24 April 2023
Mourning the loss of three great figures from our county

At this time of year Herefordshire is full of the joys of spring. In the words of Robert Browning:

The lark’s on the wing

The snail’s on the thorn

God’s in His heaven--

All’s right with the world!

But for me this has also been a sad period, for we have lost three great figures from our county, each of whom I massively liked and admired.

Last Saturday I sat alongside hundreds of others in the gorgeous confines of Dore Abbey to mourn the death and celebrate the life of Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks. Philip was a decorated fighting sailor in the best tradition of the Navy, who had served during the Falklands war and then captained HMS Gloucester during the Gulf conflict. In 2005 he and his brilliant wife Kym moved to Herefordshire, where they devoted themselves to community life.

As a gorgeous anthem sung by a Hereford Cathedral School choir died away, I could see many of Philip's old HMS Gloucester crew fighting with their emotions as we recalled a man dedicated to public service. And that sense of public service carried him through into retirement, where he held a number of important county roles.

Just a couple of weeks ago, there was a similar scene at Flanesford Priory in Goodrich, where several hundreds more gathered to celebrate Stephen Hay. Stephen was a man of limitless warmth and enthusiasm, which never waned as he built up a great farming business with his family over four or five decades of unremitting hard work. As President Roosevelt said of Winston Churchill, to meet him was like opening a bottle of champagne.

And then we had the sad death of the wonderful Joyce Thomas. Joyce was the first woman to be elected to Ross-on-Wye Town Council and the first female Mayor of Ross; possessed of a fabulous sense of humour, but also a great battler and a fighter and an absolutely indefatigable force for good in the community. We will celebrate Joyce's death at a memorial service on May 13 at St Mary's and, I can tell you now, that service too will be packed.

As I think of these three great figures, and of what they gave -- to the military, to business, to their families and friends, and to public service -- I am filled with thanks and admiration. They have illuminated our county, and us all. Thank you all.

First published in the Hereford Times.