I see Jon Walker every day.
There is a poster on my fridge of the legendary reporter standing next to the ‘Welcome to Petersfield’ sign on The Causeway.
Not many people know this, but I took that picture when we were both working in the much-missed but inconsistently heated 24 High Street office. He coerced me into taking a few shots as he needed some for his local election campaign a few years back.
He fought a good fight and would have made a good town councillor, but Jon was ultimately unsuccessful and missed out by a few dozen votes. It’s a shame because he would have ruffled a few feathers in the council chamber, especially as he had a penchant for questioning controversial moves, seeking justice for the wronged and standing up for the little guy. It’s what all good journalists do, and he was very good at it.
I write this because earlier this year I was asked to help out the Post in his absence, not realising how seriously ill he actually was. It was only when news spread of a candlelit vigil for Jon in The Square that I fully became aware that Petersfield was potentially on the verge of losing its leading journalistic light.
Standing there in the drizzle on a cold March night, I was taken aback by the size of the crowd and how much Jon meant to so many people.
Some spoke of his fantastic wit, incredible insight and wicked sense of humour, while others recalled the friendships he made. Memories were shared from his time at the Scouts and rugby club and his support for countless causes from the market to environmental campaigns.
But what I remember the most from that cold, damp gathering was Jon’s love for Petersfield and what an important place he held in the town. That respect was even more evident at his funeral and wake, when it seemed that all the great and good of our East Hampshire town came out to pay their last respects to a man who devoted much of his journalistic life to covering all things Peef.
Jon’s place in the town and the impact he made on Petersfield were at the forefront of my mind when I was approached a few months ago to take his place at the Post. How can you follow a man with footsteps that big? I’m no stranger to journalism or the town, of course, as I’ve covered much of Petersfield, Liss and East Hampshire at both the Post and Herald since 2003, but in recalling the vigil and the memories of those who attended, it seems a somewhat daunting, and slightly impossible task.
Another reason why I thought long and hard about returning to the Post was the job I would be leaving. Since Covid forced us all indoors in March 2020, I’ve spent much of the three years outdoors as I’ve been working on Westlands Farm, near Wickham. What I thought would be a temporary job became permanent and in three years I progressed from a packhouse worker to a team leader, looking after 25 seasonal fruit pickers from the likes of Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and other former Soviet countries.
Now farm work isn’t for everyone as it can be quite physical and summer days are often long and tiring. But it was a life-changing experience for my mind, body and soul. It was stressless, great for my physique and I made so many friendships.
My confidence and decisiveness improved, while I hope it doesn’t offend my new employers to say my manager was the best I’ve ever worked for. Graham, if you’re reading this, then thank you for everything.
So being presented with the choice of staying, or returning to an industry associated with stress, anti-social hours and unhealthy working habits was a difficult one to take.
But like Jon, I can’t ignore the lure of Petersfield and the Post. The Post is where I made my first tentative steps into journalism when I asked then-editor Dorothy Blundell for a fortnight’s work experience in 2000 while I was still running the wine department at Safeway Horndean.
I’ve lived and worked in this town for a good chunk of this century and I count Liss my second home, as my in-laws and most of my friends live there. And like Jon, I’m a regular visitor to The Townhouse and you’ll regularly find me propping up the bar at the Liss RBL where I also captain their ’C’ snooker team, but that’s another story.
And while you can take the boy out of journalism, you can’t take the journalism out of the boy. I’ve read every edition of the Post since that fateful day in 2000 and I often tipped off Jon and the team here of potential stories.
So I’m back and the baton of news has been passed as your full-time Petersfield reporter. I’m looking forward to writing about this town I love so much and following on from Jon. And given his photo will forever remain at the top of my fridge, he’s a man I’ll always look up to.