Richard Zienko – BaB 55-64

Thursday 20 May 2021

Submitted by Brigitte Norland (sister-in-law).

Richard was born in Mile End, just after the end of the Second World War, and as for all of us born in the decade following that cataclysm, its shadow bore in on him, close and personal. His father, Czeslaw, an escaped Polish national, who joined the British Armed Forces, was never able to take on the roles of husband and father, and when Richard was four years old, his mother placed him with the first of many  foster families. He was later awarded a pauper’s scholarship to Christ’s Hospital and never really experienced family life, or what it could mean to be nurtured. Institutional kitchens provided food but not the belonging of a kitchen table.

Though contact with his father was maintained, he recalled spending weekends alone with the radio while his father was out working as a haulier. Czeslaw died when Richard was in his final year studying Maths at Sussex University, and Richard was expected to wind up his affairs as sole next of kin, a task which cut short his academic education. It was the music of Bach that lifted him and helped him during this time.

A decade of diverse occupations in the Brighton area followed; including life guard, lavatory cleaner, croupier, later working for the Automobile Association. More significantly, he set up a ducting company with Jack West, mentor and a lasting cherished friend, benefiting from his patience and practical know how.

Of equal significance was Richard’s discovery of Rudolf Steiner’s teaching in his early twenties. This interest led to ever widening circles of unusual and close friends.  His special feeling for the voice led on to doing a four year anthroposophical speech training in London, and to help fund these studies he was employed by Tower Hamlets, doing occupational therapy – or making stuffed toys – with the elderly. He subsequently worked at the bookshop in Steiner House, moving on to his appointment as administrator there in 1983. He continued to find colleagues whose interests matched his own within the anthroposophical community, and many lifelong friendships developed.

Marriage to Katie in 1979 and the births of their daughters, Angela, Rose-Marie and Kristina in the years following, led to the move out of London and to the appointment as administrator in Wynstones School. At this time I came to appreciate his deep commitment, personal and professional, to education, and to its role as agent of change, social and personal. His daughters all made serious study of violin, cello and piano, fostered intensely by Richard, who eventually took up keyboard playing himself in retirement. He played Bach daily.

Richard’s talents, intelligence and resilience brought creativity and effectiveness in his working life. His  difficult beginnings implied a coping strategy which eventually unravelled in 2007, and a separation from his family. An introduction to the AA fellowship led to a re-evaluation of his life and life style, and following his daughter Rose-Marie’s marriage to Dale in 2013, he returned to Gloucester and to life with Katie. His delight in the arrival of grandsons Jensen and Jonas in 2017 was coupled with his admiration for Rose-Marie and Dale as parents, shared by us all.

Richard’s courage in accepting himself, the mistakes he thought he made, and the harm he saw they may have done, brought compassion to his insight into human behaviours. His openness to grace, his own inward reconciliation with his parents and the upbringing given him has brought us a profound appreciation of his continued practice in his last years.

Appreciation of his time at Christ’s Hospital was manifest latterly in life and he was very grateful for a new bible from the school.