HUNDREDS of people said farewell to a popular railway chargeman as he retired after more than 50 years.
Norman Topsom, 68, of Gainsborough Hill, Henley, blew his whistle for the last time on Friday, having worked at the stations in Henley, Twyford and Reading.
Mr Topsom was born in Henley and started working at the old town station when he left school in 1962.
He later moved to the parcel depot at Reading but spent most of his working life as chargeman at Twyford station.
He became a popular figure at the station thanks to his friendly demeanour and trademark sideburns and was made an MBE in 2005 for services to the community.
To celebrate Mr Topsom?s retirement, a specially commissioned portrait of him was unveiled at Twyford before he caught a train back to Henley for a party.
He rode in the cab of the train, which had ?Norman Topsom MBE? emblazoned on the side.
At the party, there were speeches from Mr Topsom?s colleagues and a tribute video which was filmed at Twyford. He was given presents including a trip on the South Devon Railway, a laptop, printer and mini portrait by Henley artist Bill Mundy.
Twyford station manager David Pinder said: ?I know this means a lot to Norman. When he first announced his retirement he made us promise not to make a fuss of him. I?m sorry we didn?t keep that promise but the sheer amount of people here today speaks volumes.
?The best way you could describe Norman is as a real inspiration. He taught me everything I know about the area.?
His colleague Anglea Allum said Mr Topsom was ?the most humble, fantastic person you could ever meet? while duty station manager Pat Reade joked: ?Retirement is retirement and you?re not coming back!?
There was also a message from Home Secretary and Maidenhead MP Theresa May, who said: ?In over 50 years in Henley, Reading and Twyford, Norman played a vital role in supporting the services and the people who rely on them.
?All the passengers know that if they want to know what?s happening on the trains they should ask Norman. His contribution has rightly been recognised with the MBE and Twyford will not be the same without him.?
Guests at the party included construction tycoon and railway enthusiast Sir William McAlpine and Henley Mayor Lorraine Hillier.
Mr Topsom was given a round of applause as he helped unveil the portrait at Twyford station and was handed a farewell card by a boy. He said: ?The railway has changed a lot through the years but there?s a lot going on in the industry now. Great Western Railway has been a very good employer to me and I?ve enjoyed working here.
?There are a lot of faces here today that I?ve known for a long time. The staff and customers I?ve met through the years have made this job worthwhile.
?I?ll miss it for a while ? I think retirement takes a bit of getting used to but there are lots of things I want to do.?
A keen amateur historian, he says he wants to go travelling and write a book on Henley station.
The portrait was painted by Twyford artist Terri Jones, who first met Mr Topsom when she commuted from the town to London.
She said: ?I?ve lived in Twyford for 13 years and known Norman the whole time. I?ve always wanted to paint him because he?s so distinctive. He?s a lovely man and has a fantastic face.
?The portrait was on the backburner for a while but when I found out he was retiring I knew I needed to do it. I spent an hour one afternoon in the summer taking lots of photographs.
?It was a fantastic portrait to make. His kindness and personality shone through. I?m not amazed at the amount of people here today because he?s such a popular person and very well-loved.?
Mr Topsom is a bellringer at St Mary?s Church in Henley. In 2012 won a competition to mark the 10th anniversary of the Face of Henley charity, which raises money for people experiencing tragedy or hardship.