A beautiful service was held at St. John the Baptist Church yesterday afternoon for Bob Wills who died last month.
A violin and double bass played by Bridget Pearse and Katie Chantler welcomed people as they arrived at the church, creating an ambient atmosphere.
Tributes to Bob were first made by his family and began with his granddaughter, Jess:
“Describing Grandad’s life is pretty daunting, especially in front of an audience. Luckily Grandma has helped, so I’d like to read her account of the first time they met…”
Vic Cook mentioned a name I did not know, “Bob Wills”.
“Who’s Bob Wills?” I asked.
“Don’t you know him? He’s unique,” said Vic.
Ten minutes later, Bob Wills came up the stairs and we were introduced. I looked with curiosity at this “unique” person, my future husband.
Bob was a little taller than myself. He had thick, straight, floppy black hair, and dark blue eyes with unusually long, curling black eyelashes. He was muscular and deep-chested in build, very masculine.
Covering this “hunk” of a man was a very odd garment. He was wearing a bulky, belted brown overcoat, with a pattern of large purple squares outlined on the fabric. Later he told me, with pride, that he bought it in a sale at a very good price. To my fashion-conscious self this coat made Bob “unique” indeed.
His great gift was and remains an immense practicality: he understands how things work, and can make or mend anything from an engine, to a fine china cup. He leans not to the academic but to the creative and practical. Added to this is a great persistence in seeing a project through. Where others might abandon a task, or tire of it, he will finish it, however long it takes.
Also he is blessed with fine physical health and enduring stamina; and he was a good swimmer and footballer, and rode a motor-bike. He played the piano “by ear”, truly a man of many talents.
At seventeen, however, I have to own that I did not recognise, or analyse, these attributes. I did not know what a fine father and grandfather I was selecting for my children. I did not have enough experience of life to understand the true value of these qualities. It was simpler than that. Some instinct in me sensed the calibre of the man; he was right for me and we were meant to be together.“
Bob’s daughter Kate followed and spoke the following:
A message for all the Chrysalis members – Bob sends his apologies that he won’t be here this afternoon, he accepted another invitation
Dad was born in 1930 to Rita and Frank and sister Jacqueline. From our own experiences of our grandparents and great grandparents it was a loving family, and he grew up close to his cousins, it was always Terry, Bobby, and Barry. Dad did well at school, but he was also mischievous and told (often) of how he climbed on the roof of the school to get to the water tank. That day all the water in the school ran blue… he assured us the dye was harmless.
Graduating from London U in 1953 his first job was at Harwell Atomic research, near Oxford where mum, by that time his fiancée, was studying, but he was there less than two years before he was offered a job in Trinidad. With Chris still in her last year of her degree they had to make some fast decisions. In less than a month a wedding was organised, on a very damp day in November, just a few days before Bob flew off to Trinidad to start his new job – as a physicist, in the research labs at Trinidad oil company.
Trinidad was a fun time for the newly-weds, and they spent three years there. To their delight Nicola was born in March 1957, then in November that year they went back to the UK for home leave and with a second child on the way, they decided to stay. I was born in 1958, and two years later Robert completed our family.
Dad worked at Elliot Brothers as a Chief Engineer developing analysis instruments, before moving on to Tecnicon, where he became an expert on their Auto Analyser, which tested blood samples and was used in large hospitals and labs around the world. He travelled a good deal to the States, Europe, Moscow and Hong Kong to deal with technical issues and train others. He learnt to programme as they incorporated computers into their work. Dad’s career culminated in starting his own company in 1985, Wessex Instrumentation, with a colleague Don. They successfully developed a smaller version of the autoanalyzer, the Compact Ten, that could be affordable to smaller hospitals and labs, and eventually sold the company in 1992. He stayed on working as a consultant, and as an engineer for a company in Winchester.
Although a talented engineer with a lot of common-sense Dad had his moments. He could be absent minded. Jim (colleague) tells us Dad once flew to Madrid and wondered why he wasn’t met at the airport. It seems he should have gone to Milan. Close…ish. And once he packed his passport and then checked his bag in. It flew to London without him.
Family life with young children had its challenges, and at one point they were 40 minutes from shops with two babies, no car, a long bus strike, no washing machine and no fridge, and Dad had to spend a lot of time commuting. But as Dad said, we were a close family, and happy. My parents big treat was a small bottle of cider at weekends.
Dad worked hard at work and hard at home. He spent weekends under cars, painting, building fireplaces and shelves, gardening… eventually when we moved to Jonathan’s Thatch transforming it to a beautiful family home.
Still he was a fun Dad. He brought us sweets on Friday night, and would romp and play with us. We loved our donkey rides to bed (on his back as he crawled up the stairs) and the tree house and swing he built. He loved games – Christmas charades were hilarious with Dad and Uncle Frank. He played the piano, told limericks and sang daft songs.
As a grandad too he was fun – in his 80s he would disappear into the bushes playing hide and seek and Ethan and Jack loved it when Grandad joined them bodyboarding in the Cornish surf.
Caring, generous and kind he gave us all his time and nurtured our talents. I have been lucky enough to inherit his logical brain and he taught me that if you look and think about things you can usually work out how they work, and then you know how to fix them. He once fixed my car with a squashed coke can which kept it going for months, to the surprise of the garage mechanics.
He was more than my Dad, he was my friend. We learned to ski together, shared a love of science fiction, discussed maths, physics (him far more competent than me) and puzzles and parallel universes. He never ceased to amaze me with the way he thought about the universe, its problems and wonders to the last.
Mum used to call him a saint – mostly. Dad told us firmly that he didn’t like eulogies that make people sound all saintlike, so we have compiled a list of some of his less saintlike qualities.”
Kate then handed over to her brother Rob:
One family dinnertime Dad was so exasperated with us bickering as children that he erupted, flinging the bowl of cabbage he was holding in the air. Some stuck determinedly to the ceiling. It was effective at the time, we were all rather quiet, but after our initial shock the ceiling cabbage became a family joke.
He could never believe in his own absent-mindedness. Burnt toast was a regular feature in our house, and somehow he was always surprised when he did it again.
Sometimes he and Mum were practical to a fault, wanting us to leave before the finale of a concert to avoid the crowds, because everyone else would leave… when it ended.
He always thought when dinner was on the table and everyone else was seated was the perfect time for him to do the washing up.
He was very bad at keeping track of time, and it wasn’t unusual for him to be an hour late for dinner from a trip to the shed, or surprise us all with an impromptu keyboard performance at 1am.
In fact he was just very bad at being on time… I see he hasn’t arrived yet.
His determination could stray into frustrating stubbornness.
He wasn’t good at getting rid of anything. He followed us to the dump after a clear-out and started taking things out of the boot because that particular broken plastic tub might come in useful one day.
He liked to be useful, but he would rush things, and it would end in disaster – there’s a reason he learned to glue china back together. He mowed the cable of an electric mower the first time he used it, and grumpily declared anyone would have done the same (Kate had used it for months without issue)… of course he immediately fixed it.
We’ll miss his occasional disasters, his stubbornness and his unique timekeeping just as much as his other qualities.
As you have heard, my father was a well-accomplished and hugely practical man who could turn his hand to almost anything. His mind was forever creative and problem solving, and he always had a project. His 80th birthday treat to himself was to build a porch. For his 91st he built a summerhouse. But what has been so striking about the conversations, messages and letters since Dad became ill, is the frequency with which people talk of his kindness, warmth, gentle nature, and willingness to help.
They had a knack not just for finding good friends, but for keeping them too. Everywhere they went they collected good people, built strong friendships, and stayed in touch. His Christmas card list was extensive, and a lot of you have managed to be here.
At Elliotts he met Coppy Laws who became, with his wife and family, a close and lifelong friend. It was through Coppy that Dad and Mum were introduced to The Institute for Cultural Research and Idris Shah, something that played a major role in their lives. As children we found it odd but interesting that they were suddenly spending time dressing puppets, though we later understood their use. Dad contributed a great deal to ICR over the years, and did a lot of practical work at the Langton headquarters. The friends they made there lasted, and greatly enriched their lives.
They came to Broadwindsor in 1998, unsure if it was to be a long term move, but quickly grew to love the village and their new friends. Dad eventually retired from work, but not from being busy, and it was delightful to see them enjoying life together in the amazing community they found here.
His concern for others endured to the very end. In his final weeks in the hospice he was still worrying about where his visitors could go for refreshment when they left – giving carefully considered suggestions and detailed directions for getting there. In the days before he died, with others forever in his thoughts, he asked us to say goodbye to all his lovely family and friends. People felt that to be his friend was a privilege, and I find this both comforting and inspiring.
I think a quote I read recently captures this: “the quality of your life ultimately depends on the quality of your relationships. Not on your achievements, not on how smart you are, not on how rich you are. But on the quality of your relationships, which are basically a reflection of your sense of decency, your ability to think of others, your generosity”. This is how my dad will be remembered – as a gentle man and a gentleman.”
The final tribute came from Bob’s close friend, John Staff:
“Bob didn’t care for flattery so he’d not like what I’m about to say.
Theodore Robert Wills or just Bob. He told me he was Bobby at primary school and when I asked why he was called Bob he said he was getting ribbed at the higher school so changed it from Bobby to Bob. He said his mother always called him Bobby and didn’t remember how it came about but never Theo or Theodore.
Bob was the most generous man I know, generous with his time, his kindness and his hospitality and you couldn’t wish for a better friend as I’m sure many of you can testify. We along with other friends have spent many hours in his company making wonderful memory’s. Eating cheese on toast in the early hours after being kicked out of the pub. His wonderful company at dinner parties. He once walked off in his host’s shoes, not remembering where he’d taken his off. He did say they were a little tight and looked cleaner. They belonged to Charles Lawrence.
His hospitality knew no bounds, for a few years while at Island house he would host a BBQ for our Bowls Group but everyone he met once the date had been decided would be invited, so often half the village turned up. His involvement with Bowls Club is legendary, often throwing himself further down the mat than his wood. On the clubs numerous trips to London it was he who organised the hotel accommodation and all of us would fight to stop him trying to paying the bill. His last Bar-B-Q was at West View last year were we played bowls in his back garden in the rain and because it was much smaller than Island House he organised two events to make sure he could entertain all his friends.
Bob’s involvement with Comrades Hall was a passion of his. He was on the management committee for years and some time Chair. He was the go to man for the sound system. He was responsible for installing the hearing loop for the deaf and setting up of all the existing speakers. He was also pivotal in the setting up of the film club. Bob’s enthusiasm is legendary he would spend hours at the hall sorting out problems and if any one needed help he’d be there. He wouldn’t let any problem stump him always coming up with ingenious solutions. The school often called on him to help with the sound for their Christmas Play.
Bob always had to have a project. He was always making something or other, building or repairing something.
I found him one day tottering on top a of a ladder in his kitchen. He was problem solving. He kept bumping his head on the wall cupboard doors so decided a roller blind instead of doors was the answer. That’s it, he’s finally gone completely bonkers. I decided to humour him and helped cut the hole in the side to allow the chain to rise and lower the blind.——- To my astonishment It worked,— perfectly, and is still working, and solved the problem. Kate was hoping he might have chosen a new blind and not the scruffy one he’d found in the garage. That was Bob. If you have seen his shed in the front garden all made of recycle doors and windows from the house not to forget the old pallets left over from the garden renovation. It’s a master class in recycling. He once turned up at a Chrysalis meeting toting a strange box with wires dangling, another solution to a problem. He’d made a contraption that sat on the table and would allow him the to hear all the conversations. He said the acoustics were terrible in the room we held the meeting. Eventually he got hearing aids. But had to try his own device first.
Bob was also a founder member of the Chrysalis investment club named after his wife Christine whose idea it was. Over the past couple of years, we have had to resort to Zoom for our meetings. Now! Bob was the cleverest man I have known but when it came to mobiles or tablets not so much. In the dozen or so times we have used Zoom, Bob has only appeared once and it was such as a shock I took a screen shot, all other times we had a disembodied voice but he always moaned he couldn’t hear us but would never put his hearing aid in. A club without his presence will be a sadly diminished but he will always be remembered. If for nothing else, then. Hydrogen! Another story.
He only decided a month ago to retire from the club stating it will make things less complicated for the family. That was Bob, kind and thoughtful. He never forgot your birthday and if you helped him in any way a small gift in the way of a plant, bottle of wine or sweets would mysteriously turn up on your doorstep.
There are dozens of stories left to tell and I’m sure most of you who knew Bob have a favourite.
I saw Bob two day before he died and he thanked Rob his son and myself for arranging the wonderful images he was seeing and asked me if everyone got this. I told him that only special people got it.
If you’re up there Bob, You where special.
I’m going to miss you so much.”
Those gathered, applauded.
Afterwards at the Comrades Hall, friends and family gathered and enjoyed delicious catering by Linda Paget from the Stableyard Restaurant. Stories were shared and a collection of photographs of Bob and memorabilia which included an item that Bob was responsible for creating…
For those wishing to make a donation in Bob’s memory, please visit the Weldmar Hospice HERE.
Farewell Bob & Thank you
Theodore Robert Wills, “Bob”
26.08.1930 – 13.04.2022