Robert Betson – LaA 46-53
A Tribute to Robert William Betson (31-12-34 to 01-10-21)
delivered by Keith Mills (LaA 49-54) on 4th November 2021 at All Saints Church, West Dulwich
Each of us here today will have their own personal memories of Robert, please allow me to call him Bob, and how in different ways he affected our lives.
Perhaps predictably this tribute to Bob is heavily dependent on the joint reflections of friends and of my own which recall his life with us over many years.
Bob in so many ways was a special man, a sort of ‘man for all situations’ – private, wise, dignified, non-judgemental and a loyal friend.
Someone who never bore a grudge or thought ill of another.
He was born in Ironmonger Row Islington, on 31st December 1934 – which curiously meant diaries were obliged to record the date of his birth twice.
Bob attended the local LCC primary school where being seen as ‘well above average’ he took and passed the exam for entry to Christ’s Hospital School, also known as the Bluecoat School and CH.
He started at CH in September 1946, the beginning of an association with the school which commendably he retained by observing its ethos and characteristics in a variety of ways throughout his life – as a testimony, many Old Blues, former pupils of CH are present today.
I was in the same boarding house as Bob, but by being 3 or 4 years his junior, saw him as a big boy, both in stature and seniority – he was after all nick named ‘Beefy Betson’.
Sadly, try as I may I have failed to unearth any tales of indiscretion or even of mild embarrassment which relate to Bob at that time – I’m so sorry!
Leaving school Bob began work with a small company which refined and marketed a unique grade of oil, highly prized in the engineering world.
Work was interrupted when Bob was called to serve (I nearly said to save) his country, for the obligatory 2 years of National Service, which he spent with the 14th/20th King’s Royal Hussars, a tank division of the army.
As to both his military record and any decorations, only further hunting through papers at his home might reveal such details – watch this space.
When the oil company was subsumed into an international mining group, Bob joined a consultancy providing technical hygiene support to the catering industry, he became what today we would call a compliance officer – sent to monitor diverse food outlets, be they Governmental departments, military establishments, hotels or restaurants, to determine if they met the required standards – clearly Bob had to have a keen eye for detail and process.
It was at the Albert Hall when attending a Promenade Concert that Bob first met Betty, or Elizabeth to some of you, they married in Hastings, Betty’s home town, in 1961 and after a succession of flats, in 1979 they settled in Brockwell Park Gardens in a house directly overlooking the park.
Unfortunately for them they did not have children, but in an act of extreme kindness they took Caroline under their wing in loco parentis, as a result of unforeseen circumstances relating to her own parents.
Caroline stayed with them during her holidays when boarding at the CH girls’ school in Hertford and on leaving school in 1979 lived with the Betsons, on and off, for the next 5 years – her rebellious years as Caroline put it.
For certain, Bob and Betty must have been saints to survive the onslaught !
However, it is Caroline with her husband Tom, who is principally responsible for today’s arrangements and should be congratulated by us all for doing so.
Back to Bob’s life – he had a lifelong affinity with Masonry – its meaning and its ideals – so it made perfect sense that his next career move took him to work at the Masonic Grand Lodge.
Bob was initiated into Masonry in 1959 and at a special ceremony would have been awarded a 60 years membership certificate had Covid not intervened.
At Grand Lodge he was the manager of the Registration Department and later promoted as a Charity Executive of the Masonic Samaritan Fund, from which position he retired in 2000.
Restless and always keen to study and extend his interests Bob, to his great credit, being by then in his 70’s, gained a BA degree with first class honours in history with the Open University.
Quite an achievement when most of us at that age would be content to embark on a gentle walk in the country or bravely take exercise armed with only a fishing rod.
Bob maintained his contact with CH by serving as a committee member of its Benevolent Fund where, in keeping with his nature, assistance is given to those in need; also by being a member of the Amicable Society (ask me afterwards what that means) for 29 years and its President in 2011; but I guess his appointment as a school governor was the one he most treasured.
Bob always took a kindly interest in the development of his presentees both during their time at school and afterwards.
On the sports field Bob played rugby over many years for the Old Blues – I always felt he may have sacrificed a possible place in the 1ST Fifteen by selflessly opting to captain one of the lower teams where he did sterling work encouraging and coaching those new to the club and above all introduce them to the social activities – I’ll leave that last point to your imagination.
In other roles in the rugby club, Bob was at one time Team Manager of the firsts, a member of the club’s management committee, a vice-president even its Chairman for a period – not a bad record really.
However in January this year Bob’s whole world was turned upside down by the loss of Betty, his wife for almost 60 years – understandably he suffered massively as a consequence, and steadily retrenched from many of his associations.
I firmly believe Bob and Betty had each lived with a string of medical conditions for some time, details of which they largely kept to themselves, always putting on a brave face when with others.
In his last days, Bob spent 9 weeks in King’s College hospital where he received the best care and attention, latterly this was prescribed on a palliative care basis.
Although becoming increasingly frail and breathless, he remained alert on the occasions Val and I visited, which I trust was also the case when Caroline, a regular visitor, and the many others, such as Angela from number 37, went to see him.
Bob passed away peacefully on the 1st of October, comforted by the presence of your vicar Alan Everett.
Thank you Sir.
Bob and Betty, or to some Robert and Elizabeth, worshipped here at All Saints, and Alan will be following me to capture the impact they both made to parochial life.
To end on a personal note I have a lot to thank Bob for – notably for being the best man at my first wedding, many of you will of course remember Lyn.
In addition, for the many enjoyable times my family spent with the Betsons, and for the numerous kindnesses shown to our children Lisa and David.
I am aware I have not mentioned many, both those present and those no longer with us, who played a significant part in Bob’s life – a fact for which I apologise.
Bob is certainly missed by me and I’m equally sure by many others – he will though be remembered by all as a ‘Good Friend’.