: Della loggie and Matt Loggie; nieces: Elizabeth Gibbs(Bob), Diana Landry, and Jennifer Sadée(Robert); nephews: Simon Gibbs(Chantal) and Robin Fox.

Peter was a very unusual and talented scientist, who lived a long full life, albeit with the tragedy of surviving four of his sons. He will be sorely missed by his friends and family.

A visitation will be held on Wednesday, September 18, 2013 from 11:00am to 1:00pm at Alternatives Funeral and Cremation Services “Carberry’s Chapel”, 1298 Pine Avenue, Trail. Bill Clark of Alternatives Funeral and Cremation Services has been entrusted with arrangements.

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