The Funeral Mass of Brian Armstrong (26 April 1944 - 26 January 2018) took place today at Farm Street Church, Mayfair, London. These were among the tributes read during the service.
How to describe Brian? A Baptist Catholic or Catholic Baptist, maybe just Fully Christian? The Spirit moves in wondrous ways, so that even today that Baptist element is here in his funeral celebration. It might come as a surprise that this richly-broad Yorkshire accent uttered its first baby-scream, not in Keighley or wider Bradford, where Brian was brought up, but in southern, suburban Sutton, Surrey, 73 years ago.
He seems to have had poor relationships with his father and step-father and his mother, Kathleen Oliver, struggled in a difficult environment to care for him, so that he was brought up by his grandmother to whom he was devoted and who instilled in him his early Baptist faith.
That Baptist immersion continued well into adult years and he is remembered as a faithful steward of the days when the Baptist Assembly was always held in Westminster Chapel, still far from the most LGBT-friendly place of worship. What some perceived as a rather 'camp' demeanour, was not appreciated by others and possibly put a strain on his strong Baptist roots! Brian's grandmother excelled in cooking and so that DNA must have been the ground for Brian's own baking skills, which we've all appreciated.
Like so many 'wounded healers', it seems clear that Brian's commitment to care for others and empathy was rooted in his own earlier vulnerabilities and rejections. This sometimes led him into situations where he found himself used, if not abused by others who took advantage of his deep and generous concern for the other.
Along with many gay men of his generation, when sexual difference was often seen as a criminal matter, he felt disowned by his family and came to London in his late teens, following the early cancer-death of his mother. He initially worked for a while as a mental-health care-worker, eventually moving to work for the John Lewis Partnership from 1978 until 2007, as a warehouse supervisor when he retired. Here he would also volunteer for staff coffee-mornings, clearly sowing the seeds for his eventual taking responsibility for our LGBT Catholics refreshment needs.
His faith was nourished by early involvement in the Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement, its 3F Group, and the Metropolitan Community Church North London. He also attended St. Botolph's Aldgate as well as Bloomsbury Baptist Church where he is remembered with great affection. He also gained strong spiritual encouragement from weekends and retreats at Mount St. Bernard's Cistercian Abbey in Leicestershire. Humanly speaking, he found longed-for fulfilment in his relationship with Philip, having this blessed some years ago.
Brian started attending Masses for LGBT Catholics when St. Anne's Anglican Church, Soho offered us hospitality and then at the Church of the Assumption, Warwick Street, from 2003-2007. It was during this time that he was elected to the LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council and so began his cake-baking ministry for after-Mass refreshments, as well as organising welcomers and offertory collectors, following our transition to Farm Street Jesuit Church. He also relished the opportunity to read at Mass - those strong Yorkshire sounds echoing through the Church, sometimes with some hilarious mispronunciations of biblical names and places. When the latter was mentioned he always took it with great humour - did he do it mischievously, I wonder!
As Fr Andrew, Farm Street's Parish Priest, noted: He had a mind with an "open door" - making peace with the move from Warwick Street and consciously determined to make it a success. Over the last number of months many of us became aware that his long-standing diabetes was becoming chaotic, but his New Year's illness came as a real shock.
He is sorely missed by so many people across just as many various communities: his own neighbourhood in Plumstead, the City of Westminster LGBT Community Forum, the LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council and members of our communities, as well as others in the Farm Street congregation. Many prayers and Masses have been offered from around the country for the repose of this loving soul, and these include prayerful support for his dear partner, Philip. May Brian now rest in peace and rise in glory.
LGBT+ Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council
Brian Armstrong - The Mildmay Advocate
Brian came to Mildmay as a volunteer placement from John Lewis more than twenty years ago and has been a part of the Mildmay family ever since. A steady and reliable presence, Brian's voluntary support was mainly focused on fundraising but he also provided a helping hand for our chaplaincy team. In 2016, Mildmay acknowledged Brian's contribution to our work with a long standing volunteer award, which was presented by The Lord Mayor of London.
For the current fundraising team Brian was our friend and our support, always ready to tell others about Mildmay's work and mission. Mildmay was his home-from-home, he brought us homemade cakes, chocolate and marmalade, shared his stories and supported our work. He was a proud and truly kind man, with a generous heart and a strong sense of faith. Brian had a sparkle in his eyes and a very warm smile, one we will really truly miss.
Through Mildmay Brian rubbed shoulders with dignitaries, VIP's and celebrities including of course HRH Prince Harry! He also met The Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Vincent Nichols and at our carol concert stars such as Linda Robson, Anita Dobson, Marc Almond, Kim Wilde, Patti Boulaye and Stephanie Beacham to name just a very few!
Brian was there to support all our major fundraising events whether it be by making a Yorkshire brew, shaking the collecting bucket, manning our stand at Pride or inspiring support for Mildmay on World AIDS Day-he also always wore the best Christmas jumpers! Brian knew so many people that would often come to our pride stall to say hi and support Mildmay in the process.
Brian had lost many of his own friends to HIV and never faltered in his support for the charity that he knew had brought healing, help and comfort to so many.
It is impossible to express in these few words how much Mildmay meant to Brian, or how much he in turn meant to all of us. We simply cannot imagine Mildmay without him- he will be deeply missed and remembered fondly. Brian we will so miss your friendship and kindness to us all. Sleep tight our dear Brian and thank you for all the love and goodness you gave in this world.
Director of Fundraising, Marketing and Communications, Mildmay Hospital