The Rt. Hon. Peter Brooke CH MP
Memorial service address
St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, London
April 18th 2001
courtesy of The Rt. Hon. Peter Brooke CH MP
It is a great honour, from one who only knew Walter in the last lustre of his life, to have been asked by the family to participate in this service in his memory. The style of contribution, part solemn encomium, part after-dinner speech, is particularly and personally suited to Walter, as the subject of this service. While there are of course life-enhancers and life-enhancers, Walter was the life-enhancer of all life-enhancers, and the church, which has seen the baptism, at opposite ends of the spectrum, of Pitt the Elder, and of William Blake, and the funerals of the brother and partner of Dr Johnson’s publisher, of the Vanderbilts, father and son, the Dutch marine artists, of Christie, the auctioneer, Gillray, the caricaturist, and the White of White’s Club, has exactly the protean quality to suit Walter’s multifaceted genius.
Some believe life is best when it fulfils expectations, as in Claude Cockburn’s remark that, if ever caught in an avalanche, the mere sight of a St. Bernard would revive him, regardless of what it had round its neck. Otherwise, others, and I suspect Walter among them, prefer life to be full of surprises. Yet, happily, he bridged both schools, so I’m sure he would have been central casting’s first choice to be the denizen of a house called Battlecrease Hall.
One of the pleasures of his obituaries was to learn so much about him that one did not previously know. It is the highest of compliments, now that addenda to an obituary have to qualify for the Letters page of the Times, that two such letters qualified about Walter, including Liz Forgan’s about the Churches Conservation Trust, among whose glories, in my own case, was the opportunity to meet Walter as a fellow trustee. But it came as no surprise, in the account of Walter’s life at the Ford Motor Company, to learn that it was a leap of the imagination in the context of performance cars, lateral thinking of the highest quality, which was at the heart of his early success.
I cannot remember if Bligh or the Bounty got a look-in in the Times. My most single vivid memory of Walter at the Churches Conservation Trust was bats in the belfry, a cause which he made his own, but characteristically, 180 degrees opposite to the spirit of the age, but he felt it quite wrong that bats, in a spasm of political correctness, should be so allowed to dominate the annual calendar that the conservators of buildings were only permitted a look-in when the conservationists of bats had been allowed their say.
He was the most genial of colleagues, yet ever-attentive to detail in particular, and the progress of business in general. I never sat under him, but I’m envious of those who did. I can still remember the pleasure of receiving, as a Christmas card, John Julius Norwich’s particular ‘Christmas Cracker’ for the year we first met, and he was an assiduous traveller, the length and breadth of the realm, to places where problems needed solving or where friends were being celebrated or honoured or even consecrated. I acknowledge the facility of these journeys was assisted by access to pedigree vehicles worthy of the pages of Scott Fitzgerald or Dornford Yates, but I shall never again read the latter’s sentence, “The great car leapt to the hill like the thoroughbred she was”, without thinking of Walter.
It was a happy chance, but perhaps not so much of a chance, given Walter’s affection for Dr Johnson, that the Trust came to lunch at the Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street after mornings of three-and-a-half hours of deliberation. Fleet Street, the Trust’s first independent home, being also Walter’s first launching pad.
Of course, his principal monument at the Trust will be his transformation of the Trust’s annual report into the model it has now become, and it will be to his memory that the next generation will devote their efforts to maintain the great bridgehead of standards he espoused. His greatest contribution in the annual report, even beyond its spectacular aesthetics, was to make a living mission out of a cause which sustains churches whose original regular use has been regarded, for extraneous reasons, as surplus to requirements.
I have one other small link with Walter, in that I was a fellow member with him of Brooks’s in St James’s, and if the baptism of Pitt the Elder, and William Blake, in the Grinling Gibbons font is the epitome of this church, then the charity of Pitt the Younger, accepting Charles James Fox’s nomination to membership of Brooks’s, when the latter was orchestrating the entire opposition to Pitt’s conduct of the war against France from within Brooks’s, is the epitome of that highly heterogeneous club. Walter, in particular, would have approved of Elgar’s habit, that whenever he arrived at Brooks’s, he always rang up his home in Worcestershire for the pleasure of hearing his dog bark.
For myself, my one regret is that I never really talked cricket with Walter, to find out what in the game stirred him, as it has always stirred me, but if it is true, as I believe it to be, that the greatest epitaph a man or woman can possess is to be remembered with admiration, affection and vividness in the minds and hearts of those who knew him, then assuredly that epitaph belongs to Walter Hayes.