Only last week, Andy, Robin’s son, found the following message addressed to me on Robin’s computer, on his idea of what I can say to begin my reflection at this service. It was headed:
“Robin has asked me to make his farewells to you.”
We were for a brief period of time, colleagues at the Priory School, Lewes, where he – following his years of overseas service – started off as the most junior member of staff, but, within a year, he had become Deputy Head of Upper School where he was responsible for the discipline of the 5th and 6th forms of what was then a giant mixed comprehensive co-educational school, and, in addition to teaching ‘O’ and ‘A’ Level subjects an devising acceptable and informative assemblies, had direct responsibility for the welfare of several hundred boys.
All this he loved – but it was not really ‘him’.
So, who really was Robin?
You all knew him, so all I can do to answer that question is to share with you my own personal recollections of him and our shared experiences, so that you can all build up a picture of a very interesting and complex personality.
Paul Claudel wrote:
I have not come to bring you paradise here and now. Christ tells us, I have come to bring you the horizon, the sea, that is to say, freedom….
I have come to bring you the desire and the direction, that secret understanding throughout your travels of your destination….
To the burden that weighs you down, I have added longing….
Twenty-four years ago, when I returned for three years in Poland, Robin wanted to see me urgently. When I did; I understood. His weight was down to 41/2 stone. While we sat in his flat, with a gin and tonic – like most of you have experienced – he confessed all to me. I confessed all to him. This created a bond of trust and honesty between us which lasted for the rest of our lives. When we parted, I thought I would never see him again: he was physically so fragile.
That was when we began travelling together, because Robin wanted to live!
I believe that the journeys revealed Robin’s horizon, his desire, direction, his final destination and longing.
Sometimes we had other companions, including, on one occasion his Siamese cat, Marmadu.
Robin loved his roots in the Scottish landscape and he considered himself a Scot to the end. We found the source of the Clyde and explored the coastline on the paddle steamer, Waverley. He would go down to the engine room and we would sit against the funnel when we were cold.
Throughout his life, Robin had a longing for the monastic life. That explained his knowledge of Benedictine Abbeys and Romanesque churches on our journeys to the unique sites in the British Isles, France and Italy. The Benedictine tradition attracted him because of his belief in the positive influence of education. He continues being an inspiring teacher to pupils and friends alike; always enriching our lives with his knowledge.
I asked him at which Benedictine Abbey he would take a vow of stability. There was no doubt in his mind – the Abbaye Notre Dame de Ganagobie in Provence.
He chose well – peaceful, quiet, beautiful, Romanesque, surrounded by fragrant pines, Holmoaks and lavender. It hovers between earth and sky on a plateau on a rocky hill with a magnificent view of the Durance Valley. He said that, when he listened to Monastic choirs singing Vespers, it toughed his heart and encouraged his belief in God – but he always qualified the ideal.
‘You have to live and put up with grumpy old men like me in the community,’ he said.
Robin loved the historical Church and he took his priesthood seriously; he always prayed the Divine Office on our journeys.
He was a very skilled driver. He was determined to go to important sites which were difficult to access: Subiaco; La Verna; Stilo in Calabria. San Leo left a lasting memento – we loved its Prosecco, which we continued to buy from Waitrose!
We survived driving in and through Palermo to visit the Cappella Palatina and cathedral at Monreale which, for Robin, embodied the fullness of beauty that Art can achieve.
His disabled sticker came in handy: we could always drive up to the sites.
When we were in the Pyrenees, robin surprised me by saying he wanted to go to Lourdes. He drove with confidence and determination through the traffic jam and hundreds of pilgrims to get into a car park opposite the Grotto on the other side of the river. He prayed in the Grotto.
I will now share some quotes from Robin’s last three emails to me:
End of October
‘Every sin is an attempt to fly from emptiness.’ - Simone Weil
‘Our lives should be praised only when we continue to beg for pardon’ – Sr Leseur. So, let’s keep on.
End of November
‘The latest news is that the cancer is now attacking my tonsils; well, OK. More important, I have been to London, even though I returned empty-handed and frustrated, but, via Amazon and a friend, I am now in possession of the ‘customary of the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham and Blessed JH Newman. I am pleased that this is so,’
Beginning of January
It has been a fairly horrendous day but, NO MORE OF THAT. I am content.
St Ambrose said, ‘Stronger than the person who conquers the strongest fortresses, is the one who conquers himself; nor is there any greater height of virtue.’
Robin’s favourite masterpiece was the Piero della Francesca fresco, ‘Resurrection’. His favourite church was the Byzantine cathedral of the Assumption on the island of Torcella in the Venetian Lagoon.
I believe that /robin spent his life trying to get out of the tomb with the Risen Lord. He has now finally boldly stepped out with Piero dela Francesca Christ and, at the end of his earthly journey, he has been welcomed by the beautiful Virgin Mary, Mother of God from the Apse of the cathedral of Torcello into her Son’s Kingdom.
Thank you, Robin, for being my teacher, friend and companion. I am proud to have been part of your life.