Born in the Wiltshire village of Great Bedwyn, England, Bob learnt to ring at the end of the second world war when most of the experienced ringers were absent on military service. He taught himself the basics of bell handling, but it wasn’t until he went to Bristol University that he learned to ring “scientific”. His skills were deemed good enough to be elected a member of the University of Bristol Society of Change Ringers (UBSCR) on October 17th, 1949 and he expanded his ringing skills at the many different ringing towers in Bristol. He rang his first peal at Abbots Leigh in December 1950, and several more with the UBSCR during his time there. In addition to peal ringing Bob was involved in the education and social aspects of the UBSCR as well. He was a regular participant at the society’s annual dinner, and took part in the first motorized weekend tour in 1951; a UBSCR tradition that remained strong long after Bob moved on from Bristol. After graduating from Bristol, he went on to ring and earn a Ph.D. at Birmingham University where his thesis became the Cottrell–Stokes Law.

He received a Fulbright Scholarship in 1955 to teach and do research at the University of California in Berkeley. In 1957 he joined Honeywell in their Research Center. While at Honeywell he took two sabbaticals; the first being to Carnegie Mellon University as a Ford Distinguished Visiting Professor, the second to the National Science Foundation as head of Material Research Laboratories Section responsible for review and management of large interdisciplinary research programs at major U.S. Universities. It was here that he took up ringing again at the Washington DC towers. He retired from Honeywell in 1984 and became the first GT Piercy Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Minnesota and Honorary Professor of Physics at the University of Warwick. He assumed a visiting position at North Carolina State University in Raleigh just as the bells in Christ Church were installed and a band struggled to learn. His efforts to ring and assist four or five learners at the same time reminded him of the hard work of his first teachers in 1943 when all the “old” ringers were off at war and three local lads struggled with bell control, rounds and call changes. He has written up some of his ringing experiences in “Memories of a ‘43-er” in the NAGCR Clapper, 2003, and “Memories of a late Fourties Fresher” in the UBSCR Newsletter, 1997.

Back in Minnesota in 1991, Bob discovered Stuart and Janet McKernan, also members of UBSCR, working at the University of Minnesota, and was one of the founding members of the Twin Cities branch of the NAGCR. Bob’s enthusiasm, dedication, and organization enabled the band to grow both in numbers and in skill level. He has been Twin Cities Clapper correspondent almost since the inception of the group, sending in humorous descriptions of our attempts and successes, and was an ever helpful supporter and participant in the annual Minnesota handbell weekends. His calm support from a nearby armchair accompanied the first quarter peal by a Minnesota resident band in 1999; a quarter which included a first quarter-pealer and a first as conductor. In 2006 he rang in the 100th quarter peal by the branch, in a band consisting solely of founder members of the branch. Bob rang his first peal in hand, Plain Bob Minor, in 2004, fifty four years after his first tower peal of the same method.

Bob Stokes was a steady and driving force toward the highest ringing standards. He was ever patient, generous, persistent and invariably good humored with his love of the art of change ringing and his gift as an encouraging teacher. Whenever possible he travelled the long distance necessary to join in North American tower ringing and to contribute to its success. As a recognition of this dedication to the support of change ringing in North America (and his many other contributions) he was elected as an honorary life member of the NAGCR in 2006. His great joys in life were his family, bell ringing, travel and golf. He and his wife travelled far and wide, at last count 41 countries and for the last few years enjoyed winters in Green Valley, Arizona. Bob finally succumbed to the cancer he had been living with on October 9th 2009. He will be missed by all who knew him.


Reproduced from The Clapper

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Central Council of Church Bell Ringers