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Obituary: Richard Brooke

30 October 2020

The Revd Philip Hawthorn writes:

RICHARD BROOKE, who died on 29 June, aged 93, after a small stroke, was 87 when he preached the last sermon of his 21 years as a Reader. It was called “A Prayer of Thanks to God”. He considered his time as a Reader to be his last great adventure, a thankful response for a long life.

Richard was a quiet and humble man, with eyes that reflected the great sense of wonder that he had held all his life. He so underplayed his earlier achievements that it was wonderful to hear, at his funeral, just how accomplished he was. On the same day, 6 August, there appeared a full-page obituary in The Times, followed, in a couple of weeks, by a substantial feature on Radio 4’s Last Word.

Born in Ealing in 1927, he joined the Royal Navy at 13. After war service (in which, returning from Normandy, his ship, HMS Warspite, was mined), he allowed his passion for mountains and polar exploration full reign. He spent time climbing in the Alps, in service on a Falkland Island supply ship, and on a meteorology, glaciology, and geology survey trip in Greenland in which he narrowly escaped death after his tent caught fire.

It was then that he was given the chance to join an expedition to traverse the Antarctic with Edmund Hillary, who had recently climbed Everest. It was on this trip that he had another of his many near-death experiences, almost falling into a deep crevasse. He also had a mountain named after him, Mt Brooke.

His many close encounters with death caused him to seek a life in which he didn’t put himself at such risk, and meeting and marrying Valerie Brooks in Bath in 1965 consolidated this. He said it was the best thing he ever did. They became members of St Mary’s, Charlcombe, in Bath. And it was here that he was to reflect that maybe his life had been spared in order to serve God. As a thankful response, and recognising that his Christian faith had been hitherto “lukewarm”, he started training as a Reader for Charlcombe with St Stephen’s, Bath, which he completed in October 1993, at the age of 66.

His gentle and faithful ministry was one of encouragement, prayer, and vision, especially in the time when congregations had shrunk to precariously low numbers. He quietly and effectively involved people in many areas of church life and worship. Many feel still that if it weren’t for Richard the church would have closed. He also initiated and organised the St Mary’s Quiet Garden programme in which, monthly throughout the summer, there would be a picnic lunch, and an afternoon of talks and reflective quiet, enabled by an experienced leader. This contemplative thread has been a strong feature in the growth of the church over the past ten years.

I was blessed to share his journey for the last ten years; for the first five of these, he and I (and his dog, Jess) were often the only ones at weekday Morning Prayer at Charlcombe. He also wove together beautiful non-eucharistic services for Harvest, Christmas, and Holy Week, and preached regularly. In one sermon that sticks in my mind, apart from his final one, he reflected that his journey of faith had been like a climb he had once made in the Himalayas. A mist had meant that they had lost sense of where they were heading, but on coming out of it they found the summit even more beautiful than they had expected.

He was still seen walking around Charlcombe right to the end, and his sons said that they would never been able to keep up with him once he had donned his rucksack and headed for the hills.

Richard leaves Valerie, two sons and their families — Patrick, Shirley, Archie and Charlie, and David and Ginny — and a sister, Bridget, a priest; also a benefice which, while sad, is thankful to God that we journeyed with him on his life’s adventure.

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