Last Friday I attended the funeral of Bert Rose at St Martin’s Church, Overstrand, near Cromer. Bert was a dear friend, and a key ally of mine when I stood for the Conservatives in North Norfolk. I gave the second eulogy. His good friend Paul Cater took us through his whole life, and you can read his eulogy after mine, but I concentrated on a few personal memories.
I think it was Richard Nixon who said the biggest compliment he could be paid was if the words ‘he made a difference’ were etched onto his gravestone. There are people who enter this world and leave it without making a mark. No one could say that about our dear friend Bert Rose.
He made a difference to all our lives. Everyone here, celebrating his life, will know what a difference he made to theirs. Paul has said more or less everything that could be said about Bert and he captured him brilliantly. I just want to tell you about the Bert John and I knew.
Back in September 2003 North Norfolk Conservatives selected me as their parliamentary candidate for the 2005 general election. They lived to regret it – well, many of them did – but I remember Bert taking me aside before the second round of interviews to wish me luck and give me some good advice.
He introduced me to Sylvia at the Conservative Club and when I won, they immediately invited me to stay at their wonderful house in Roughton, until I found somewhere of my own. I never did find out if he’d consulted Sylvia first. Bert was nothing if not impetuous – make a decision and worry about the consequences later.
So, for three months I’d spend two or three nights a week with them, being totally pampered. When I eventually moved into our cottage in Swanton Abbott, it was a real wrench to leave.
I remember in my first week with them I was getting dressed and sat on the bed to put my socks on – I had reached that age – and the whole bed collapsed underneath me. I sat there for what seemed like an age thinking, how on earth do I tell them I have broken their bed?
So I went downstairs and imparted the bad news. Bert screamed with laughter and Sylvia wasn’t far behind. An awkward moment was turned into one of absolute hilarity and that was Bert all over.
Yes, he was loud, yes he could be brash, but he was one of the kindest people I have ever known. He was also good at reading your mood – leaving you alone if you were in a bad one, but able to coax you out of moments of melancholy.
For someone with strong views, and never nervous about expressing them, Bert was also a great conciliator. If you were having a dispute with someone, he’d always encourage you to see the other person’s point of view. Helen, the conservative party agent, and a close friend of Bert, won’t mind me saying that from time to time she and I would have a spectacular falling out.
Bert never took sides but would always try to make sure we repaired relations as quickly as possible. It’s a rare talent to have.
Bert was a proud man and took delight in the achievement of others close to him. He was especially proud to have been given the Freedom of the City of London in the 1990s. I never did find out if he took advantage of the freedom it gave him to drive a herd of goats over London Bridge. Bert was also very proud of his home in Roughton and especially his garden, which he and Sylvia tended so lovingly.
The Conservative Party meant a lot to Bert. He had the same frustrations as the rest of us, but he loved the local party. He absolutely loved the Conservative Club in Louden Road and did everything in his power to make it a success.
He made so many friends through the party and the club, some of them here today, with some having already joined his great heroine Margaret Thatcher above.
Bert was a good judge of character, but he rarely judged. He was also fiercely protective and fiercely loyal. Often I would get to hear of how Bert had rallied to my defence when someone made a slightly off colour comment about me, or me and my partner John.
When I lost the election and lost it badly, a lot of people who I had thought of as friends, dropped me like a stone. Fair enough, that’s politics I suppose, but Bert and Sylvia remained true, loyal and the best of friends and it was a delight and privilege to attend their wedding in 2007.
Bert was quick to praise but didn’t stint in his critique if he disagreed with you. I wrote a weekly column in the EDP for seven years and Bert would email me after reading either telling me it was the most brilliant column in the history of column writing, or that I had no clue what I was talking about and I should be ashamed of my views. No shades of grey with Bert!
Bert made a difference to everyone he met. He was usually the life and soul of the party, but he also had a quieter reflective side. Sylvia brought out the best in him and his love for her was there for all of us to observe. And her love for him has been there for all of us to see, especially in these last few difficult years as Bert’s health declined.
We will all miss Bert. Our lives were enriched by him. I know I speak for everyone here when I say we will never forget him.
PAUL CATER’S EULOGY
For over 30 years my wife and I have known Bert as a friend, a close family friend, and as “Uncle Bertie” to our children.
Today we are all here as friends of Bert Rose, not only to mourn the loss of Bert, but also to recall and celebrate his life.
Iain Dale and I have been asked to speak about how we remember our friend Bert, and to turn open some of the chapters in his life.
To be asked to give testimony in this way is an important privilege. Bert has had a long life, and now in this very short space of time today we try our best to give what is a final roll call to his life and to some of the things that he has done.
Bert’s life is a large canvas on which I can fill out only a partial and more recent sketch. It covers both the years and the continents – USA, continental Europe and, of course, the UK.
This is painting by numbers, but I only have some of the colours to fill in some of the canvas. Large parts of it remain unknown to me so please forgive omissions or indeed, help us fill them in today yourselves if you are able to.
Bert was born on 20th November 1928 in the USA in Connecticut, although we have always thought of him as a Texan.
Bert’s father was Samuel Rose and we believe he was a rancher.
We know that Bert was not an only child – he had siblings – and, with his wife Anne, whom he married in Texas on the 15 June 1955, he had a family. Anne sadly died many years ago.
He worked for the leading New York construction company Lehrer McGovern, which merged with the UK’s P&O/Bovis in 1988. This brought him to Europe – Poland first of all, then Paris (for EuroDisney) and then London (for Canary Wharf).
At work you can be sure that Bert always made demands on himself to perform and he was always full of stories,
I remember his telling me that when he was in Poland building an abattoir, the ground work plans came in to him unexpectedly, well before the Christmas freeze, so Bert seized the opportunity to push on and get the foundations in before the snow.
When Lehrer McGovern then informed him in the New Year that the ground work plans would shortly be with him, Bert was able to tell them that the programme was ahead of schedule and that that phase of the work had been completed.
So they asked to see the plans.
We don’t know where on earth you got that set of drawing from, but they are for the new Chicago penitentiary. They said: That’s a pity (well, probably something somewhat stronger). We’ll have to redesign.
Bert was always a very much larger than life person, but in dealing with the fairer sex, always the perfect gentleman. He became entranced by Judy Ablewhite when he met her. If she was the English rose, then Bert was certainly the American Rose.
Judy had left British Airways in 1977, where she had worked for a number of years. She then had a spell of trans-Atlantic commuting when she joined, firstly, Hilton Hotels and then Penta Hotels, and it was in New York that she and Bert first met.
They were married in December 1983 in a quiet service in Hampton, attended by Judy’s parents, and Bert came to stay with us before his wedding day.
Some here today will remember their first of all living in a small but pretty house near the Thames in Hampton.
And then a larger house in Weybridge.
Whilst they were living in Weybridge, Bert was injured by taking a bad on-site fall, whilst working on his Canary Wharf construction project. This was a painful back injury and retirement became necessary.
The story now becomes much more local – because, when Judy’s father retired from Lloyds Bank some years earlier, he and his wife moved to a bungalow in Overstrand – so Bert and Judy bought Hill Farm up here in Roughton, to be near Judy’s widowed mother.
Bert, in his earlier life had had his horses, and in later life in the UK his dogs, although I can only recall those here in Norfolk – Tizzie and Pepper and, of course Hamish, the West Highland terrier.
And between times, Bert continued to be an avid reader and kept a good cellar of wines, which he had brought up to Norfolk with him.
However, those of you who may have sampled his home-brewed Rumtoff will recall this as a memorable experience,
Following a family visit we made to Hill Farm, I and my American son-in-law can attest that an evening of Bert’s Rumtoff hospitality after dinner was both a demanding and long-lasting trial of the human body, although we now believe that all supplies, and indeed the distilling and fermentation recipe for this pungent inebriant, are fortunately lost to mankind.
We know those very familiar lines Ecclesiastes:
“To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted ……
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent, and a time to speak…….”
Bert in his long life has done all those things, across the globe, except the last…. I have never known him keep silent. Forthright and wholly outspoken in his views – red-carded on a number of occasions for his “Bertrocities”, – his email address you may recall was: BertRose@bertrocity.com – but always warm, welcoming and very genuine and, Bertrocities aside, as I have already said, always the perfect host and gentleman.
Here in Norfolk, Bert, now a British citizen, was active in local politics, Roughton Village Hall and Roughton Village Council, DIY and, of course, an extensive amount of time in the large garden at Hill Farm. Judy died here in 2002.
This garden and the house eventually became rather too much of a demanding task every day of the week, so relocation was called for and this was to the Overstand bungalow, with a much more manageable garden but still plenty of opportunity for DIY within.
From the bungalow, Bert was a regular visitor to Judy’s mother who was by then resident in a care home. Although she also had dementia, she was always happy to see Bert.
Bert kept his long-established friendships in the USA. He liked his trips to Texas and particularly to San Antonio where the late Stan Coughran and his wife Nancy lived.
He kept contact with our daughter Sophie, who was in the USA, and took his god-daughters, Nickie and Camilla, over there with him to see what Texas was really like, and to stay with Nancy and Stan, and to visit Florida.
Bert was so fortunate as to meet Sylvia in Overstrand in 2004. He asked her to dinner – again, you could say politics – because the venue for their first meeting was the Overstand Conservative Club, and Bert used to be there at the end of an evening for his coffee and rum.
They celebrated their growing and loving relationship when they married here in this church on the 20 April 2007.
Bert and Sylvia came to the wedding of our son Jonathan a couple of years later in August 2009, and Bert made a very nice speech to the assembled guests.
This was before the onset of his dementia was starting to become apparent. He was looking very well. We have a lovely photo of Bert and Sylvia taken there. The wedding reception was in the open air – you all know Bert – no problem for anyone at the various tables hearing what he had to say.
His address was sincere and heartfelt. That was Bert’s style and it is what we all loved about him. It reminded us that he was always very kind and supportive of all the young he knew, particularly those who were starting to make their way in life. He was a person with a very big heart.
Bertie and Sylvia looked after each other, and certainly Sylvia has latterly looked after Bert with undivided attention – with help from friends and Sylvia’s daughter Tina, who also has some words for us in this service – both at home and then when Bert had to be away in care.
In his latter years, Bert was burdened with increasing dementia. He had intermittent flashes of recognition and coherence – and his often sudden and completely unexpected responses could on occasion be quite amusing – and they were in their way reassuring, because they showed that he was making past connections with times past – but sadly these faded as the dementia so tragically overtook him in his last years.
These have been five and a half very difficult years, and I think we have all appreciated and been grateful for the constant and loving care that Sylvia has given to Bert, with long and frequent day trips to Norwich to the Julian Hospital for a year and a half, where Bert was resident in the excellent new Dementia Intensive Care Unit which opened in 2011. After that there were daily visits to him over 4 years in North Walsham where he was in the very good care of the staff at Halvergate Nursing Home.
For Bert, a very full and packed life of some 89 years.
He was a very special and irreplaceable friend, whom we have had great pleasure knowing over the years, and from whom we have all in certain ways, I am sure, learned something, and whom we shall remember with lasting affection.