Obituaries

Robert Paul Wood

13th October 1953 – 31st December 2013

Adapted from a tribute given at Robert’s funeral service held at Elstow Abbey on 22nd January 2014, by Stephen Stanford. The full tribute, including a few anecdotes, can be read on the Bedfordshire Association website obituaries pages.

Robert (Bob) Wood (or in his younger days Woody) died of a heart attack on New Year’s Eve 2013 while delivering books to Putnoe library in Bedford where he worked for the local authority library service. His untimely death, aged just 60, was completely unexpected and came as a tremendous shock to his family and friends. He rang in what transpired to be his last peal, at Campton, just three days before his death, and his final ringing was in an unsuccessful quarter peal attempt at St Andrew’s Bedford on the previous evening.

Robert was born on October 13th 1953 in Bedford, the son of May and Cyril Wood. Sadly, his mother passed away when he was just four years old, but his father was remarried, to Sylvia, and so he became one of an extended family of six. They all enjoyed a happy and industrious childhood at 2, Moor Lane, Bedford, which I recall was always a hive of fun and activity, much of that precipitated and encouraged by Sylvia.

I first met Robert while still at primary school; we were both members of the choir at Elstow Abbey under the indomitable choirmaster, Mr Taylor (otherwise known to us as Toots). It was a somewhat riotous organisation – a kind of substitute youth club for boys from the village (no girls in those days) – and in such circumstances Robert’s quiet and unassuming nature proved to be something of an asset, enabling him to fully participate in the action without drawing much attention or suspicion. In the most part he managed to keep a clean sheet, avoiding the fines that were dished out to most of us for various misdemeanours ranging from devouring fruit from the harvest festival display, to exploding fireworks in the ruins behind the church! It didn’t go unnoticed to me that this was a rather desirable attribute, and Robert and I soon became good friends (or perhaps I should say, partners in crime!). Robert’s name, along with my own and a few others, remains inscribed for posterity in the lead flashing on the bell tower roof.

In those days, the fee for ringing the bells at weddings was ten shillings, compared to that for singing in the choir which was only one and sixpence, and so along with his elder brother Richard and a number of other choristers, Robert, soon found his way into the bell tower, where he was taught to ring by the late Bob Huckle, and Martyn Marriott. It was not too long before I joined him in the tower, and then also the 15th Beds Scout Group and Pilgrim Grammar School; and so was cemented a life long and much valued friendship of approaching some 50 years.

As a teenager Robert was passionate about bells and ringing and it was often our main topic of conversation cycling to and from school. We attended ringing practices most nights of the week, rushing home to get homework done so that we could do so. Saturdays were similarly occupied attending ringing meetings and outings, often cadging lifts (not to mention the odd drink) with notable Bedfordshire ringers of the day.

By his mid teens Robert was showing signs of being a very capable ringer, and largely as a result of this, we managed to negotiate our way into the band at St Paul’s, Bedford. In those days this was the Mecca of ringing in Bedfordshire and the surrounding area, with arguably some of the best Sunday service ringing in the country. It was not a place where many dared to cross the threshold – certainly not where a couple of inexperienced young lads from a six bell tower down the road should show up uninvited on a Sunday morning!

Robert’s ringing achievements of this period, from 1968 when he rang his first peal at Elstow, to 1978 when he gave up ringing, are impressive by any standard, especially for someone of his age. His peals included many of London Major (including eight peals in a week in Leicestershire), London Royal (two versions), and Bristol Royal; all methods that at that time were considered very much ‘top-notch’, and not so frequently rung to peals. Robert was also a member of the youngest band to have rung a full peal for the Bedfordshire Association, at Elstow in October 1973. Unfortunately, pocket money and wedding fees did not run to the cost of a peal board, and it was Robert who transcribed our endeavours on the bottom of a ringing box for posterity. It is still in use today.

Personally, I always regarded Robert as one of the best ringers to have originated from Bedfordshire in more recent times. Not only was he very capable of learning and memorising methods and ringing them for long periods without error, he also possessed an excellent musical ear and sense of rhythm.

I recall him ringing his first peal of Bristol Royal, having learnt it between the end of Sunday morning ringing and the start of an afternoon peal, replacing one of the original band who pulled out.

He had a rare ability to lift and improve an otherwise indifferent piece of ringing, and to bring others along with him. This he achieved, not in the more common and often somewhat coarse manner of setting his own rhythm and expecting others to go along with it, but more sensitively, with slight, almost unnoticeable, adjustments – a stretched backstroke here or a quick handstroke there, strategically placed to improve the overall effect and encourage others into the right place. Moreover, he could achieve this from anywhere in the circle – he did not need to be ringing one of the heavier bells.

In this respect Robert’s approach in ringing was a reflection of his approach to life. He was not the strong, forceful up front leader; rather the quiet unassuming contributor who instinctively knew what was needed, and could make the difference. And indeed he always did.

Robert’s shy and retiring nature did not however deter him from participating in the chorus line of a church amateur dramatic group, and in more recent times I understand he could also be quite a hit at family gatherings. The rendition left on his sister Helen’s karaoke machine was certainly not that of a novice to this particular form of entertainment!

On leaving Pilgrim Grammar School with a respectable collection of ‘O’ levels, Robert joined the Great Ouse River Authority as a surveyor’s assistant, but after four or five years he decided that this was not a job for life, and he moved to the Post Office and became a postman, eventually acquiring an HGV licence and a driving job. His next and final move was in 1978 to what was then the Bedfordshire County Council library service, a position he retained in various guises until his untimely death.

In her tribute, one of Robert’s work colleagues affectionately recalled that he was, “a very quiet and private person who was unfailingly calm, friendly and helpful” She continues by saying, “he was kind and was never heard to complain about anything. ‘Going the extra mile’ could have been a saying tailor- made for Bob; not only because of the thousands of miles he covered delivering books, but also because there appeared to be no limit to the lengths he would go to help”.

By the late 70s, Robert’s interest in ringing had waned; the departure of several ringing friends from the area possibly a contributory factor.

It was a time when he made several changes in his life; moving jobs to join the library service, acquiring his flat in Chaucer Road, and in the early 80s he joined the Bedford and County Athletic Club and took up running, becoming almost as dedicated to this as he had formally been to ringing. In addition to regular weekly running, Robert participated in a large number of marathons and half marathons, both locally and further afield. These included the London Marathon which he ran a number of times, and marathons in the USA, France and Holland. He could run a marathon in a very creditable time of three hours or less – interestingly, about the same time as it takes to achieve a peal on a ring of bells!

Unfortunately I have not been able to obtain a record or Robert’s running achievements, but he possessed a collection of 89 medals that he won for the long distance running in which he participated, a tremendous achievement that was unknown to his family and friends until after his untimely death. His exploits included membership of a ten-strong team of runners and jog swimmers that planned and completed a 270-mile run across Crete (west to east) over 11 days in 1990.

Bob (as he was mostly known at the running club) was also a founder member of Bedford Harriers that was formed in 1985 to address a growing interest in long distance road running stimulated by the London Marathon. Their initial membership was a few dozen enthusiasts, but the club thrived, becoming one of the largest athletic clubs in the region. Bob served on the club committee and was among an early group of enthusiasts who ran nine marathons in the course of a year; a very daunting and as yet unsurpassed achievement!

Robert’s running career was bought to an end in about 2007, when he started to experience pain in his joints that was aggravated by running. And so it was that he made a very welcome return to ringing, rejoining the band at St Paul’s, Bedford. Here, from a ringing perspective at least, he probably did not find too much of interest, and he later joined the band at All Saints, Kempston, where for a short while he ably served as Ringing Master. After ringing at Kempston, and en route to visit his mother Sylvia at Moor Lane, he again regularly supported the Sunday morning ringing at Elstow, often completing the band of six and enabling us to ring something better and more interesting.

It is at such times and places he will be so sorely missed; the spare rope and just five bells ringing on the Sunday morning following his death being a poignant reminder of his untimely passing, and a cause for reflection.

Robert served as Ringing Master of the Bedford District of the Bedfordshire Association and organised its annual striking competition on a number of occasions. Such positions of responsibility were not something that he particularly relished or found easy, he seldom if ever considered himself ahead of others and would only take such roles in the knowledge that there was no one else willing or capable. In accepting, he was selflessly putting the needs and wishes of others before his own inhibitions. Notwithstanding this, he was invariably the best person for the job and always took the responsibility seriously and performed his duties admirably, as ever, making his contribution.

A tribute to a ringer, who spent so much of his time in the art, would not be complete without a few statistics. Robert rang a total of 225 peals, 165 of them for the Bedfordshire Association. He conducted just four. Although very capable, I think his preference was to avoid conducting, a task that was somewhat conflicting with his quiet and thoughtful personality.

Robert’s first peal was at Elstow (in two methods on 29th October 1968) and his last at Campton, just three days before he died on 28th December 2013. His leading peal towers were Bedford, St Paul (29) followed by Henlow (18) and Elstow (16), and his peals were with 307 different ringers, including Anthony Smith (110), Stephen Ivin (67), and myself (59) and in 101 different towers. For someone who took a 30-year break from ringing, it is quite an achievement.

Robert’s funeral was held at Elstow Abbey on 22nd January, a bright and unusually rain- free day, and was conducted by Revd Stephen Smith, himself a ringer. Over 150 of Robert’s family, work colleagues, and friends attended, with runners and ringers being well represented. The service included the Bunyan Hymn, the Ringer’s Hymn, and Abide with Me, suitably reflecting Robert’s life and interests, and the bells were rung open before and after the service in thanksgiving for his life,. Following a private cremation, a very convivial reception was held at ‘The Pheasant’ where a collage of photographs and Robert’s collection of running medals were admired, possibly for the first time.

So although we say our farewells to Robert with considerable sadness, we do so with thanks for the privilege of having shared and enjoyed a part of our lives with him. We shall undoubtedly miss the kind and thoughtful son, brother, uncle and family friend who was always there when needed. We shall miss the cheerful colleague happily delivering books to the library. We shall miss the steady almost infallible peal ringer, and the bell that no longer rings on a Sunday morning. And we shall miss the once fit and athletic man that made running marathons appear easy. May he rest in peace.

STEPHEN STANFORD

 

Hitchin, Herts. 31 Dec, 1260 PB Triples: Frances M Cranfield 1, Trevor W Groom 2, Elizabeth J Cranfield 3, Peter J Cranfield 4, Michael J Cranfield 5, Keith D Waples 6, David Kemp (C) 7, Malcolm J Todd 8. 1st on 8: 8. Rung half-muffled for the passing of 2013 & remembering Robert P Wood who died this morning. £BD

Bromham, Beds. 12 Jan, 1296 Cambridge S Minor: Jenny Thompson 1, Derek Hammond 2, Dorothy Kirby 3, Maureen Hall 4, Martin Heaslip 5, Robert Jones (C) 6. Rung for Evensong & in memory of Robert P Wood.

Woburn, Beds. 9 Jan, 1260 Grandsire Triples: Elizabeth Churchill 1, Bob Churchill 2, Howard Collings 3, Raymond Watkin (C) 4, Peter Phillips 5, Ruth Betts 6, Brian Foley 7, Bob Tregillus 8. In celebration for the life of Robert (Bob) Wood. £4

Thornborough, Bucks. 2 Feb, 1260 Doubles (2v/2m): Charles Thorogood 1, Michael Haynes 2, John Hearn 3, Robert Tregillus 4, William Stungo (C) 5. Remembering Robert P Wood of Bedford.

Godmanchester, Cambs. 23 Mar, 1280 Double Norwich CB Major: Jane Hough 1, Helen Atkins 2, Adam Safford 3, Richard Hough 4, Hannah Campbell 5, Peter Rogers 6, Paul Seaman (C) 7, Mike Purday 8. Rung in fond memory of Robert P Wood. 1st in m: 3.

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