Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Parish priest known for his compassion.. and runaway donkeys

MORE than 150 mourners attended the funeral of a former Rotherfield Greys and Peppard parish priest.

MORE than 150 mourners attended the funeral of a former Rotherfield Greys and Peppard parish priest.

Rev Basil “Bob” Butler-Smith, who was half Greek, died on October 16, aged 83.

The service took place at All Saints’ Church in Peppard, where he was rector for 26 years.

The coffin was carried into the church head first by his two sons, Simon and Chris, and four grandsons. His surplice and cassock were draped over the coffin as if over a chair after the last service of the day, which is the tradition for clergymen.

The service was led by his successor, Rev Canon Graham Foulis Brown, who opened with a prayer before the hymn O Jesus, I Have Promised.

Gillian Ovey, a former churchwarden at St Nicholas’ Church in Rotherfield Greys, said Rev Basil-Smith was “gentle and sympathetic” and was key to the relationship between the churches and their communities still going strong today.

Mrs Ovey added: “Thank you, Bob, for your years at Rotherfield Greys. Thank you for everything you did for me.”

Robin Howles, a member of the All Saints’ Church choir, said the priest was “much loved” in Peppard.

“He was a trusted friend to many and a warm, supportive presence in the church and wider community,” he said.

“It was wonderful to appreciate his unfailing gentleness and natural sympathy for others. He so much wanted the world to be a better place. He served his ministry here with devotion, faith and a firm trust in our ward.” Mr Howles said Rev Butler-Smith was most at ease in informal situations and didn’t always welcome the “pressing business” of the church.

In 1992, he was diagnosed with cancer but recovered and continued as rector for 10 more years.

Mr Howles said: “Bob, in his private way, was blessed with great inner strength and his determination and courage could be seen in his response to illness when he reassumed his duties.”

He oversaw a number of church projects, including a new parish room, the installation of a new organ and re-roofing the chancel.

Mr Howles said Rev Butler-Smith, who also helped set up the Fish volunteer centre in Sonning Common, conducted hundreds of weddings.

He had a special rapport with young people and was a reassuring presence.

“Bob gave caring support for many people in hospital or in suffering and distress,” he said.

The choir sang The Lord Bless You And Keep You before Rev Butler-Smith’s daughter Fiona Hilton read out a tribute.

She said her father was a different man at home to the one who had stood in the pulpit every Sunday. She said: “Most people thought dad was a quiet man but he was a Greek through and through and therefore very loud.

“He over-emphasised everything — laughing, regaling stories, sneezing and shouting all had to be at top volume and with hands gesticulating madly at the same time.

“He would burst into Greek at any given moment, especially if the donkeys had just been spotted racing up the front steps into the house or seen slipping out of the gate on a jaunt down Church Lane. This happened frequently with parishioners calling to give a running commentary — ‘they’ve just passed us at number 10’ and so on.”

Mrs Hilton said her father owned thousands of books and was a “man of intellect and passion with a very inquisitive mind and a thirst for knowledge”.

He enjoyed gardening, current affairs, crosswords, crime dramas and animals, in particular his donkeys.

His other hobby was model making and he would sit in a room for hours making model aircraft, ships, tanks and cars.

“They would be painstakingly hand-painted and if we went in mid-paint we were afraid to even breathe in case we interrupted his concentration,” she said. “We were never allowed to touch anything and mum was never allowed to dust.”

Mrs Hilton said her father was also funny. “His humour was slapstick a la Morecambe and Wise,” she said.

“He would always make such a song and dance about tripping up, over-emphasising the fall in an incredibly melodramatic way and making a complete meal of what was a slight trip. He was totally irreverent and would often have us in stitches, especially mum and me, but that was usually when he wasn’t trying to be funny.”

The priest was “warm, generous and very sensitive” and always ready to help those in need.

She said: “It wasn’t unusual to come home and find him in deep discussion with a tramp at the kitchen table, tucking into tea and biscuits.

“He once was approached by a homeless man in Reading begging for money and Dad said, ‘you can have whatever I have in my pocket’, thinking there was only small change.He pulled out his hand to find considerably more but kept to his word and gave it to the man anyway.”

Mrs Hilton said it was difficult to sum up her father in a few words but added: “He was a truly remarkable man and completely unique.”

Rev Butler-Smith’s grandson Oliver Hilton read a prayer before the congregation sang the hymn The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, is Ended.

Rev Canon Foulis Brown read a passage from the Bible before Rev Brendan Bailey, who succeeded Rev Butler-Smith at St Nicholas’ Church, spoke about working with him.

He said: “The thing that always struck me about Bob was his patience and his faithfulness. He will join the ranks of the saints as a good Greek boy brought up no doubt with bits of Greek orthodoxy.”

Prayers were then followed by the Lord’s Prayer before Rev Bailey performed the commendation and blessing and the choir sang Bring Me Sunshine.

A private committal for family members was held at Caversham Crematorium and a reception was held at Peppard war memorial hall.

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