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Robin Firth

Eulogy delivered by Robin's son Peter

Jeremy and I put together some thoughts and memories of our lovely Dad.
We want to thank his sister Jane, his brothers Tim and David and also sister-in-law Jane for
memories they have also shared, which have been envaluable.
Where to start?
Southern India seems a suitable place. Our Dad, Robin, was born in the hill town of
Kodaikanal, on March 25th 1936, during his father’s time as a missionary there. He would
tell us so enthusiastically about his early childhood in India - a happy childhood, of amazing
freedom. He loved telling us how he’d spend days out and about exploring, how he’d walk
down to the train station on his own and be allowed ride on the footplate of the steam trains
with the driver, who he knew as ‘Pink Pants’. And about his own special rock, where he
could go and sit on a typically warm day, in a prime position, to watch the trains winding
along the tracks from some distance away. He was thrilled to be able visit the same rock
just a few years ago, and to relive his childhood there.
At the age of 10, he moved with his family back to England, first to Steeple Claydon, and
then to their long term family home in Hampshire.
As you may know, he’s always been very creative and artistic. Just a few of his amazing
watercolour paintings will be on display in the hall afterwards. In his youth he would make
his own string puppets and theatres, and put on shows for other kids. According to his sister
Jane, during a particularly intense performance of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, one small
child had to leave half way through in tears.
At this time his love for boats and sailing really blossomed - having enjoyed holidays with
family friends on their sailing boat, The Ripple. He bought his first sailing dighy for £30 and
embarked on all kinds of inappropriately ambitious voyages accross the Solent, with his
brothers and sister - sometimes not back until gone midnight when the wind had died and
they had to simply drift to shore on the tide.
He told me recently about one of his trips across the Solent to the Isle of Wight. I assumed
he’d made the impressive journey in his tiny sailing dinghy for a reason - ‘So what did you
do when you got there?’ I asked. ‘Well, I had my sandwiches and came back” he said.
His dream was to combine his creativity with his love for boats, and go into yacht design.
But having gained some unpaid experience in a yacht design office, as much as he loved it,
he soon realised that he wasn’t making a living, and the next logical step was to go and get
a ‘proper job’ at The Abbey National.
He’d always enjoyed the irony of becoming a Building Society manager, when, at school,
he’d been so bad at maths that he wasn’t even entered for the exam.
Following a stint at the Abbey National in Southampton (on a diet of porridge and toast,
apparently), his talent was soon spotted and he was transferred to another branch in
Knightsbridge, and it was whilst working in London, that he was to meet his wife, our Mum,
Shirley, whilst she was working as a midwife at the London Hospital.
Dad described their first meeting in his own inimitable way: “I was at a party” he said “and I
spotted a stunning young nurse on the other side of the room. Our eyes met, so I decided to
introduce myself. And just as I was going over to talk to her, your mother got in the way!’
Joking apart, Dad knew that he’d found his soulmate. They married in September 1970, and
six years later, now with a toddler called Jeremy and a 1 year old called Peter, Dad was asked
to open a new Abbey National branch in Sidmouth. They would then relocate to a small Devon
town called Budleigh Salterton, where they would spend the rest of their lives. They were a
wonderful team, Mum and Dad, and their obvious love for each other, and for us, gave us a
stable, happy and treasured family life for which Jeremy and I will always feel very blessed.
Dad was a gentle, affable, generous, patient, humble and optimistic person, with a great sense
of humour and a twinkle in the eye. He may have humorously signed a Christmas card to his
neighbour recently as ‘From The Old Codger Next Door’ but he was someone Jeremy and I have
always had the utmost love and respect for.
He was very easy to love and respect.
To us, his gentleness, patience and optimism were inspirational. He just steadfastly refused to
moan, about anything. I’ve honestly never known anyone so unfailingly positive, in all situations.
Jeremy and I can’t recall a single time in adult life when he lost his temper.
If he ever did raise his voice, it was usually at Sandy Park, cheering on the Exeter Chiefs. As
an increasingly fanatical Chiefs supporter, he was a regular at home matches. For me, rugby
is something I loved sharing with him, watching countless matches together over the years, at
home or at a pub, enjoying the ups and downs of the England team, sometimes consoling each
other, sometimes jumping around the living round hugging each other as a try goes in. He was
able to see England win a World Cup and Exeter Chiefs win the premiership. For me, Rugby has
provided are some really special times with my Dad, and it won’t be the same without him.
I always remember Dad’s regular piece of advice for me before my own rugby matches when
I was playing. He’d always say ‘Remember: do the simple things and do them well’. This was
great advice, and it became his kind of rugby catchphrase. But it’s also great advice for life, and
it could very much be Dad’s own motto.
He took pleasure in the simple things in life, and doing them well. We loved the way he carried
out simple, everyday tasks with a faithful, dedicated concienciousness:
Little, but wonderful things like early morning tea. Every morning, without fail, he would bring a
cup of tea to us in our beds, whether we were awake to drink it, or not. During my teenage, mine
would usually be found stone cold at about 11am, but just he kept on faithfully bringing us tea every
morning, and it was a lovely, and underrated, thing to do.
Simple things like folding a newspaper. I don’t know if you’ve ever passed an afternoon watching
my Dad fold a copy of the Daily Telegraph, but it’s a thing of contemplative and meticulous beauty.
It’s pretty much newspaper-based origami. I’ve honestly never seen such tender care and attention
being lavished upon the Daily Telegraph.
He loved doing the crossword every day, (the quick crossword, not the cryptic one) accompanied by
a cup of tea and one of what he called ‘Grandad’s Specials’. ‘Grandad’s Specials’ were his term for
his selection of better-than-average biscuits. He also stocked, usually in a separate biscuit tin, what
he called ‘Grandad’s Ultra Specials’, which were very exciting indeed.
Tea and coffee would be taken at the correct times of day. Dad would visibly wince if you suggested
coffee before at least 11am, or even worse, at tea time.
He was a man of lovely simplicity. Dad never saw the point of an email address, and survived
enviably without one. He never bought anything online, and always kept his mobile phone switched
off, to save the battery! Another example that always made us smile, was, if ordering a bag of crisps
in a pub for example, having just stood though an extensive list of the flavours available, there’d be
the inevitable pause and Dad would always ask “Do you have potato flavour?”
He was full of wisdom. He’d councel us with wise words like “Never feel you should do today what
you can quite easily put off until tomorrow... or the next day.”
“Never put to sea without a good firm tone to the bowel.”
When toasting a glass of wine, his favourite phrases would be ‘Cheerio!’ or recently “Up with trousers”.
He was a good cook, his signature dish being ‘spicy sausage and spaghetti’, and was very handy
with a curry, of course. He took some inspiration from Jamie Oliver, producing dishes he would call
‘Robin’s 90 Minute Meals’. He’d love to dig out a nice red wine to share when by brother Jeremy
came to stay. As Jeremy said to me: “It’s going to be extremely tough to no longer have the sheer
pleasure of sitting with him, chatting with him, with meals on laps and wine at our side, in front of
a roaring television. One of the toughest phone calls we’ve had to make recently is cancelling his
Laithwaite’s wine account...”
As we know, Dad’s passion for the sea, and for sailing, has remained thoughout his life.
Thanks to him, sailing holidays have always been a feature of our family life and Jeremy has been
able to continue to share these holidays with Dad in recent years. I know that Dad loved his time
on the boat with Jeremy - they laughed all the time, they visited their favourite restaurants, they had
endless tea breaks, went for walks, and above all, enjoyed their time at sea. I know it meant the
world to both of them.
He mentioned a couple of years ago that when his time came, he would like his ashes to be
scattered at sea. And this is something we’ll be fulfilling for him in the coming months.
We love our Dad, and we’re so glad to have known his warm, kind, generous, nature as such a
major part of our lives. He was proud to be a member of Sidmouth Rotary club for 40 years, and
took part in many charity projects. He fundraised for Shelterbox after international disasters, acted
as a chauffeur for elderly residents to go to the Christmas pantomime, and took part in a tree
planting project with local school children - returning 25 years later with a new generation of kids
to see the established wood.
He was even pictured in the local paper in his speedoes, after doing a charity swimathon.
He was a very much loved Grandad. Isaac and Florence adored him, and he adored them.
They loved having him round for Sunday lunches, walks, and coming with us on holidays to Wales
and Scotland, and joining him and Jeremy on the boat each summer. They were all cherished times
At his core was his Christian faith. He was a traditional and quite private man in many ways, but the
love of God shone through him undeniably, and he was a regular at this church for 40 years.
He lived out his faith in an unassuming, practical way, and his character endeared him to everyone.
We’ve lost not only a Dad, but a much loved Father-in-law, brother, uncle, brother-in-law, Grandad,
and friend.
We’ll miss him, as we still miss our wonderful Mum, but take comfort in them being together again
Dad often joked that he was getting quite set in his ways. And that was fine by us.
He was a man of integrity, of warmth, of humour, of gentleness and positivity, and we’d never have
wanted him to change.
He was truly inspirational to us, and he’s someone we are so proud to have called our Dad.
And we thank God for him.