A CHURCH organist who has barely missed a service in nearly three quarters of a century has retired.
George McGowan, 91, has decided to call it a day after 74 years playing for churches in Epping and Epping Green.
"I suppose it is an achievement really. I haven't thought about it a lot, but not many people do it for 74 years," he said.
Mr McGowan was born and brought up in the village and still lives just yards away from his childhood home.
He picked up his first hymns as a youngster in the 1920s, when his mother enrolled him in Epping Green Chapel's Sunday school.
"Parents used to send their children to Sunday school in those days to get rid of them," said the retired plant nursery walker.
"When I was a boy, about eight years old, I wanted to play the piano.
"I bought a piano so I could practice it and they told me I should practice for 45 minutes a day. So I did."
He began his career as an organist at Epping Congregational Church - now the United Reformed Church in Lindsey Street - in 1938, at the age of 16.
"I liked the organ at the URC, because it was quite powerful. When you played the foot pedals, the floors shook," he said.
"When I first played it was so different. All the women wore hats in church."
Mr McGowan met wife Doris at the URC. The pair were married for 45 years, until her death 16 years ago, and had three children.
The Second World War threatened to interrupt his playing but, as a young recruit posted to army headquarters in Jhansi, India, he soon found his services called upon.
"They had three chapels in the camp and I went on to play the organ in the methodist church there," he said.
In 1965 he became organist at his childhood chapel in Epping Green, where he remained until his retirement this week.
Despite clocking up thousands of services in his time, Mr McGowan said he never became bored and particularly enjoyed playing his favourite hymn, Praise, my Soul, the King of Heaven.
The chapel's congregation presented Mr McGowan with a certificate at a special ceremony to mark its 150th anniversary on Sunday (October 7).
Pastor Paul Walker, 55, said: "I did try to get him to play for one of the hymns, but he said no. But he did some reminiscing - he's got so many stories."
More photos to follow.
The church has yet to find a permanent replacement for Mr McGowan. Anyone interested in lending their skills can call the chapel on 01992 572 093.
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