1912 - 2012

Ron Cooper died a few months short of his hundredth birthday, and the commemorative service at Bishop’s Frome church, Herefordshire, was packed with family, friends and ringers. A peal in his honour was rung later.

At 21 Ron joined the Royal Navy, serving on destroyers in the Far East during the time when the Japanese were invading China, and his stories of his time there were fascinating. He was an imposing figure, well built, six feet tall, distinguished looking and very upright. Yet behind this sometimes apparently stern facade lay a wicked, impish, sense of humour and a lovely smile, coupled with a prodigious memory.

Whilst in the navy he married Ruth, with whom he had two children, Peter and Bob. He left the navy in 1946, when Ruth got TB. She died soon after, leaving him as a widower with two children.

In 1948 he married a widow, Gwyneth, who already had two children, Hugh and Diana, so his family doubled in size. Sadly, she too died and, in 1969, he married Sue, a fellow forester, and their fortieth wedding anniversary was celebrated at a big family gathering. They have two children, Jonathan and Janetta, and his extended family was extremely important to him.

After leaving the navy he tried office jobs, but hated them. So he trained to become a forester, and was a Forestry Officer until he retired. His love of trees was combined with a love of gardening, especially fruit and vegetables. Indeed, he only became interested in ringing comparatively late in life, when he moved to Cradley, Herefordshire, in the 1950s. There was no regular band there, so he not only learnt to ring but then re-established a band and became tower captain. He was joined in this by Ivan Bellamy, and by Ray Sayers, an extremely experienced and respected ringer. Together they were known as the "Three Musketeers" in ringing circles, because they were always together at ringing events.

How Ron built up the band is no secret. He visited any newcomers to the village with the chat-up line "You look as if you would enjoy ringing. Why don’t you come and try!" It was very difficult to resist his persuasive charm. I certainly failed – his enthusiasm was infectious. He followed up this approach by running extra muffled-bell practices on Saturdays for learners.

Although he was a member of the Herefordshire Diocesan Guild of Bellringers (of which he became an Honorary Life Member in 1997) and of the Royal Naval Guild of Bellringers, he did not travel widely for his ringing, preferring to take the Cradley band to other local churches – to neighbouring Mathon in particular, where there were regular practices. He rang innumerable quarter peals but, as far as can be established, only one peal (of Cambridge Minor).

The social side of ringing was important to him. Although practices were to be taken seriously, there were no recriminations when methods folded. Ringing was to be enjoyed. In particular, ringing in the New Year and ringers’ outings were important events. New Year’s Eve started with drinks and refreshments in front of a roaring log fire at Churchfields House, after which we walked down to the church. The timing of the midnight chimes had to be exact.

In this and in everything he did, Ron was meticulous. Woe betide any vegetables which were not upright and in straight lines! And nowhere was this more evident than in the planning of the ringers’ outings. The pattern was always the same. Two churches before a pub lunch, then three towers before tea, the main event of the day. After that one more tower and home. The only reason why these outings did not always go like clockwork was that Ron seemed to have difficulty in allocating enough time for the journeys between towers. So the sight of a convoy of cars being driven at break-neck speed through distant villages and narrow country lanes must have startled many locals.

In 1994 Ron and his family moved to nearby Bishops Frome, where be became tower captain. He gave up ringing after 50 years, when he was 93, his last ring being at Cradley for Ray Sayers’ funeral. He handed over the Bishops Frome captaincy to Sue, but remained tower secretary until 2008.


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