19th NOVEMBER 1946 – 2nd SEPTEMBER 2018
Everyone of us had our own “special relationship” with Robert and that was because he was a very special person, highly likeable, great company, genuinely hospitable and an irrepressible “good egg”.
Robert was always seen as a Norfolk man – which of course he was not having been born well outside our County.
Somehow, but always for the right reasons, Robert frequently found himself at the centre of things – obviously within his family in its widest sense, his sporting adventures and pastimes, his firm and his town, and his wide set of friends. People wanted Robert in their circle and for good reason, and in turn Robert was happy to be there, and to be an active participant.
Having obtained his Norfolk passport, Robert’s travels seemed not infrequently to be linked with exciting events. As a sporting man, his golf clubs took him on several occasions to Holland with matches involving Dutch and Norfolk lawyers. The cocktail of overseas golf and driving golf buggies somehow led on one occasion to the great rally driver reversing it through the plate glass reception windows of the Dutch clubhouse in a valiant attempt to pay his green fees. However, surrounded by some of Europe’s finest lawyers, this has meant that the case continues!
Robert was a founding member of the Ferrets – a motley crew of East Anglian golfers founded in 1977.
Undeterred by his Dutch golfing adventure, he and his passport joined other Ferret golfers on a tour to the South of France to enjoy the hospitality of the Duvals and their graciously provided French food and wine. This was only to find himself alongside me on a plane home from Marseilles that had on board some alleged terrorists masquerading as musicians heading for London.
After the plane was turned around, we spent several hours on the distant fringes of the airport – we then reboarded without the Algerian rock band to find copious amounts of champagne on free issue as compensation. Flying and Robert was never quite the same again.
Sport and Robert went hand in hand hockey with the Grasshoppers, Wymondham and Impala, golf with the Ferrets, the Martini group – which started in 1981 with Robert inevitably a founder member and which was played again this week at Brancaster, his favourite venue – and the infamous Gorleston Eclectic.
Beyond golf and hockey, shooting played a major part in his life and that of his family, but more of that later.
Golf and Hockey were always played enthusiastically, and with the same swing, but never overly seriously.
Robert was very comfortable in a team environment – always popular on and off the course or pitch. The social side was important to Robert as a keen exponent of all the old pub games darts, dominos and cribbage, not to forget the infamous liar dice and shove halfpenny. You knew Robert was there and in good form as soon as his infectious laugh crossed the room.
His knowledge and capacity for fine beers, wines and spirits was well understood and honed to perfection on tour whether in Holland or Le Touquet, Muirfield or Nimes, the Norwich Cage or the Thanet Hockey Festival, and of course during and after shooting.
Robert played in over 35 Ferret Golf meetings – always trying to win the dreaded stuffed and mounted White Ferret. Much to Torie’s relief he only managed to come home with it twice – he loved the annual Ferret meetings, and our special lunch for him earlier this year at Royal Worlington is a very fond and special memory for those of us who were there. He was on fine form, as the old twinkle in his eye so clearly demonstrated.
Much as golf and hockey mattered to Robert, shooting was his real sporting joy and passion. The camaraderie of his shooting friends and his dogs bound him firmly to this Norfolk pursuit. It was always a topic of conversation – as one season ended, he would start talking about the next and how it was going to be organised and enjoyed. Learning to shoot at the side of his father at Hockham, he carried on as a member of various shoots within the county as well as being a welcome guest to many others.
However, it was the Garboldisham shoot that mattered most to him – for nearly thirty years the Plumblys, the Stevensons, the Chamberlains and the Mehews shot together on what was not always the most productive shoot, but it was certainly the most enjoyable for him. The families actively encouraged the younger generation, and many graduated from beaters to competent shots, not least of which were three of his sons.
Armed with his increasingly elderly 12 bore and his never to be retired, everlasting shooting jacket, Robert was always offering attentive “advice” to his sons on every aspect of their performance, not least of which was their perceived “waste of lead” as birds flew by unattended.
The Garbolsham shoot was renowned for its family Christmas meeting at which the generosity of the hosts was unlimited in its warmth and humour – Robert was at the heart of these events.
His dogs were genuinely very important to him. His clear favourite was his spaniel called Magic – he always took her shooting, and she always came home with him, albeit not always having been on the same drives.
Even during the challenges of the last 18 months, Robert followed the shoot by car; he met everyone at the coffee breaks and clearly enjoyed being with his friends out in the Norfolk countryside.
Having secured an “admired social reputation” during his Norwich article clerk days, Robert’s professional life became that of a well respected, country solicitor serving his clients regardless of background or wealth. He offered advice, support and straight talking, common sense views to all who came to his office, both clients and colleagues. He was to be a natural successor to his father at Greenland Houchen in Attleborough, as well as the town clerk. The first Monday in every month came to rule not only his life, but Torie’s diary.
Of course, being a prominent member of the community brought with it certain responsibilities – local traffic management turned out to be a double edged sword as he became an early speeding victim of a police camera that he had insisted should be positioned in the town. Inevitably he turned this round as another example of his raconteur, self-deprecating style of storytelling.
Anyone who knew Robert understood his passion for cars and speed. He owned both sporting and 4×4’s – he went through a wide variety of them including MG’s, Land Rovers, Range Rovers, a famous Mazda and several others. Robert liked cars and driving them, and of course car dealers always kept their doors open waiting for his next visit!
Notwithstanding all these interests, activities and of course his work, nothing mattered more to Robert than his family. And by “Family” Robert included the full panoply extending out to distant cousins’ nephews and nieces. All were important to him as their de facto head.
Few would have predicted the sea change that Torie’s arrival in his life was to bring to both of them. She should have been warned of course by the fact that their January wedding day coincided with the 3rd round of the FA Cup – the Vicar read out the half time scores during the wedding, and the die was cast.
From the prominence of a bachelor with “an admired social reputation”, he moved seamlessly into that of a very happily married, family man. The decision in 1998 to buy the Grange in Wicklewood created a fantastic family home for them all. He would never have countenanced any permanent residence outside Norfolk – for him Suffolk would have required a passport for which he would never apply.
A routine of home every day for lunch at 1.15pm, but back in the office by 2pm (except on Tuesdays in the shooting season for obvious reasons), came easily to Robert and Torie. Wicklewood was, of course, open to all without reservation.
Robert was a genuine family man – his wife, his four sons, the grandchildren, his two sisters and the whole wider family – they gave him immense pleasure, love and of course support, and he returned it in equal measure.
It is so obvious that Robert’s family were his set of “special relationships”.
A fine man, a fine family, and many happy memories for us all for all the right reasons, and always to be remembered.
Credit: Dick Elsden