Peter Underwood, who died on 4 December aged 88, was the most important contributor to the achievements of The Ipswich Society during its first thirty years at least. He was a founder member of the Society in 1960 and served successively as Secretary, Newsletter Editor, Chairman and Vice-President. His knowledge of Ipswich from childhood, from academic study and from knowing so many people and learning from them was matchless. (Some of this learning took place in The Greyhound and latterly The Dove.)
Added to those qualities, Peter was a person of robust independence but also a natural bridge-builder. For example, he was pleased to represent the Society as a committee member of the Suffolk Preservation Society because a constructive relationship between the county town and the wider county was always dear to his heart. (In the same way, he joined two of the relevant teachers' unions to encourage them to talk to each other!)
In the early 1960s Borough councillors of both main political parties tended to be suspicious of the Society. More than anyone else, Peter helped to establish the Society's credentials and good faith. So when the Borough set up the Conservation Advisory Panel he was elected Chairman and served on it for decades. The Panel also inspired the creation of two charities, Ipswich Building Preservation Trust and Ipswich Historic Churches Trust, Peter being an executive trustee of both. The Society and all Peter's friends were therefore delighted when he was awarded the MBE in 1998 "for services to the Ipswich Society and to conservation in Suffolk".
Much of this voluntary work was by no means straight forward. He often had to make time in his busy life to prepare for appearances as the Society's spokesman on controversial planning matters. Being a geographer, he was also in his element when involved in considering strategic planning issues with the relevant authorities. One of the most memorable of those planning experiences led to the saving of The Sailors' Rest in St Peter's Street. An hour before the hearing of the appeal against demolition, Peter and Don Chipperfield got into the building and jumped up and down on the attic floors to prove that the building wasn't about to collapse as the developers asserted. But I fear that Peter's biggest disappointment was Ipswich's failure to create The Gipeswic Centre which multi-disciplined Peter tried to promote to show the international importance of Ipswich in terms of its geography, history, archaeology and the development of the English language from the "Angle-ish" first spoken here on our shores. He was always keen to point out that' our' English became the international language of communication in the air and at sea.
Peter was educated at both Northgate Grammar School for Boys and Ipswich School. (Perhaps that combination started off his bridge-building!) He served as an RAF pilot and instructor at the end of the Second World War in Britain and Canada and then went as a mature student to read geography at University College, Oxford. After graduating, he taught in the influential Geography Department at Northgate before retiring in the early 1980s.
Amongst the many other organisations Peter was involved with, I should emphasise his roles as a Magistrate and, with his wife Pam, as a Marriage Guidance counsellor. For many people he was 'Mr Ipswich', the person you went to if you wanted to find out something about the town that seemed a bit obscure. For me, he was also a good neighbour, a valued teaching colleague, wise man and friend.