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A bird lover and respected school caretaker: Son's tribute to 80-year-old hit by lorry in Croydon town centre

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A BIRD lover and former school caretaker died after being hit by a lorry in Croydon town centre.

Maurice Baxter, 80, had taken a bus into town after spending the day with friends at an Anglo-Indian social club last Thursday afternoon when he was struck by the articulated vehicle in Wellesley Road.

Messages of condolence have been posted online by those who knew him from the 25 years he spent as the caretaker at Ashburton Junior School.

Maurice was also an active member of the community around his home in Longheath Gardens, Addiscombe, where he lived for more than 40 years.

He loved birds and, when his son Gordon was on shift at Gatwick, Maurice was kept company by a talkative parrot called Rocky Boy.

The African Grey constantly mimicked his late owner's voice while Gordon, 47, spoke to the Advertiser at their home this week.

"Dad loved wildlife," said Gordon. "We'd had birds at home since I was young. We used to have finches, lovebirds, cockatiels, all sorts. He was surrounded by birds while growing up, so I think they reminded him of his childhood."

Pointing to a bird calendar from 1999, which is still hanging on the wall, he added: "He kept that to remind him of a bird he once had. When it died we went a period without one until I persuaded him to get a parrot. He named him Rocky Boy and taught it things to say. It kept him company when I wasn't here."

Maurice was born in India and came to Britain in the early 1960s. He met Gordon's mum Rita, who passed away in 2001, and they got married and moved into a house in Wellesley Road, before moving to Longheath Gardens.

He had several factory jobs before becoming a relief caretaker covering various schools in Croydon. One day he covered a shift at Ashburton Junior School, now part of Oasis Academy Shirley Park, and later took up the position permanently. He worked there until he retired 25 years later.

"He liked everything about the job," said Gordon. "He used to get up early in the morning to walk to work, so he was quite fit. He got on with everyone he worked with. There have been a lot of changes at the school so I don't know if anyone would remember him. He's kept in touch with a couple of teachers. They were really shocked by what happened."

Maurice was a committed Catholic and attended Mass each Sunday at Our lady of the Annunciation, in Bingham Road, Addiscombe.

Gordon said: "When I went to Mass on Sunday it was hard because the priest spoke about my father passing away and how tragic it was. When it finished a lot of people in the church were trying to comfort me which was difficult so soon after it had happened."

Maurice, as well as being a prominent member of Longheath Community Care & Church Centre, regularly attended The New South London Anglo Indian Association, a social club in South Norwood.

He had been there last Thursday (October 16) before taking a bus to the town centre and getting off at Wellesley Road shortly before 2.30pm.

"I don't know what happened," said Gordon. "He was chatting with two friends one minute and then, well, you know the rest.

"That's what he was like. He was always out. He liked to go out, even if it were just to the shops in Croydon."

London Ambulance Service and the police were called but Maurice was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the lorry stopped and was not arrested. 

When he was at home Maurice entertained himself by teaching Rocky Boy new words.

"He was always trying to get him to say new phrases," said Gordon. "He taught him to say things such as 'Gordon, come here you naughty boy', 'Rocky Boy, I want my dinner' and 'Cheeky boom boom'.

"He would speak to him in the morning and Rocky Boy would pipe up. Obviously, that's not happening now. He must know something's different. I think he's okay because I'm here. As long as he's got company he is alright, but he must sense my dad's not here."

As he spoke, Rocky Boy chirruped: "What's the matter? What's the matter?"

Gordon smiled. "I'm okay at the moment because I'm organising the funeral. I've not grieved properly. I've not broken down. I think I'm still in shock. It's not really sunk in.

"I've got my friends calling and asking whether I'm alright. They have been really helpful and it has taken my mind off things. If I didn't have that it would be a real struggle. It's a huge comfort."

Maurice will be cremated at Beckenham Crematorium on Tuesday before a memorial service for family and friends at Longheath Gardens community centre later that afternoon. 

Police investigating the incident are keen to speak to anyone who may have seen what happened. The witness appeal line can be contacted on 020 8285 1574.

A bird lover and respected school caretaker: Son's tribute to 80-year-old hit by lorry in Croydon town centre


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