By Anne Scoular
Funnily enough this was the first posh Memorial Service I had been invited to – as a colonial Angloholic I had of course for years read avidly about these events, “the Great and the Good” coming together in a uniquely English unspoken combination of celebration of a life, and formal mourning after the first shock of grief for the close family has passed and they can really be present. Didn’t know the form, so asked a dear neighbour what I should wear: one must have one’s head covered she said firmly, dark tights (oh I thought, no trousers then) and although she conceded that other ladies might not, to be correct one should wear gloves – though when shaking hands “take the right one off hold it in your left and shake hands with the widow with an ungloved hand – because, tartly, ”you’re not the Queen”. And to my surprise, no coat – only permitted in deepest bitter cold it seems, and I realise with hindsight one does indeed see people on TV etc arriving at events in smart suit jackets, un-coated, learned something. Grey is good, not deep black and did I have “something bright” for the lapel – I gestured at my usual gold dragon would this be OK, there was the tiniest flicker before she said yes of course, realised afterwards she meant diamonds.
With hindsight my neighbour is not only an older lady, but a devout and conservative Catholic, and John was none of those things and neither would his Memorial Service be. I did realise I might well be the only one in a hat but didn’t care, he changed my life, I am deeply deeply grateful to him and have lost a man I loved so sod it I was dressing up – he would have worn an equally unaccustomed tie to mine.
Because of course hat etc, was displacement activity – I was in some sort of denial about John’s death since when last I saw him, about three weeks before he died, he seemed still his old self – at home, much thinner of course, still able to talk (thank GOD my deepest fear had been, given the cruel illness he had, he might lose that – which for him, who lived by ideas and talking and sparking ideas would have been more unbearable than even all the other horrid things he bore so bravely), dressed as normal, on his sofa, his grandchildren running around playing happily – and when I left, he courteously stood up and walked me to the door. (This surface normality concealed of course ferocious courage and will on John’s part, and unceasing exhausting constant work by Sally and the incredible hospice people.)
But that’s what Memorial Services are for – to break it gently to us that this IS true. It was at the Priory Church of the Order of St John in Clerkenwell. Packed of course, but to our relief we spotted a row of Meyler Campbell friends and Daniel and I slipped in beside them. Penny to my left, Andy beyond her (bless him, came all the way from Cornwall), Sam and Ann O further along the row, Verity. And a few rows forward, I could see Oonagh and Sarah sitting beside each other, I was so pleased they each (both I knew feeling great sadness at the loss of John) would have each other for company. Others I didn’t spot in the throng emailed sadly but appreciatively afterwards. The order of St John (yes, the chivalrous medieval knights, how appropriate) did him proud. John had done a decade of strategy and coaching for them pro bono. First words from the Prelate of the Order spoke almost with wonderment at the depth of John’s listening. Then “Lord of all hopefulness”, sung by that congregation loudly and firmly. (We had it at our wedding, that helped.) Then John’s brother Robert – different and yet the same, round twinkly eyes, and reading a poem (below) which caught John in all his myriad facets to such perfection we all almost gasped. A heartfelt tribute by Dr Munji Athreya from New Delhi, about their days as lively students at Harvard, fiercely debating the great subjects of the world with constant energy and joy – but which then swept around John’s extraordinary global career. Then the Dean of London Business School. The world’s great business schools in truth seethe with vicious politics, LBS is no exception, and every single member of the audience knew it, so eyebrows were raised to see what would be said. But though delivered with reserved dignity, the Dean’s evidence personal distress at losing John, and his true respect and affection for the great man, shone through as powerfully as his listing of his great academic achievements. The hymn “He who would valiant be”, so appropriate for a man of such integrity and determination to make a difference, that it got too close to the bone – had to reach down while singing and get hankie from handbag.
Then both his sons spoke, separately. In my view, the greatest achievement of all, whatever else in life, is the raising of fine children, and the pinnacle of John and Sally’s life was there before us – even greater than his string of accolades and awards, his Himalayan first ascents, being adviser to the Governments of Japan and Peru and countless others and many of the greatest corporations, was the way these two boys spoke of their father. I lost it. Through my tears I felt a hand coming from next to me, and Penny bless her held mine while I cried. Someone said the Lord Prior of St John spoke well, well he may have, I heard a resonant booming voice and fine phrases, but I was thinking of John, and what his sons had said. Prayers. The final Hymn, “Jerusalem”, (also at our wedding) a combination of singing it as loudly and strongly and with feeling as I bloody well could, straight to John, and back to the hankie. The Blessing deeply appreciated.
After all that, although the Order paid John and the congregation the great further tribute of opening up the medieval Crypt below for us to visit, and deep lover of history though I am, it was an unusually cursory look (and hugs with an equally moved Richard who we bumped into there), as was desperate for a cup of tea. That was in a glorious hall across the road, by the arch one sees, and with the extraordinarily good little museum below also open for us – they really DID do him proud. One cup of tea went down like a vodka shot, and I wolfed a food bite. Second cup, and was fit to talk a bit, but didn’t stay very long.
So for those many members of the community from far and wide who wanted to be there and couldn’t, rest assured Sally Robin and Nick, his brother Robert, the great Universities around the world, John’s many students admirers coachees and friends, the Order, the music, the setting, the organist, the poetry – truly, they, we, remembered him well.
Poem read by John’s brother Robert (with apologies to unknown copyright holder)
“Success” by Bessie Stanley
He has achieved success who has lived well,
laughed often and loved much;
who has gained the respect of intelligent men
and the love of little children;
who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
who has left the world better than he found it;
who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty
or failed to express it;
who has always looked for the best in others
and given them the best he had;
whose life was an inspiration;
whose memory a benediction.