Like many people here today I have known Eric all my life, and it is difficult to imagine the world without him. He was a man who had a real gift for friendship, and gave generously of himself to his friends. That makes it difficult for anyone person to say what he was to all of us. All the same I have been encouraged in that task by having talked during his illness, and since his death, to a number of his friends and discovered how much of our view of him we shared and how we all held him in the same affection.
My sister Caroline and I first knew him as children and he was a wonderful uncle. He stood out for us as someone who was quite different from other grown-ups. His arrival always brought a certain magic with it – almost literally given his fondness for and proficiency with conjuring tricks. I know that many others here share that experience of him and some of us have been lucky enough to have it repeated with our own children. 1 remember a lively exchange of correspondence between a murky figure in the intelligence service called Clune Rice – a cleverly encrypted form of Uncle Eric – and one of his agents called Leinad (another ingenious cypher). More recently Eric’s hospital bedside was cheered up by the tulips and assorted creatures drawn by Stephanie, which he much enjoyed showing to visitors.
I think that Eric renewed himself through successive generations of children, and his affinity for them showed that he never lost touch with the child in himself. Perhaps that is what we loved him for most.
But of course it is not the whole story. I can’t speak with first hand knowledge of his professional life, and will have to leave that to be commemorated properly elsewhere and by others. I will just say briefly that after graduating from Christ Church he qualified in medicine at Bart’s Hospital. He did a spell of postgraduate work in the United States where he was based in Philadelphia, but he travelled widely visiting among other places Niagara Falls and Yellowstone National Park, taking some splendid photos which he was showing us only recently.
During the war he joined the RAF Medical Section specialising in neuropsychiatry and reached the rank of Wing Commander. He did important work on flying stress among operational RAF aircrews, serving in India, the Far East and North Africa. After the war he joined the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases as a registrar, and then moved to the Royal Northern Hospital where he was a consultant neurologist for many years. I would like to quote from a letter I have received from a former colleague who writes…
And Eric maintained his professional activity long after normal retirement age with a weekly clinic at the Princess Margaret Migraine Clinic; indeed I cannot say for certain that he ever gave this up.
Eric always enjoyed the social side of professional life. A number of people have written to say what a popular member he was of the Fountain Club of Bart’s, and have particularly recalled a dinner he hosted for them at the Savile Club about five years ago. I myself remember many good dinners and concerts at the Royal College of Physicians in Regent’s Park. He also showed a fierce loyalty to the institutions he had been part of – notably Bart’s and the Royal Northern Hospital whose official history he wrote, but also going back to his earlier roots Christ Church and Charterhouse. His loyalty to Bart’s was expressed with particular passion and force when its existence came under threat from Government policies.
That doesn’t mean he was stuck in the past. I am told that at dinners of the Oxford Graduate Medical Association you would often find him talking not to his contemporaries but to the youngest person there. He showed a very wide interest in many different aspects of present-day life to which he applied the same persistent curiosity. This extended to the various forms of regular and irregular alliances. Among his papers I came across a note listing the following words:
- Sleeping partner
- Current attachment
I think he was still trying to find the most suitable term.
Eric was always good company and a good host. His laughter has been described to me as “a very whole-hearted matter. He would snort and gasp and choke and have to wipe his eyes copiously. It could be quite alarming.”
The open air theatre in Regent’s Park was a favourite of his. He used to tell how, as a child, he had won a prize from Queen Mary for his display of flowers in the Park and he seems to have gravitated hack to it. I think of trips with him to the Savile and Wisley Gardens and, last September, an expedition up the river to Hampton Court (where he commented after three hours of incessant rain on how lucky we’d been with the weather). I never went with him on a fishing trip but often had a tasty reason to appreciate them.
But it was surely music which, next to his friends, was the great love of his life. As in other fields he was never content with being a spectator but was always a participant as well. This extended not only to playing the piano but also to singing with the Bart’s choir. He also took up composition quite late in life. There were no narrow limits to his range. His output includes a recording of his own version of “Susannah’s squeaky shoes” (with suitably edited words) which was much appreciated by the young person to whom it was dedicated. I also remember going with him not long ago to “Five Guys Named Moe”, a musical with a lot of audience participation in which he joined enthusiastically.
His musical activity shows one of his strongest qualities which was never to stand still or stop learning. It somehow seems fitting that the fall which eventually proved fatal to him should have happened when he was leaving his weekly music class. Eric’s music teacher, Mike Hughes (who was sorry he could not be here today) has told me that he was always looking forward, always looking for something new. Eric was especially touched by the good wishes he received after his accident from his fellow members of the Monday music class.
We loved him for all those things, as well as all the things I have not managed to express. We shall miss him terribly. I just want to say thank you, Uncle Eric. for everything. And I will end with some words which Eric himself selected for an earlier occasion. They are by William Penn and are inscribed over his own father’s tomb in Bristol:
“Death is but a crossing the world as friends do the seas, they live in one another still. This is the comfort of friends that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present because immortal.”
Now Sue Laurence who is Eric’s youngest goddaughter (and therefore my godsister) is going to read a passage from ‘The Wind in the Willows”.