Tributes to Tony Pearce

Van Gogh Sunflowers

Van Gogh Sunflowers

The Requiem Mass of Tony Pearce took place at Worth Abbey on Wednesday. Tony was a volunteer for CAFOD for more than 25 years.

His cousin, Patricia Mullin wrote the following eulogy which was read by Deborah Woodman:

Tony was born in 1933 in Rochford, Essex. At the outbreak of war his mother Eileen, with three children all under the age of 7, set off and were billeted in nine homes arriving a year later in Ilfracombe, North Devon; where in 1941, Tony was confirmed by the local Bishop.

One wonders if this frequent moving fuelled Tony's desire to travel, because as a young man he went on to travel to Africa, India, the Amazon jungle and Peru. Back home, his passion for hill walking and his fondness for the Sussex countryside, Scotland and the Lake District inspired many of his remarkable paintings. His love of literature and poetry is also closely related to his love of the countryside.

From 1952-54 Tony undertook national service in the Royal Navy as a Coder. For two decades he taught English in various prep schools, where he was popular with both staff and pupils. He played first class rugby in the 50's 60's and 70's, for London Irish and was a member of the legendary 1959/60 team. He also captained Sussex County for several seasons. His time working as a volunteer for CAFOD was purposeful, stable and one of the happiest of his life; he was blessed with many warm and enduring friendships from that time.

I first met Tony at my christening, there being 22 years between us, for a long time Tony didn't feature in my life and I didn't feature in his. The Foley side of the family was/is large and we mainly met at funerals. On discovering we were both artists we met regularly in London's art galleries and museums. When the children came along Tony was soon standing on the touch line as Kupa played rugby or judging the inter-family sandcastle competition on Wells beach. He always arrived with a tube of smarties and a trick, usually involving magically detaching his thumb or making coins vanish and reappear.

He loved exploring mediaeval Norwich, wandering the lanes and he always visited the Cathedral; 'The one they nicked,' he would say. Occasionally we exhibited together, he was largely self-taught and, perhaps as a consequence, dismissive of his talent; saying of his watercolours '…actually I just cracked a technique.' That is one difficult technique to crack!

Later, when Amiria moved to London he took her on a tour of his favourite paintings in the National Gallery, simultaneously introducing her to Uccello's Saint George and the Dragon and the poetry of UA Fanthorpe, with a rendition of 'Not my Best Side'.

Tony was an early adopter of the text message. Meeting him in the British Library, where at the time the Magna Carter was on display, I sent a text from the cafe, 'I'm just feet away from the Magna Carter…' I messaged, '…lowering the tone by flicking through a lifestyle magazine.' Quick as flash he came back with, 'I'm through the doors and lowering it further by wearing a West Ham shirt!'

When I think about Tony's life I also remember the many complex facets that make each of us unique and human. As with all gems, hold them up to the light and the fissures are revealed, for Tony this was his long struggle with melancholy and anxiety; yet it is all of these facets that make up our, witty, talented and much-loved Tony.

Now this would have amused Tony; not only did he depart this mortal world on the vernal equinox, the beginning of spring, but also on The International Day of Happiness 2019.

I will end now with an example of the wit and wisdom of our dear Tony. A little doggerel, as he would call it.

Parrots, though fun, are messy birds -
Can you ever call to mind
A picture of Long John Silver
That showed him from behind!

Julian Filochowski gave the following tribute:

Dear Tony

The instructions you left behind for me were to be joyful, light and brief. Joyful and light yes - but I'm not so sure about brief!

This afternoon, Tony, we are sharing our grief at your passing to the 'other place', the Upper House of the Communion of Saints. And with you now there, as one of that great cloud of witnesses in heaven, we celebrate your life, your wit and wisdom, your generosity and kindness, and your sheer creativity.

We remember, and we thank God, for the lasting friendships you nurtured with such sensitive loving care. With young and old alike. You made people happy, Tony; you provoked broad grins and infectious laughter - with your words and your drawings, your rhyming verse and your scurrilous cartoons, your beautiful gestures and your smiling presence. Those steadfast friendships enriched all our lives….

But, dear fellow mourners, we know, importantly, that those friendships were a healing and anointing for Tony in his bleaker moments, especially during his last, long and painful illness.

Tony was a thoughtful Catholic Christian, but no zealot. He was a spiritual person. He had a life-long love for the contemplative life and a desire to find spiritual peace - a peace that continually eluded him. Tony was scrupulously honest. He tested his vocation for the priesthood three times with different religious orders. And besides that, he spent a brief spell in the Upper Rimac in Peru as a lay missionary - or as 'a general dogsbody' as he once put it to me.

Many in the Church speak words out loud in reciting their daily rosary; Tony found his words quietly - but it was to complete a different daily ritual, the Telegraph cryptic crossword. Yet, in the end, it is words from the Acts of Apostles that come to mind and words which matter "He went around doing good".

Tony was not shy in the sense of hiding away; but he was a self-effacing actor who made himself modestly inconspicuous, pointing consistently to the contribution of others. Irrespective of the recurring doubts and anxieties in his troubled heart, Tony was a truly holy man.

Looking back over his life, we can recall Tony's time as a dedicated and gifted teacher and athletics trainer, here at Worth and elsewhere, in the style, perhaps, of Peter O'Toole, the beloved schoolmaster in the 1969 film, Goodbye Mr Chips.

We look back to Tony's talent, his passion and his prodigious output of landscape scenes as a watercolour artist, student and follower of the famed Rowland Hilder. Those paintings grace many of our homes - but so many prints and originals he gave away to raise funds for his chosen charities. My favourite is his picture of a Sunflower, mischievously entitled 'Van Gogh Eat Your Heart Out'. Tongue-in-cheek he priced it at £3.5 million with the tag on the back "If Van Gogh can get several million quid - it's worth having a go".

We knew Tony too as the impish children's humourist, with hilarious sketches on hand-made greetings cards. He became a favourite elderly relative, in the style of the BBC's Uncle Mac from Children's Favourites on Saturday morning, playing 'Nellie the Elephant' or 'There's a Hole in My Bucket'. With amusing tricks and delightful treats, Tony opened the doors of the imagination; he inspired Adam, Harriet, Bruno, Anna & Tess, Thea and Saskia, and many others - and it led to an extraordinary admiration and affection for him.

I know Tony best from his CAFOD days. He came in 1993 as a humble, astute volunteer at Romero Close and also at the Cardinal Hume Centre in Victoria, utterly dedicated to what CAFOD was fundamentally about; towards the end he became one of CAFOD's historiographers with his methodical archiving and his meticulous handwriting; but he remained always the infinitely flexible directorate gofer, a precious cog in the CAFOD machine.

To be honest, it's the great Rugby player, 60 years ago, that is still the mystery for many of us. Described in the professional journals as "the finest uncapped hooker in the land", the No 2 on the front row for London Irish - it seems so paradoxical, so countercultural, so contrary to what one might expect, in this sensitive softly-spoken gentleman. From the picture of the 1959-60 team it is indeed apparent that players had a lighter frame in those days. Tony once confessed to me that in those early 1960 years, when besides the London Irish first team on Saturdays he was Captain of Sussex playing on Wednesdays, "Rugby was my life"! Many of you who have kindly shared your anecdotes testify to that facet of Tony; Tony in the scrum, Tony at the cricket crease, Tony as runner and athlete. And then there was Tony the life-long avid supporter of West Ham United, with the Upton Park road sign nailed to his kitchen wall. Tony who proudly wore his Hammers scarf.

Late in life, he came to horses, Tony Pearce UPG, he insisted. (meaning Tony Pearce, Un-Paid Groom). He not only loved the grooming but he delighted especially in the camaraderie in the jockey room; he acted as back-up driver to Alex at horse shows; and they even managed, not long ago, to get him onto a horse: with a replacement hip and in his 80s, Tony was riding!

But in everything he did, Tony was a glorious amateur - in the best traditional sense of that word; not inept, not a dilettante, but one who did what he loved and loved what he did; and he pursued those activities independently of his source of income. With this array of abilities and manifest accomplishments in different areas of artistic, social, intellectual and physical endeavour, I do believe we could describe Tony as a 'Renaissance Man' or perhaps even an 'amateur polymath'.

In Tony's cheeky style, I have tried to adapt for him today that well-known verse of poet John Dryden.

"A man so varied that he seemed to be not one but all mankind's epitome, catholic in opinions, rarely in the wrong,

did everything with joy, full of rhyming song,

but in the course of one revolving moon was hooker, poet, painter and buffoon".

I choose to quote Dryden, satirist, and first master of the rhyming couplet, who became Britain's first Poet Laureate in 1668, because, during his years at CAFOD, Tony too became CAFOD's very own Poet Laureate. With the acclaimed doggerel verse, limericks, and special odes that he had composed for his network of friends, Tony was regularly commissioned to write pieces for special CAFOD occasions. And they had us in stitches. They are real gems.

Tony was the prototypical wordsmith. He loved words and puns and clever anagrams. He delighted in absurdities and follies

Why is it when I go to Marks, to buy my chicken tikkas,

I have to walk through rows and rows of ladies' bras and knickers!

He teased without malice.

Among a wasp's more pleasant jobs Is stinging Alexandra Hobbs!

Though Alexandra hardly stirred, she muttered sotto voce 'merde'

Which strictly-between, you and me, is not the French for Glory Be

But is a rather naughty word, that we'll pretend we have not heard.

Although bishops and abbots were amongst his circle of friends, Tony took mischievous pleasure in drawing cartoons, in the style of Quentin Blake, or composing verse to prick the bubbles of puffed up pompous prelates.

His principal target in recent times was Cardinal Raymond Burke in Rome, reactionary antagonist and adversary of Pope Francis; but a former Archbishop of Southwark is a long-standing favourite.

My uncle, a bishop, was horribly bright,

Read Latin and Greek for fun at night.

Let's hear some tales the good man told,

Of bishops and their Southwark fold.

Cyril, by the grace of God,

Archbishop on this very sod,

You want theatre, here's the boy,

Cyril Conrad Cowderoy.

Drama, tragic - drama comical

Smells and bells, the full canonical;

Whatever would remind us, that,

He was the whiskers of the cat!

Annually on St George's Day

You'd find him many miles away,

Pontificating, doing the honours

For seminarians down at Wonersh.

In your mind's eye, see him glide,

An acolyte on either side,

Majestic, down the marbled aisle,

Flamboyant blessings all the while,

Scarlet stockings, buckled shoes

More lace than you'd see on a day in Bruges.

Tony had a heart of gold and a thesaurus mind. And our gifted raconteur was an absolutely loyal faithful friend. We love him dearly.

And so, a final verse from him….

"If the time is right, and given a break, to brighten my final days

I'd choose to depart, as pissed as a fart, on New Zealand chardonnay"

The gospel story of the Prodigal Son was one of Tony's favourites. By now the Prodigious Father will have embraced him and given him that spiritual peace for which he so craved.

May Tony rest forever in God's peace - and rise again in glory.

Tags: Tribute, Obituary, Tony Pearce

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