ROBERT Aston is a modest man who plays down a working lifetime of achievements.

Yet, it is undeniable that he spent a large part of his working life at the forefront of immunisation, promoting programmes around the UK and across the globe, actively helping contain the spread of life-threatening diseases.

Today, at 74 and a grandfather, Robert’s life revolves around his wife and family, his faith and the music which has remained a constant since he was a little boy.

Young Robert grew up around the Chorley Old Road area. His father was a fireman and his mother a weaver. It was when his elder brother was, reluctantly, taking piano lessons that Robert first began his own love of music.

“For my eighth birthday, my mother asked me what I wanted and I told her music lessons. I think she was quite shocked!” he recalled, laughing.

While his musical education quietly progressed, his more formal education took place at Oxford Grove Primary School and then Canon Slade School. At the latter, he proved an attentive pupil – “A bit of a nerd, really. I loved Latin and the sciences,” he stated.

It was his science teacher who suggested he would make a good doctor. He liked the idea and so went to Edinburgh University to study medicine for six years. This included two, six-month spells in hospitals where Robert enjoyed ophthalmology so much he decided to move back to the North-west and a job partly teaching anatomy and partly working at Manchester Eye Hospital.

Neither area, though, brought him into sufficient contact with people “and I wanted to work more with people, to be involved in their lives.” So, he went into GP practice in Withington where he worked for 10 years.

Here, however, that involvement with patients eventually became too much; he felt he was losing his objectivity as a GP. He had always been interested in public health – “especially in the scientific side” – so took a Master’s degree to train in this field.

As luck would have it, he successfully applied for a job as Bolton’s consultant in communicable diseases in 1988 and returned to his home town. “I just thought I would be eased into the job,” he stated. “But, on that first morning, I took a call from a consultant at the then Bolton Royal Infirmary to notify us about a case of atypical pneumonia. I made a note of it. Then a few hours later, we had a call from another consultant to say he also had a case.”

That was the start of one of the first cases of Legionnaires Disease. It was based around the cooling towers of the British Aerospace plant. Robert moved a camp bed into his office and it stayed there for three months as the public health team tackled this major problem.

His science background made him a major campaigner for immunisation in general and the MMR programme (measles, mumps and rubella) in particular. He fought to extend this to a second injection and put Bolton at the forefront of the national programme.

His knowledge, experience and direct approach also catapulted him into the media and, for some time, he became the national – and international – spokesman for immunisation. He travelled the world lecturing on this controversial subject.

He had met his wife, Glennis, at Canon Slade School. The couple have been married for 52 years and had four children – two boys and two girls. Sadly, their son Tom developed muscular dystrophy and passed away at 19, although his positivity and strength left a loving legacy in the Aston family.

Although Robert left the NHS in 2002, his music had always provided a “second job” in the background. As a university student, he earned money after teaching himself to play the bagpipes. His piano playing is largely self-taught and he can also play the viola (“badly”, he insisted), the organ and the tenor horn.

He admits to being able to “knock out a tune” on various instruments but plays down his skills in spite of being a well-known recitalist and accompanist with many soloists, choirs, music societies and chamber ensembles in the North-west.

He provides the accompaniment for students at Bolton Music Service and helped launch the Trust Music charity, to ensure funds to help more youngsters and adults play musical instruments. He is also passionate about retaining Bolton’s Victoria Hall and its unique acoustics.

It’s plain that Robert has tried to live his life using his faith and the basic tenets of caring and decency. He is equally keen to share his love of music and insisted “Music can make life different for everyone.” And it has certainly helped enrich Robert Aston’s.