Friday, 24 September 2021

Roy St George Calvocoressi OBE

IN the late Sixties the troubled island of Cyprus was emerging from the uprising which had led to independence from

IN the late Sixties the troubled island of Cyprus was emerging from the uprising which had led to independence from British rule.

A small international group of young people, led by a former barrister in his mid-thirties, was engaged in practical work such as restoring citrus groves owned by Turkish Cypriots who had fled to the towns.

The team acted as go-betweens in negotiating the water supply for the trees from the Greek Cypriots who held it.

One day, the sound of gunfire was heard coming from the Turkish military post on the hill above them and the leader, Roy Calvocoressi, said they should go to investigate.

Unaccountably, every other member of the team had something more important to do than to accompany him, so he set off alone, soon conscious of the familiar sounds of the village below dying away and the guns ahead of him glinting menacingly.

Fear gripped him: he could not return without losing face but was it foolhardy to go on? Suddenly he remembered that he was there to contribute in whatever way he could to restoring the broken relationships between former neighbours. He also recalled the Bible verse which says, “Perfect love casts out fear”.

Resolute, he pressed on to the checkpoint and was immediately taken in for interrogation by the commander. After a while, another man entered the room, whispered to the commander and left. Soon afterwards, Roy was released without any threats to him or the team.

A few years later, following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, several Cypriots, both Turkish and Greek, beat a path to Roy’s front door in London. One of them was the very man who had intervened at that interrogation.

When asked by Roy what he had said, the man answered that he had watched Roy as he came up the hill and seen that his “heart was clean”. His life continued to bear that hallmark.

Roy St George Calvocoressi was born in London on April 24, 1930 to George Calvocoressi and Julia (Argenti), both of whose grandparents had fled the massacres of Chios in the climax of the Greek War of Independence in 1822.

His father died suddenly when Roy was just seven, at which point Roy became head of the household, in the Greek tradition.

It is possible that the resulting curtailment of genuine childhood at such a tender age played a part in his remarkable discipline to study and to excel in all that he did.

This included considerable prowess on the tennis court, winning the Interschools Tennis Cup three years running and being captain of tennis as well as head of house at Eton.

After an undistinguished two years’ National Service in the army in Somalia, he read history and then law at Cambridge University, where he achieved a blue at real tennis, and was called to the Bar in 1953. Being a barrister in town and country planning resulted in an inability to pass any construction hoarding without wanting to know what was being developed there.

However, his time as a barrister for courts martial made him dissatisfied with the limitations of the law, especially during his time as a visitor to Wormwood Scrubs.

As a result, he changed his focus to co-founding the Langley House Trust for the care and rehabilitation of ex-offenders and, after 10 years at the Bar, left to begin his life’s main work — that of Christian peacemaking through serving communities in practical, grassroots projects and from then on devoting his life to charitable work. Over a 17-year period from 1958, Roy founded or co-founded four charities that still operate today as well as other contributory enterprises.

The purpose of each of these four initiatives was distinct: rehabilitation — Langley House Trust; reconciliation — Christian International Peace Service; care of orphans — Project Vietnam Orphans, now CORD; and fair trade — Traidcraft.

The common basis of practical Christianity lived out in each charity laid a foundation upon which these organisations could build a lasting service for their beneficiaries.

In 1982 Roy moved his family to Bix Bottom Farm, near Henley, and threw himself into the life of the surrounding community, always having time to chat to neighbours and becoming a member of the Henley Royal Regatta, the Henley Society, the Henley Show and the real tennis club at Hardwicke House and Merton College, Oxford, where he continued to play until his 80th year.

He became a lay preacher at Bix Church and a contributor to the Thought for the Week in the Standard.

His concern that Christian faith is made relevant to every single person showed itself during an interregnum in the Nettlebed and Bix Benefice, when he and a small group gathered to adapt the sermon he had preached on each Sunday into a “newspaper column” that was posted through every letterbox in the parish.

His qualities of strategic thinking and clear-minded determination were entwined with a disarming delicacy of touch, dry humour, grace and humility and a quiet, steadfast faith.

Roy died on September 21, 2012, after a long illness, leaving his wife, Elfrida, daughter Caroline and son George, together with their spouses and two grandchildren.

St Martin-in-the-Fields was well known to Roy in its long tradition of helping homeless and disadvantaged people in which he joined during his years working in London so it will be a fitting place for his memorial service on Monday, March 11 at 3pm. The family is arranging a bus for those who wish to attend. Please call (01491) 573298 for details.

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