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Tributes to Sir Roger Gibbs at a Service of Thanksgiving in Celebration of his life 1934-2018

Friday 15th March 2019 at St. Paul's Cathedral, London. Tributes given by:


Matthew Fleming 

Uncle Rog would have loved today. So many of his favourite people from around the world gathered in this remarkable and beautiful Cathedral that he did so much for. 
Some of you are here because you knew him as a brilliant Chairman, a lucky few because he was the most wonderful and vital pillar of the Gibbs family - but we are all here because he was a wise and generous friend. 
Being the modest and self-deprecating man that he was he would, at the very least, have feigned surprise at the size of this afternoon's congregation. Looking at the many familiar faces here he would however have been genuinely surprised that one or two of you are not at Cheltenham. Those of us that loved Uncle Rog are not remotely surprised that you are all here today. Amongst the many wonderful tributes written following his death in October James Sunley wrote movingly to fellow members of the St Moritz tobogganing club. 
“It is with the greatest sadness, he said, that I write to let you know that our revered and very dear past President, Sir Roger Gibbs, died peacefully at his home this morning with his beloved wife Jane at his bedside". He went on to say "It is impossible to exaggerate or fully appreciate all that Roger did for the St Moritz Tobogganing Club”. 
The remarkable thing about Sir Rog is that for the St Moritz Tobogganing Club you could instead read any number of immensely fortunate institutions; The Welcome Trust, St Pauls Cathedral, Gerrard and National, The City, Arundel Castle Cricket Club, The Gunners, and Swinley Forest, to name quite a few. The wonderful obituaries and tributes have all talked about his extraordinary range of achievements. Despite our great pride in those achievements, which Brian will reflect on shortly, we are here because just as importantly, and just as specially, instead of the St Moritz Tobogganing Club, you could also read family and friends. 
"It is impossible to exaggerate or fully appreciate all that Roger did for his family and his friends”. I cannot believe that there is anyone here who has not, at some stage, been the beneficiary of his generosity, his kindness, his wisdom or his leadership. Indeed talking to Jane the most oft used phrase in the many wonderful letters she has received has been “if it hadn't been for Roger”. 
His values, and his rock steady moral compass were strongly influenced by his parents Geoffrey and Helen and his happy childhood, especially at Clifton Hampden. Sir Geoffrey and her Ladyship created an environment in which all six children could fulfil their potential and fly, safe in the knowledge that the family would be there to support and cherish in good times and in the event of the odd crash landing. This wonderful family has been tested to the full in recent times; shorn of David's quiet leadership some time ago, the deaths of Stephen, Christopher and Roger within a year have been a crushing blow. 
Rog was a crucial ingredient in that happiest of families, a brother to be loved, a brother to be admired and a brother to be counted on. As well as being an extraordinary brother he was a wonderful Uncle and friend to us all. 
A good suggestion here, a leg up there. A bed for a night (often longer), Arsenal tickets, a helpful introduction and so much more, so much more. Life changing advice, life changing generosity, life changing interest and life changing friendship. So much more than an Uncle. He was ever present; wisdom and leadership when required, quiet support and the odd rocket when necessary. 
He achieved so much in his own life, yet always found time for others. Perhaps it was because he was instinctively modest, happy to have his leg pulled or perhaps it was because he knew what it was like to fail occasionally - think of his free transfer from Eton to Millfield. The original late developer as he called himself. 
A man whose earliest jobs included working on a chicken farm and being a station porter for Great Western Railway yet a man who went on to have more Doctorates than O levels and Chair the Welcome Trust. Perhaps it was because he had survived a real scare with cancer in the 70's and bounced back to run the London Marathon and raise a staggering £440 000 for Guys hospital by way of a "small thank you”. That brush with cancer reinforced his perspective on life and how it should be lived – with purpose, with time for others and to be enjoyed. To lead when necessary, to support when required. 
It would certainly explain his approach to sport - swashbuckling, if slightly erratic – the master of the second serve ace, both literally and metaphorically. Like all of us I think of Roger often and have a host of memories. None happier than snooker at our home Stonewall when Rog would survey the table, pretending not to see the obvious shot, “Baldy, he would say quietly to my father, you might just want to watch this”. 
As he bent over the table he would pronounce, “You would not believe this shot was possible”. Frequently it wasn't. But sometimes he would pull off a shot so eye wateringly extravagant that it made the whole evening, win, lose or draw. Family, friendship, laughter, home and sport. The perfect evening with your Uncle, more than an Uncle, a hero. 
This apparently carefree attitude should never be misunderstood. Underneath lay a man of steely determination and meticulous preparation, a man who liked winning, but not at any cost. A man of utter integrity. Yet a man who understood the odds and was prepared to take them on, especially when what to others was a "punt” was in fact a carefully calculated risk. A man of impeccable manners who might have appeared too nice to succeed, but when it really mattered a man who almost always won. He worked tirelessly, as all those whose dining rooms became weekend offices for the great man will testify. 
Roger's impeccable manners were never more in evidence than when replying to letters, and the invention of the Dictaphone took this to a new level ... "to the directors of American Express” he would dictate “thank you for my most recent statement for which I enclose full settlement” ... I hugely enjoyed my holiday to St Moritz on which I used your excellent credit card. 
Uncle Rog was entirely authentic. He absolutely was the man he helped others to try and become. Those of us lucky enough to spend time with Rog learned most from watching him live his life. Underpinned by a quiet but strong faith he had the wonderful knack of making everyone feel important, especially those who might not feel as though they were in a position of great importance. A man, who got back to London having been towed out of a snowdrift by a passing tractor driver in the Cotswolds on a Saturday only to drive back to the Cotswolds on Sunday morning to leave a token of appreciation on the farmer's doorstep. 
His arrival anywhere was always keenly anticipated. I think Uncle Roger spent 30 consecutive Christmases with us at Stonewall and the sight of the Merc gliding up to the front door meant that Christmas had officially started. 
“Rog is bringing a few satsumas and hopefully a little bit of smoked salmon” Mum would say as the great man opened the boot to reveal most of Leadenhall Market and quite a lot of Fortnums. Roger almost always under promised but always over delivered. 
I cannot talk about Uncle Rog without talking about Tregunter Rd, his home for almost 50 years. Treg Road has been an ever present in many of our lives. A roof over our heads in a crisis, a London base for family and friends from around the world. A Boardroom for crucial discussions, a launch pad for campaigns as diverse as marathon running, backing friends and relations in business, engagement parties and so much more. Fuelled by a never ending supply of delicious wine and twiglets it was an institution. 
There has been no happier family occasion in Tregunter Road, than the celebration of Rog and Jane's wedding. Whilst the décor might have changed after their marriage the overwhelming feeling of love and support within number 23 did not. Jane and Rog made the most wonderful team and his family and friends are so grateful that Jane rose to Michael Todhunter's challenge in his best man's speech and did indeed "share Rog with us all”. 
If it had not been for Roger our lives would have been poorer in every possible way. As James said “It really is impossible to exaggerate or fully appreciate all that you did for your family and your friends".


Sir Brian Williamson CBE 

It is just as well that the Almighty gave Roger eighty three years. Just long enough for him to finish his last thank you letter. For as we all know, Roger was a compulsive correspondent - a man of letters. 
If you were to thank him for a kindness, your letter of thanks would be met with a letter of thanks thanking you for your kindness in thanking him for the kindness you had thanked him for. 
It was a dangerous course to consider a reply. 
Last month, in the small English Church in St Moritz a solitary bell tolled 83 times. As a young Cresta rider put it, just as Roger's life had echoed out over the lake, and the town, and the Cresta Run which he loved so much”. 
It is a long way from the Engadine Valley to St Paul's but Roger himself came a long way in his personal pursuit, the progress and culmination of which we now celebrate here today in this, the Nation's Church. 
It all started very badly. As a child he was even known as Sir Geoffrey's idiot son, and an undistinguished career was rolled out in front of Roger from the beginning. 
However early on two people spotted the promise that was to come. They glimpsed the fulfilment which has led us all here. 
One was Michael Todhunter, Roger's oldest friend. As 10 year olds they were taken to the Oval to watch England play New Zealand. Towards the end of the day "rain stopped play" and everybody packed up and went home. 
Everyone that is, recalls Michael, except our little group. "No No” says Roger "we shall stay here and make some money". So they stayed on in the pouring rain collecting all the empty lemonade bottles and handing them in for the tuppenny deposit. 
The other was John Paxton, who taught Roger at Millfield and used to take his pupils to Wincanton races. He said later, "I never understood why the Gibbs's thought Roger was not up to a career in the bank because, prior to these jaunts, Roger carefully studied the form and by the time the charabanc had reached the end of the school drive he had stitched up the whole bus." 
These two had seen the future. They had seen that the small, slight, hopeless boy would turn into a tall handsome charming unassuming figure, striding through a crowded life carrying those ubiquitous bulging briefcases, full of letters and more letters. 
No letters had to be written to secure a short spell as a porter at Oxford Station and none at all in 1957 to persuade two friends to join him as greyhound owners. One evening all three dogs were on the same card at Harringay. 
“Time”, as Roger would often say, after having carefully evaluated the odds "to back up the truck”. They doubled and then had a treble on all three dogs. 
In the first race, Roger's dog (Hare Sense) won at 7:4; Peter Hill-Wood's (Sandown Bugler) won the hurdle race at 11:4, then John Bingham's (Sambo's Hangover) trotted up at 100:7. 
It did take a few letters to secure a stint at stockbroking before moving to the money markets. One day he took a sizeable salary cut on a promise that he might become Chairman of Gerrard & National - a promise shortly delivered. 
He filled the firm with what he called "an extremely amusing, stimulating lot" and turned it into the largest Discount House and laid the foundations for its inventive and profitable diversification. 
Roger's success was certainly not just due to his letter writing and popularity. He was a whizz at mental arithmetic. His curiosity about people - he always wanted to see and find the best in them - became a shrewd assessment of how people would react collectively in a market place. 
He brought these skills to the market and they brought success to him, the people around him, and the causes, the many, many causes, with which he became involved. 
The key relationship with the Bank of England was both collaborative and combative. Roger understood and enjoyed both aspects. His relationship with Eddie George as Governor - possibly the best Governor of his time and ours - was in that vein. Much later, when Roger had been knighted Lord George said with a twinkle and a laugh "Roger, I think its indecent that there should be five knights from such a, you know, relatively unimportant institution such as the one you used to run". 
It was an indecency up with which he and they could put. 
Roger may have been embarrassed at six foot three from wearing the obligatory top hat of a bill broker but one was wise to hang onto the long tails of his coat. 
It was now time to take up the Chairmanship of the Wellcome Trust, where he had been a Trustee with Sir David Steel of BP. All its income came from one source - the pharmaceutical company - and they saw the dangers. 
They reduced the holding by the company going public. There was firm opposition to be countered and potential shareholders to be courted. This was a 5000 letter project, his biggest yet, and Roger pushed it through with determination and conviction. That sale of shares created the largest pharmaceutical company in the world and transformed the Trust's fortunes. 
One could say the first greyhound had come in.  
Later more sales, taking the holding under 50% were made but met with controversy, all the way to the High Court accompanied by vituperative and personal criticism. Now, for the first time, Roger encountered enemies - or as he put it, a little nastiness". 
This sale brought another two and a half billion in cash and one billion of Glaxo Wellcome shares which trebled in the next two and a half years. 
The second dog had won by a country mile. 
The Trust was now the largest grant making charity in the world and Roger was now in close company with top notch scientists. At least 14 Nobel Prize winners were involved in the Trust's largest project and for Roger, Honorary Doctorates came his way faster than any "O" Levels had managed 
So that by the time Roger retired, the policy of investing the Trust's capital was proving so well timed and directed that Wellcome was able to afford to be at the forefront of determining the human DNA, the Genome project, the greatest advance science has given to mankind. 
You might say, reflecting on that evening at Harringay - that, thanks to Roger - the treble had come up for the Trust. 
Millions and millions of people have and will benefit from this research and millions and millions were required to fund it. Millions and millions were what Roger had understood from his days in the money markets. 
As Baronness Eliza Manningham Buller, now Chair of the Trust says, "his willingness to take a risk was very important for us ... and for millions." 
Only last week, new Wellcome funds went to address the horrors of ebola. 
In the year Roger retired from the Wellcome, Christopher Bledisloe, a life long friend and fellow Cresta President of Roger's found himself with the hierarchy of the British Museum musing on the importance of the individual's ideas in the world of charity. 
This exchange took place: 
Viscount Bledisloe QC: “One only has to think of the Wellcome Trust to see that one man can actually change the World" 
Director of the British Museum: “I quite agree” 
Bledisloe:-"Of course I suppose Sir Henry Wellcome was a rather strange individual.
British Museum - "Oh, I thought you were talking about Roger Gibbs. He's the one I say has changed the world”. 
But Roger had not finished with changing the world and despite another brush with death and having determined to retire, he embarked upon another huge project to raise money for this Cathedral. 
Meanwhile he had found Jane and, thanks to her, 20 more years of happy life with each other and with us. 
The St Paul's project was his greatest letter writing challenge of all, over 9000 letters flowing though those bulging briefcases. 
He raised 40 million pounds for restoration. 
He persuaded Sir Paul Getty to kick start the funds for the exterior and the Fleming family to bring back the glory of this stunning interior to a splendour that even Wren, his work completed, never saw, blackened as it was then by the soot of his builders’ fires. 
Wren's epitaph is here directly under the dome: 
SI MONUMENTUM REQUIRIS CIRCUMSPICE
"if you seek his monument, look around"
 
Shall we say that about Roger? Look around - all of us today - who want to say "if it weren't for Roger” and all of us who represent the 50 Institutions, Hospitals, Clubs, Churches, Trusts, Companies, Charities, Schools he was involved with, and then, all his friends. 
Chris Braisher, when he heard of the record half million raised for Guy's hospital by a half centenarian who had beaten medical odds, and run the marathon said “no nation but the British would ever produce anyone like Roger Gibbs" 
The BBC's obituary on Roger introduced him as financier and philanthropist. True. But we, all of us, saw more than that. We saw a delightful, dedicated unconventionally courageous optimist; persuading, inspiring, and amusing us with engaging humanity. 
Matthew spoke of how the family were influenced by his Christian values and his wisdom and leadership within the family. 
So it was with us. 
Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra wrote “Roger's warmth of personality must be very much missed by all of you. He was a remarkable man”. 
Indeed. Roger, thank you, thank you. This time our thanks won't trouble your briefcase and sadly, very sadly, we won't be expecting a reply. 

 

The Reverend Predendary Jeremy Crossley

“Reader, if you seek his memorial, look around you.” Those words may be found on a plain monument in a quiet corner, downstairs in the Crypt; a monument commemorating Sir Christopher Wren the architect who designed & oversaw the rebuilding of this Cathedral after the great fire of London. 

And this afternoon, something very similar could be said of Sir Roger Gibbs; not only in reference to the remarkable contribution he made to the restoration of St Paul's earlier this century; but even more, perhaps, in relation to each of us gathered here, whose lives he touched in different ways & invariably enhanced. 

Lady Manningham-Buller's tribute on the final page of today's service paper sums that up far more eloquently than I ever could: "we are here to applaud the life of a man we knew, admired & loved. But scattered round the world are many millions of his fellow creatures, who have never heard of him but whose happiness & health have flowed from his work at the Wellcome Trust.” 

In his impressive & movintribute to Roger in St Moritz, James Sunley, the current President of the Cresta, listed some of the many organisations with which Roger had been associated: the list, though not exhaustive, was long & eclectic, highlighting the calibre of the man we are here to honour & the sheer generosity with which he gave himself to people & causes. 

All those & many more are represented here today: & each of us is part of that great number-“if you seek his memorial, look around you." 

Brian Williamson & Matt Fleming have already helped us appreciate so much about Roger; I remember Matt speaking at Roger's 80th birthday dinner & giving us all a brilliant & evocative word portrait of what it was like to have Roger as an uncle. 

We left that evening realising afresh what a remarkable, generous, fun, human being Roger was. He was not only an admired public figure, a late developer who became a high achiever but also, & perhaps most importantly, a much loved & deeply valued relative & friend, a rare human being indeed. 

But today, as we remember him, our hearts instinctively & rightly go out to Jane; Roger & she were the love of each other's lives. That happiest of days at Chelsea Old Church, which many of us here remember, was the start of 13 wonderful years together. They made a great team, we loved seeinthem & in these last couple of years Jane was unstinting in her care for him. 

And Julian & Elizabeth, too, who now have lost Stephen, Christopher and Roger in just over a year; it seemed so unimaginable that day 12 months ago when we had that hilarious lunch at TR. We laughed until nearly four in the afternoon, Roger was in amazing form, Julian irrepressible and then, all too soon, Roger was taken from us. 

But as Christians gathered in this cathedral church which Roger loved, we know that death is not the end. In the reading earlier of St Paul's great hymn to love, we were reminded that in Jesus Christ, God's human face, we can know the One who embodies the untrammelled reality of divine love. 

For in Jesus, God came to us, became one of us & gave himself to death on a cross for each of us; for men & women in every clime & every age. But the Cross was not the end; loss is never the last word. 

That is why it is so singularly appropriate that as this service draws to a close we will remember the amazing truth of the resurrection as we sing that hymn Roger chose, to a tune he loved. 

In it we'll be reminded that because of the resurrection “death hath lost its sting” & we can pray with confidence that God will “bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above.” That place where Roger will be waiting for us, with the heavenly equivalent of the Krug he often poured for us.

And so, with all our memories today, all our emotions, with so much for which we have to be profoundly grateful as we remember Roger, that "true, perfect & gentle knight;" we know that with him this is not good bye, for because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ we need only to say Au Revoir. 




Tributes to Sir Roger Gibbs at a Service of Thanksgiving in Celebration of his life 1934-2018




Date15th March 2019
Linked toRoger Geoffrey Gibbs

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