1935 - 2021
I have been asked more than once in the past 2 weeks, “Who is going to replace Ray?” The answer of course is ……… No one can.
Ray joined us from another age, becoming a part of what was for most of its existence known as the English National Pilgrimage for the Sick. First in 1968 as a Brancardier, and for the past third of a century as our Office Manager proposed originally by Lady Helen Asquith, granddaughter of a Prime Minister who in reality lead the Society.
I have sometimes felt that Ray felt obligated to the memory of Lady Helen – and certain things would always be done the way she did them; this included his affection and care for the banner.
I brought the banner here today ……. rolled up. Ray would be appalled!
Ray had great love for Our Lady which he expressed in his devotion to the Society of Our Lady of Lourdes. He notably visited not just Lourdes but Walsingham and a shrine in Belgium. It seems that only in the last fifteen years did he stop cycling the 300 miles to Belgium because he didn’t think his bike was up to the trip.
Ray’s was the voice of the Society who explained and reassured the many who sought to join us. Tacitly we knew that Ray ran his own Social Services operation, stories of some of those he was kind to are now emerging such as the lady who occasionally popped by for her bus fare, a friendship and support for someone living long term in an airport hotel, and the home he provided for a man estranged from his family.
Ray helped so many we will never learn of. Sadly, he never helped himself and simply refused ever to go near a doctor.
Sometimes as the immovable date for the departure of the pilgrimage approached with much still to be done it was hard to encourage him to focus on what was becoming critical.
I once proposed that he only answered the phone between 11 and 2pm leaving messages otherwise to go to voicemail.
He assured me he would do so – but knew he wouldn’t …….. and deep down, so did I!
Ray’s words: “I’ll just start a new list” …… were always ominous! Yet for all that Ray overlooked, there was so much more that he saw ~ and we didn’t. He booked venues, sent out reminders of the Christian year and sought prayers for those of our number who needed them.
It was as he said, his life.
Archbishop Kevin McDonald who leads our pilgrimage, and who is saying a Mass for Ray commented that,
“I found him gentlemanly and kindly. I am also sure that he was a deeply spiritual man and that that fuelled his commitment to SOLL. There was certainly a single mindedness about him. May he rest in peace”
1952 - 2009
The one and only Smeats
Smeats died this summer and left a gap that will never be filled. I was with him and his sister the day he was first told the words he had dreaded, but which he knew in his heart would be said.
It is hard to capture the essence of this man in a few paragraphs and I hope to do him justice. I met Smeats in 1979 in
Smeats was someone you couldn’t dislike. He was approachable, warm, very generous and delighted in playing about and having a laugh. In the early days we would go to
When Smeats discovered how ill he was he wanted to be quick off the blocks, saw recovery as inevitable and was hopeful. This hope was to be dashed over the few weeks ahead and, as we know, his time with us was limited. We talked lots over those weeks, got angry about his fate, laughed and reflected on a life well spent and moments which are to painful to put in words. Smeats’ funeral Mass was on 3 September and the
Smeats, old boy, you will remain always in our hearts; to know you was to love you, and I knew you very well.