Reflections on the Life of
Colonel Lewis John Rose OBE DL
18th August 1935 – 9th January 2009
I feel it is an honour and a privilege to be standing here today to reflect on John’s life. My friendship with him goes back just short of thirty years – the time that we have been near neighbours in Cople – and I am fully aware that this falls well short of the longevity of the other friendships he forged during his long association with Bedford and the county. I have relied on many people to furnish me with details on John – as a family man, his professional life, his involvement in national and local organizations and his love of sport. This they have done readily and have shared with me many treasured memories. This overwhelming response gives some idea, not only of the wide range of his activities, but the affection felt for him and the respect in which he was held. I aim to touch on what I believe to be the important aspects of his life but I have had to be selective and you will have to forgive me if I have inadvertently omitted something.
John Rose was a true Bedfordian, having been born and educated in Bedford, and it was here too that he spent all of his working life as a lawyer in the solicitors firm CC Bell & Son in Harpur Street. The firm was founded in the late 19th century by Charles Covington Bell, who brought his son, Cecil Charles into the partnership. Sadly Cecil was killed in the First World War and in the early part of last century Charles Bell took John’s father, Reginald, into the practice. After Charles Bell died, Reginald Rose became the coroner and ran the firm single handed until John’s late brother Keith joined in 1952. Reginald died the same year, and ten years later John joined the firm, eventually becoming a senior partner. John’s death has brought to a close the long family connection with CC Bell & Son.
As soon as he qualified from the College of Law John knew that he wanted to become a criminal lawyer. Indeed John did become a criminal lawyer, and prosecuted on behalf of Bedfordshire Police, the Department of Transport and was involved in Child prosecution cases. He also was involved in prosecuting for fraud cases, rapes and murders. Furthermore, he became a licensing lawyer and conducted the licensing work for the public houses belonging to Charles Wells, and private licensing for groceries, stores, night clubs and Bedford Rugby Club
On speaking to friends and colleagues, I have learned that he showed considerable skill and flair as an advocate but, in addition to this, his fairness and sense of humour were qualities that he brought to the courtroom. I am going to share with you some of the comments which have been passed to me and relate to some of his work in Court:-
‘John was always a delight to work with: he never wished to waste the courts’ time with lengthy tales of woe. When asked how long his case would take, he’d reply ’very guilty, very sorry, very quick’. That was music to the ears of the hard-pressed legal team.
‘When John was defending someone who, he felt, had little chance of escaping a custodial sentence, he would offer one bit of advice before the offender’s court appearance. ‘Do remember to bring a toothbrush with you!’
Another of his clients said ‘John did a wonderful job defending my Alsatian dog some 25 years ago. It was down to his quick thinking that justice was fairly done. The dog was acquitted –the post lady had told a porky. However, John had defended a dog once before, this time not quite so successfully. It was in St Albans Crown Court where John had made the big mistake of taking the little dog to court. The Judge asked to see the dog; it was duly taken to the bench where it promptly bit the Judge!
And on licensing : ‘John was our first port of call for any licensing queries and would always know the answer, and be the first to offer a drink when we went to the rowing club for lunch’.
With regard to his contributions to the community, 1975 saw John’s appointment to what became the Bedford District Scout Council and on this he continued to serve. Also in this year John was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Bedfordshire, and became Vice-Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire in 1991, a position he held with distinction for 7 years. On one occasion John, as Vice Lord Lieutenant, and accompanied by Lucy, visited a lady on her 100th birthday to present a telegram from the Queen. However, John was soon upstaged when the lady, a devout Roman Catholic, explained that he was a bit late because she had already received a personal message and a signed photograph from the Pope!
His links with the Army go back a long way. After two years in the Royal Artillery from 1954-56 John joined the Bedfordshire Yeomanry, which later became the Herts and Beds Yeomanry, a TA Artillery Unit. He subsequently became Commandant of the Bedfordshire Army Cadet Force from 1976-90, where he was a stickler for traditions and discipline. Much of his spare time in the evening and weekends was taken up with the cadets. Towards the end of his leadership girl cadets were admitted, making the summer camp a little more difficult. Even after retiring as Commandant John still very much enjoyed visiting and attending the summer camps with his close friend, the late Bruce Willey, where they had great fun together.
John became Chairman of the Beds TA and VR Committee 1991-94, and Vice Chairman of the East Anglia TA and VR committee 1994-99. His work for the TA was formally recognised in the Honours list in 1990 when he was awarded the OBE and it was a very proud day for him and the family when he went to the palace, Furthermore, he was a committee member and great supporter of the Army Benevolent Fund, and when he was physically fit he worked at their fund-raising events, and it was his wish that the retiring collection today be donated to the Army Benevolent Fund.
John had always had a keen interest in sport and he was an enthusiastic participant in a variety of activities. Rowing featured very strongly in John’s life from school days. He rowed in the second eight at Bedford School, and after leaving school joined Bedford Rowing Club. He represented the Rowing Club at Henley Royal Regatta: he became Captain of the Rowing Club, and later Vice-President, President and a Trustee. He was known affectionately by his many rowing friends, and others, as Rosebud, and a boat by that name was launched by the club. He was also heavily involved in Bedford Regatta for many, many years, and indeed was Secretary of the Regatta Committee until he managed to twist Ian Codrington’s arm to succeed him at one of John and Gill’s legendary Christmas Eve parties, where there was delicious food, an abundance of bubbly, wonderful company and to get home, even if one lived in Cople, was a triumph.
Back to rowing: John was elected to the Leander Club in Henley –on- Thames, and there was always the annual pilgrimage to the Royal Regatta in early July. Marilyn and I were fortunate on occasions to join John and Gill at Henley, and it was always a day to remember. Last July John was tickled pink to be invited by his old friend James Crowden onto the committee lawn and the lower part of the floating platform, known by some as the Hen Coop. Rowing aficionados will understand the significance of this, but I know it gave him a huge amount of pleasure, despite his lack of mobility.
One little sporting story from way back to the early 60s, and supplied by Anthony Ormerod, the pair of them went skiing in Zermatt. After a good day on the slopes and an equally good Ski Club cocktail party, they visited a restaurant for dinner. The two of them could not agree on the choice of wine to have with their meal, so they had a bottle each, just for starters. On leaving the restaurant Anthony fell flat on his face, but John being John and the gentleman he was, guided Anthony safely back to the hotel and put him to bed. The next morning Anthony was up bright and early and on the slopes at the appointed time; John, however, did not appear until lunchtime. Anthony recalls it was a holiday full of fun and provided many happy memories.
Other interests included small bore shooting – John was President of the Small Bore Shooting Association from 1992-2004 – but his real love was game shooting. A day in Hertfordshire on his shoot, followed by a late luncheon in the local pub, and the ritual on his return home of cleaning the gun, a good soak in a hot bath, and finally a scotch or two by the fire was something he treasured. The size of the bag was unimportant to him; it was the day in the countryside he loved, with the working dogs and in convivial company.
Alternate Saturday afternoons were spent at Goldington Road, the home of Bedford Rugby Football Club, during the rugby season. Latterly he would watch proceedings from the balcony of the Club house where he would have a bird’s eye view of the game. He could easily retreat into the warmth of the Clubhouse at half time and at the end of a game for some refreshment and a chat with friends. Having given his legal services and help with the Rugby Club licensing laws, he was rewarded with well-earned Life Membership.
John married twice; first Beth and then Gillian. Despite misfortunes in his personal life, John’s love and pride in his four children was unwavering. His sons William and Giles, and his stepchildren Jeremy and Lucy were always in his thoughts. John blamed himself for introducing the children to some of the finer things in life, and as rather expensive tastes were developed he had to keep working in order to keep pace. Nevertheless he was always eager to introduce the children to new and special experiences as often as possible; the only proviso, that he could join in! The arrival of grandsons, first Ben then Sebastian, gave him a huge amount of pleasure and he eagerly looked forward to their visits and how delighted he was, in his final illness, to hear of the safe arrival of granddaughter India. He endorsed wholeheartedly the sentiment ‘If only I had known that grandchildren were so much fun I would have had them first.’ He also leaves behind his two sisters, Monica and Jill, with whom contact was infrequent but who were always warmly regarded.
On a personal note I felt privileged to count him among my friends but I must put on record what a good neighbour he was – better than any Neighbourhood Watch Scheme – never in too much of a hurry to stop his car as he passed by, to exchange a few words; invariably upbeat about the glory of the morning, the beauty of the garden flowers, the magnificence of the evening sky, or sometimes frustrated about the obscure nature of the clues in that day’s Telegraph crossword.
John touched many lives. We had only to mention that we lived in Cople ‘Ah, you must know John Rose’ followed by ‘A lovely man.’ Even those who have only known him whilst dogged by ill-health have uttered the same thing, invariably followed by ‘a real gentleman’. When he was unable to drive himself, he was highly appreciative of the support he received from loyal friends; among them Alan Brodie, John Chasey and Ray Laughton who provided company and a regular chauffeur service.
John was not afraid of dying. I vividly remember taking him to the Crown Inn at Northill for a change of air and a pint of beer when he was recovering from his collapse in Bedford a few years ago. He had been unconscious for 4 days and was then close to death. During that time he had this vivid picture: a wonderful party being enjoyed by those of his old friends who had departed this life. I like to think he has now joined them and that he too is enjoying the party.
He will be hugely missed, most of all by his family, but also by those whose lives were enriched by his company, which was both stimulating and rewarding. All of us here today give thanks for his life, and count ourselves fortunate to be left with memories which will sustain us as we gradually adjust to life without him.
The above address was given by Dr. Vaughan Southgate, A Thanksgiving Service Celebrating the life of John Rose, at St. Paul’s Church, Bedford 29th January 2009