OBITUARY: Roy Cross and a life well lived

Roy Cross

The historic passing bell at Holy Trinity Church in Richmond was rung recently for a man who gave so much to the town.

Roy Cross died peacefully in his sleep on December 29 aged 95. His funeral was held on January 23 at Maple Park Crematorium in Thirsk.

Roy was born in Bow, in London, in 1927. He was the youngest of five children.

These years between the wars were difficult, full of poverty for many and then London endured a lot through the war itself. The first V2 flying bomb to land on London impacted less than a mile from Bow and Roy spent at least part of the war as an ARP messenger in Barking, being blown off his bike by a V2 himself once.

But however tough things were, his sister Valerie has happy memories of those years. She remembers their mother reading The Scarlet Pimpernel to Roy when he was about five-years-old. Perhaps his mother’s gift of this tale of daring do, of a chivalrous Englishman rescuing aristocrats from Madame Guillotine during France’s reign of terror was what fired Roy’s imagination and led to his life-long passion for English, history and reading?

Who can say? But Roy went on to attend Barking Abbey Grammar School where he joined the dramatic society and became a bantam weight boxing champion.

After school he went to Queens’ College, Cambridge, to continue to study both English and history. His initial experience, he said, was of being overawed. It was 1946 and he was surrounded by men who had recently seen fighting.

Their company left him feeling very young and ignorant; he talked of rarely leaving his room in his first year although he did play football for the university’s second XI.

Then, as a young graduate, Roy was required to do his national service. He was placed in the education corps and posted to the University of Leeds’ extra-mural department in Catterick Garrison. Many tales from that time have faded into history and remain overshadowed by the big event soon to follow. But it does seem that the learning went two ways and the 19 graduates in Roy’s platoon learned as much, and possibly more, from the 20th, an ex-convict, as the other way round: how to get into a car if you’d lost or forgotten the keys – or perhaps never had them in the first place!

The big event was, of course, Roy meeting future wife Pam at St Oswald’s Church in 1949, possibly at the youth club. They both certainly went on teach Sunday School at St Mary’s before marrying in 1955.

Roy’s professional career continued in teaching – at Leeds University, and at the Convent of the Assumption in Richmond, before he spent over 20 years at Kirby College in Middlesbrough.

But first, when he and Pam married, there was a period helping in her parents’ dry-cleaning firm at the bottom of the town.

This was when their family was started — young Roy then Joanna, Jeremy and Timothy.

The children’s memories are of a dad – and a mum – who worked long hours. As a lecturer and later head of department at Kirby College, he faced an hour-long commute to and from work every day. These were no easy jobs, but they came with their own satisfactions.

Roy wasn’t just clever; he was astute and humane. He understood that education is about a whole person and their development, not just exam results. And with this goes his and Pam’s commitment to service.

Service often seems like a forgotten virtue these days when everything – all goods and services – come with a price tag. But that was not Roy’s way. As an example, relatively recently he was a member of the European Committee of the Regions based in Brussels and the Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities based in Strasbourg.

Attending the meetings to represent Yorkshire, Roy was horrified to learn of the generous daily allowances for travel, accommodation and meals. These, of course, were intended to ensure that anyone – regardless of their personal wealth or status – could fulfil these roles, yet Roy rarely claimed everything he was entitled to. He had a personal horror of politicians and worthies who take on roles for their own self-enrichment and aggrandisement; that was not his way. Roy served with pride but also with modesty and humility.

In recognition of this fact, he and Pam – husband and wife cut from the same cloth – were awarded the freedom of Richmond in 2012. Roy was also awarded the British Empire Medal, not something he boasted about but that he was undoubtedly pleased to receive. Looking over their list of extra-curricular activities what is perhaps most remarkable is that they also had good careers and raised four children, doted on six grandchildren and revelled in their first great grandchild.

Roy spent years on the town and district councils in various capacities bringing back the name, Richmondshire in the early 1970s and always as an independent; he never aligned himself with party politics. He was mayor of the town three times, and chairman of the district council three times.

Pam held the chain of office once too, and they both sat on a variety of governing bodies for different schools, causes and charities. Roy helped found the Richmond Round Table, the Richmond branch of the British Heart Foundation and undertook work – including fundraising – for local hospitals. The fund helped to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds from the 1960s on, a fund that was used to pay for an x-ray department and machines.

In 1966, Roy and Pam bought the sweet shop in Finkle Street, an establishment that became a community hub. The speed with which news could travel the length of Richmond and arrive at the shop was astonishing – certainly faster than most people walked. But perhaps one of Roy’s proudest roles, from a little earlier, was as the founding licensee of the Georgian Theatre. His commitment to the arts, his running of an annual art exhibition for charity – he and Pat did that for over 20 years.

Then there was the travel. When the children were small there were lots of days spent with cousins in the UK. And, with all four children, the family dog and all their luggage jammed into a venerable Mini Countryman complete with wooden benches, there were trips to places like Looe in Cornwall. Everyone was sick before Skeeby and then off they went. The guest house in Looe served meals that included ‘evil pork’ every Thursday night, a questionable dish of boiled pork chops.

What remains remarkable is that, having endured this twice in the first year, they repeated the experience the following year. It seems odd for a man who so enjoyed his food: all the formal dinners with their glasses of wine and small whiskeys; the Thai red curry and chicken tikka masala he embraced in recent years, and the cheese he always loved above all else.

There were trips that Roy took to Russia and the USA on behalf of Pam’s family’s dry cleaning business. As the family grew to adulthood, there were trips to visit children working abroad; a round the world in 40 days trip with Jeremy when he was based in Singapore, to Roy in Munich, Berlin, Zagreb and Bucharest. There were family holidays with children and grandchildren, Eurocamp breaks in Italy and Switzerland. In the 1990s and 2000s, Roy and Pam embraced Shearings’ coach tours which allowed them to sample whole countries, Italy in four days – that sort of thing. Pam’s lifelong habit of entering competitions won them a trip to South Africa to watch a test match.

He and Pam were a true partnership and lived at the heart of Richmond’s civic and philanthropic lives the whole of their married life – 67 years of service. Throughout all that varied activity, Roy never lost his quiet pleasures either; the odd football match on the television and, more importantly, the cricket. He was a very involved spectator of local, national and international matches, the television bringing the sport to him.

And, even as his eyesight failed, Roy remained an avid and voracious reader. He had a strong commitment to history and current affairs while still enjoying a fictional scandal. He wrote columns for the North Yorkshire News and penned a crime novel, The Mill Will (available on Amazon) – featuring a love affair between a solicitor and a doctor’s practice manager, and multiple murders. He had a collection of history books covering periods from the medieval to the Second World War, and novels – a personal library that occupied a large portion of his home. Books everywhere.

Over many, many years, Roy gave so much to his family and the town of Richmond. A life well lived.

Taken from eulogy written by celebrant Tamara Bibby. For more details, visit www.tamarabibbycelebrant.com