When my brother Roly gave up his Anglican parish ministry at the age of 31 to become a clown, nobody could have guessed that his untimely obituary would run at length in every national newspaper.But such was the impact his unique clown-priest ministry was to have.
It was at St Paul’s that a 15-year-old Roly had the defining experience of his life, when a football tour was cancelled and he decided to accompany his triplet brother Toby to a Christian Union house party instead. It was, he recalled in his book ‘Playing the Fool’, ‘both fun and holy and thus profound’.
The same could be said for his ministry, which he saw as in a tradition dating back to the medieval feast of fools. Roly used the props, language and trained showmanship of clowning in the service of a Christian message, travelling 30,000 miles a year and reaching as far as the US and Australia.
He was hosted by churches of many denominations, and also by schools, hospitals, and prisons across the UK, touching people whom churches could not reach. He revelled in debunking stuffed-shirt religion, claiming that he had “custard-pied ten bishops – and most were grateful”.
After studying theology at Bristol University and Cuddesdon, Roly was succentor at Southwark Cathedral where in 1984 he married Jane (they separated in 2008). He had been vicar at Tooting for six years when he took the momentous decision to train as a clown in Bristol, where he helped to found Holy Fools, a group of like-minded performers.
Roly latterly took over many duties in his parish of Olveston, where for 10 years until 2015 he tirelessly visited our mother in a local care home. His triplet sister Jennie died in 2012. He is survived by sons Jack and Sam, and Old Pauline brothers Toby, Simon and half-brother Ben. A memorial service was held at Southwark Cathedral on All Fools Day, April 1.
Jonathan Edward David Richmond (1971-76), 1958-2020
Jonathan in Bangladesh; he worked in Dhaka, 2009-2010 as a Transport Advisor for the Government
My older brother Jonathan died suddenly and unexpectedly in January, aged 61, probably due to a cardiac arrest. He died in Lowell, Massachusetts, USA, where he had been living for approximately nine years.
Jonathan attended St Paul’s School (as a day pupil) between 1971 and 1976 where he received an excellent education; he was proud of having attended the School and remained in contact with his friends from that period. I can still remember his leaving our house in Richmond each morning, in a rush and wearing his black school uniform, to catch the Overground train to Barnes.
Jonathan was a person of wide talents, highly numerate and analytically-minded (he did Maths A-level) and also a superb writer of English. His most passionate and lifelong interest was in transport. As a child, of course, he ran a model train set. As a teenager he would buy, and enthusiastically study, those book-sized timetables published by British Rail in the 1970s. He travelled the entire UK by train, just for the fun of the journey, taking full advantage of the ‘Merrymaker’ excursion tickets which were available at that time.
After the LSE (where he gained a BSc in Economics), Jonathan won a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he gained an MSc in Transportation. His PhD dissertation examined the way transport planners arrive at their decisions. Jonathan argued that, in addition to technical analysis, planners are subject to the power of metaphor and even myth (especially in relation to the magic of trains). Transport of Delight, based in part on this doctoral research, was published in 2005; as one reviewer wrote, Jonathan ‘carves a new.. niche that only he seems to occupy: transport anthropologist’.
Jonathan’s career was rich and varied. He taught at many universities including Harvard, Sydney, Reading and the AIT (in Bangkok). As a consultant, he worked for the governments of Mauritius, Bangladesh and Ethiopia. More recently, he founded a non-profit organisation – Take-Off Space – to support disadvantaged high school students with applications to top-level universities; the first cohort, mentored by undergraduates, has just achieved some fantastic results.
In his extensive travels, Jonathan made many friends and acquaintances with whom he was constantly in touch. It is no exaggeration to say that his death was a worldwide event, generating warm messages and appreciative tributes from every corner of the globe. Jonathan also leaves behind his parents, siblings, nephews and niece. We all miss him intensely.
I met Robert on our first day in Miss McLaren’s form. 1A was on the ground floor of the old Victorian Colet Court in Hammersmith. We were in the same class for the next ten years until he left for Trinity College, Cambridge, with a history scholarship.
Robert’s early years showed great promise. He had a fabulous memory, was a ferocious conversationalist, an avid debater (President of the Chesterton Literary and Debating Society) and a trenchant writer. In our younger days we shared an enthusiasm for tri-tactics, a wonderful board game putting the player’s memory and tactics across land, sea and air to the test in an endless replay of World War I. As we grew older we both became fascinated by history and current affairs but Robert’s knowledge of the inter-war years and his soft socialism and concern about fascism were something else. His prodigious memory displayed to me most recently just before he died when he reeled off the 50 states of America in alphabetical order.
At Cambridge his journalistic and political enthusiasm brought him friendships with Oliver Letwin and Charles Moore, both of course destined for fame. If mental illness had not intervened I have no doubt that Robert, too, would have had a distinguished career as a journalist, lawyer, campaigner and possibly an MP.
At Cambridge he had started down that path at the Union and as editor of the Fabian Magazine. But, sadly, in his last year at university things began to unravel. Without any experience of mental illness it was hard for his friends to understand the gently increasing anxiety, irrationality, lack of social awareness and, later on, paranoid delusions. Schizophrenia had invaded him, as I now understand it so often does to people in their early twenties with the susceptibility and the circumstances. Robert managed it well for several years and was called to the Bar, but practising never became possible. For ten more years Robert wrote interesting and punchy articles for the New Statesman, Spectator and other quality papers, especially obituaries for the Times.
In the same period he began a PhD, supervised by Zara Steiner, looking at voting patterns and British Zionism and Fascism in the ‘30s. He was also an active member of the Hammersmith and Fulham Labour Party and put himself forward as a Parliamentary candidate.
But for the last half of his life focussed work was not a possibility and, hugely sadly, his friends watched as he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act seventeen times. Robert was the most gentle and peaceable man but when he asserted his freedom by refusing to take his medicine, he would end up attracting attention. Happily, with the support of a fantastic social worker, his last four years were calmer and he was never again sectioned.
For most of the time he lived quietly as a well-known figure in a neighbourhood just off The North End Road – a few hundred yards from where we had started at Colet Court long before. Just after he died I met a woman who lived in the same neighbourhood. She said with great warmth and affection that she had chatted to him many times as he held court to passers-by, sitting cross-legged and chain-smoking on the front steps of his house, characteristically without socks and shoes or even a jumper or jacket in mid-winter, often with an immaculately groomed local Siamese cat on his lap, in contrast to his own careless déshabillé.
A true individual, sometimes exasperating, Robert remained an important feature of my life – and that of other Old Paulines, Tom Hayhoe, John Reizenstein and Rebecca Fitzgerald – till the end. We all kept in touch by phone – Robert eschewed email and the internet – and regularly celebrated his birthday, 23 April, which he proudly shared with Shakespeare and St. George. He will be missed and should be remembered for his enthusiasms, energy and courage.