A service of thanksgiving for Sir Robin Chichester-Clark, the sometime MP for Londonderry City and County who died last year, has taken place in St James’s Piccadilly.
The service, which was attended by a congregation close to five hundred strong on January 25, was conducted by the church’s associate Rector, the Reverend Lindsay Meader.
The occasion reflected Sir Robin’s political, musical, literary and charitable interests and featured the contributions both of family and friends.
His grandson, Finn Russell-Cobb, read the lesson from Revelation 21, verses 1 to 4, and his older daughter Emma Chichester-Clark read W.B. Yeats’s The Lake Isle of Innisfree.
Her sister Fia Russell-Cobb read from the passage concerning the Knight in the Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales – a description of a true, perfect gentle knight.
His youngest son Tom Chichester-Clark read Seamus Heaney’s St Kevin and the Blackbird. (The poet was a friend and the blackbird was Sir Robin’s favourite species).
The soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield sang one of Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs, a work which had a particular significance for Sir Robin: as a young MP, depressed by the Suez crisis late in 1956, he sought consolation in a recording of the piece when he returned home one dismal evening from the Commons.
Three of Sir Robin’s children, Mark and Tom Chichester-Clark and Fia Russell-Cobb, sang a medley of their father’s favourite songs, arranged by Mark; the pieces included Smoke Gets in your Eyes, As Time Goes By, These Foolish Things and The Mountains of Mourne.
A grandson, Sam Chichester-Clark, sang the blessing which was composed by Mark Chichester-Clark.
Three tributes were paid to Sir Robin, who was born in 1928 and died on August 5 at the age of 88.
His Grace the Duke of Abercorn K.G. spoke about his political career.
Then the Marquess of Hamilton, the Duke became Sir Robin’s parliamentary colleague in 1964 when he was elected for Fermanagh-South Tyrone; the two members shared a flat for a time.
The Duke recalled Sir Robin’s kindness to him as a new MP and how he was popular on both sides of the House.
He remembered also how often he was on the telephone either to Terence O’Neill ( then Prime Minister) or Edward Heath (then Conservative Leader).
He spoke as well of Sir Robin’s unwavering commitment to political reform in Northern Ireland and concluded that his was “a noble legacy indeed”.
Nigel Pantling, Sir Robin’s successor as chairman of the Arvon Literary Foundation, paid tribute to his work as a philanthropist.
He mentioned his “cheery voice” which always made it a pleasure to speak to him on the telephone.
He said that Sir Robin’s warmth and dedication were such that it was impossible not to help him with a charitable cause when he asked.
Sir Robin, he continued, could be either Morecambe or Wise when he went with a colleague to seek funding –either the funny man or the one with the facts.
Mr Pantling spoke also of his “humanity, wit, interest in other people, his integrity, his unconscious ability to generate trust in others”–all qualities which helped to raise millions for funds such as RAFT, the reconstructive surgery charity, Arvon and the House of Illustration.
The final tribute to Sir Robin was paid by his second son, Adam Chichester-Clark.
He mentioned how growing up on the banks of the Moyola gave his father an abiding love of the countryside both in Ulster and in England.
On the morning of his death on holiday in rural Norfolk he spoke with Adam of the birds he had recently seen.
Adam spoke also of how gentle and sweet natured his father was and of how he loved and protected his children.
The service was followed by a reception in Brooks’s (the club in St James’s Street to which Sir Robin belonged for most of his life ) which was attended by many of the those who had been in the church.
The large congregation included members of Sir Robin’s extended family, headed by his widow, Lady Chichester-Clark.
Those present at the service who were connected with Ulster or other parts of Ireland included the Duchess of Abercorn, the Countess of Castle Stewart and Hon. Fionn Morgan (sister of Lord O’Neill); Lady Bloomfield, wife of the former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service; Danny Kinahan MP and his wife; Stratton Mills (the former Ulster Unionist member for North Belfast); Lord Empey (the sometime Ulster Unionist Leader); Mr and Mrs Bill Montgomery of Greyabbey and their actress daughter Flora; Lord Gowrie (once Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office); and Sir Josslyn Gore-Booth ( formerly of Lissadell, County Sligo ).
Three former members of the cabinet were there – Lords Howard, Lamont and Tebbit (the last having once been Sir Robin’s Parliamentary Private Secretary ) – as well as Sir Kenneth Carlisle, another former member of the government.
Other members of the congregation included Michael Morpurgo (the author of War Horse) and his wife as well as the poet Alan Brownjohn.
Many of those there remarked on how splendid and appropriate a tribute the service had been to Sir Robin’s character, his love of music and poetry and his life in politics and charity.