Text of tribute by George Beckett, chairman of Compton and Shawford Parish Council, at the funeral of Ray Wilmshurst. An abbreviated version of this tribute appeared in the October 2003 issue of the Parish Magazine, and an edited version was printed in the Hampshire Chronicle on 10 October 2003.
Many of us know that Ray had an unequalled and quite astonishing record of service to our community. But such was his modesty that it was often the case that those who knew and dealt with Ray in one area of his voluntary work were completely unaware of his other contributions.
To recap on his remarkable and many achievements we must first go back to 1947 when Ray was 16. He had played cricket on the then new Memorial Playing Fields. I’m told that Ray never scored many runs, but was an excellent wicket-keeper, perhaps an early sign of his being a “safe pair of hands”. Anyway, age 16 Ray became secretary of the Compton Cricket Club, and remained an officer of the Sports Club for the rest of his life. In 1960 he became combined Sports Club Treasurer, then Secretary and eventually Chairman, becoming President for the last 10 or so years. In all, Ray held office in Compton and Shawford Sports Club for an incredible 57 years.
In 1963, aged 32, Ray was elected to Compton Parish Council and began his 38 years of service as a councillor, surviving nine elections. Ray took his duties very seriously; family holidays and other commitments were planned around Parish business. During these 38 years Ray did not miss a Parish Council meeting. Ray was elected Chairman of the council in 1977 and remained chairman for a full 10 years. This length of service as been exceeded by only one other person since the council was established in 1894. It’s interesting to note, following our village Golden Jubilee celebrations last summer, that the chairman of the Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977 was Ray Wilmshurst.
Although never averse to new ideas, Ray had a great sense of history, insofar as the past showing us why things are as they are today. I well remember, when a proposal to rename “Compton Parish Council” as “Compton and Shawford Parish Council” was discussed, Ray strongly objected, pointing out that whereas the Parish of Compton was as old as the Domesday Book, the main settlement at Shawford was a modern upstart not yet 200 years old! He also argued against the creation of Badger Farm Parish Council out of part of Compton, regretting the boundary change being made after so many years of establishment. In the Council, Ray always accepted the majority view, as in these cases, without further argument.
You see, Ray was a stickler for procedure, correct and established procedure. He knew the rules of conduct and debate back to front, and considered them most important as a way of disagreeing on an issue whilst still living in the community. I’m probably not the only subsequent Parish Chairman to have received a letter, in that familiar characteristic flowing handwriting, pointing out a procedural failure that may have led to trouble.
It was during Ray’s decade as chairman that the great M3 debate began, with the first proposal to build the motorway through the St. Cross water meadows. Ray formed the alliances with individuals and bodies that lasted throughout the subsequent years of campaigning.
All Ray’s voluntary work took up much of his free time, but he saw it as no sacrifice. He actually enjoyed it, he found it challenging.
Sometimes, it seemed the more difficult the issue the more Ray enjoyed it. I remember at times being despondent about some tiresome or irritating local issue and being much relieved by Ray’s positive and “can-do” approach.
Traditionally, the Parish Council chairman also became the Parish Representative on the governing body of Compton All Saints’ School. Ray took this up with his customary enthusiasm and thoroughness. Maybe his keenness on this particular job had to do with his having been a pupil at the school some 35 years earlier. As far as I can find out, Ray was the only governor who could boast this connection. Such was Ray’s commitment to the school that all five subsequent chairmen had asked Ray to continue as the council’s representative. His expertise in building industry costings was a huge help in the school’s recent comprehensive re-building programme. Ray was rightly proud of the splendid outcome of this significant project. In 2002 he was recognised for his work as a school governor when he received a long-service award from the Education Authority.
It is true to say that Shawford and Compton Horticultural Society would not exist but for Ray Wilmshurst. In 1980 he single-handedly worked up enthusiasm amongst a number of residents. The club was formed and with Ray as Chairman went quickly from strength to strength. The society has become a cornerstone of social life in the community as well as a centre of learning on gardening matters. Ray himself performed many of the demonstrations horticultural techniques, he gave seasonal gardening tips, his ‘jobs for the month’, and he cajoled and encouraged others to greater efforts in their horticultural endeavours. The annual horticultural society show became a highlight of Ray’s year and a noted event on our Parish calendar.
I was delighted when Ray agreed to join the nursery firm for the five years up to his retirement. We were pleased to have his horticultural knowledge, reliability and hard work. But when employing Ray, that is not all you got, but a whole torrent of new ideas, suggestions, a fresh look at many aspects of the business and a canny insight into what the customers wanted. His whole-hearted commitment made him a joy to work with and he was much missed on his retirement in 1995.
Ray remained a School Governor, an officer of the Sports Club and the Horticultural Society to the end. In all his long years of service he had been supported to the hilt by Min, who to a great degree planned their whole life around his many commitments.
Having clocked up 38 years’ service, Ray resigned from the Parish Council in Spring 2001. His campaigning, however, did not end there. Every time we met it was “Have you got the money for the pavilion yet?” or “Have you let the building contract?” or “When is it starting?”
So it was with huge pleasure that we watched Ray cut the first turf for the new pavilion earlier this year, accompanied by that spectacular flash storm and the beautiful rainbow you can see pictured on the back of today’s order of service.
By Christmas the pavilion will be complete and in use by another generation of villagers and sportsmen. A fitting tribute to the remarkable lifetime of outstanding and selfless service to our small community that we celebrate today.
Some of us also mourn a steadfast friend.