On Saturday, I had the privilege of conducting a memorial service for a church member who had recently died. His professional significance was such that an obituary will be appearing in The Guardian, probably next week. This text will soon be cross-posted on our church site, along with the audio of this tribute.
Jack was born within the sound of Bow Bells to Arthur and Amy Rutter. He had three younger sisters, Frances, Cecily (who died in 1989) and Noel. He grew up in Worcester Park and then Guildford, where he attended the Royal Grammar School.
From the Royal Grammar he went to Imperial College to study Botany. He graduated in 1938 and then began PhD research. With the advent of the war, he was called into a reserved occupation, where he studied how to increase crop yield to reduce British dependency on imported food. Alongside this, he joined the Home Guard, where he learned how to make Molotov Cocktails.
During the War, he travelled across the country – difficult journeys that often meant cycling. On one occasion he was at a wedding in Bristol where he met Betsy Stone, a nurse from Bridgwater, who was working at Bristol General Hospital. He was the first of Betsy’s boyfriends to win her mother’s approval! They married in 1944, and had three children: Margaret, Bill and John.
Jack completed his PhD and began lecturing at Imperial. Later, as we know, he would become Professor of Botany, until his retirement in 1979. His research centred on the hydrology of the Scots Pine, and his work would carry him from Forestry Commission land in this country to Rhodesia (as it was) and the island of Aldabra, 250 miles north of Madagascar. He also went on an academic exchange to Pakistan, and was able to take the family with him. While he was there, he had dysentery, only to be cured when a colleague made a goat stew and fed it to him. He and the family also explored up the Khyber Pass to the border with Afghanistan, where they met some ‘interesting’ tribesmen with guns.
He gave an illustrated talk about his work on Aldabra to a women’s meeting here at the church. His knowledge of Botany also meant giving advice to the Queen on her gardens. Then more humbly he ran a garden stall at the church bazaar, assisted by Helen Baker and Robb Peters. He also contributed a Christmas tree to the church for many years, once digging up one from Pauline and Jim Holden’s garden in Mayford. He helped Christine with the cultivation of a Mahonia plant that still flourishes as a bush in her garden. She is offering cuttings from it to anyone who would like one in Jack’s memory.
Back home, the family lived in Brookwood and then in Knaphill, where their house had a one-acre garden. Jack mowed the grass, cut the hedges, took care of the thirty fruit trees and grew fruit and vegetables. Betsy produced the jam. Jack also made wine from the grapes on the vine. He was also a beekeeper and produced several jars of honey a year. Through Marilyn Meller’s involvement in the Guides, he tested the one Guide who was brave enough to take on the beekeeper’s badge.
For all Jack’s professional foreign travel, family holidays were generally taken in England, and usually in locations that offered opportunities for good walking and visiting cultural locations as well as the seaside. So places such as Pembrokeshire, North Wales, Northumberland and the Yorkshire Dales featured.
Betsy was a nurse, and worked with Pauline Holden at the Health Visitors’ Clinic at Pirbright Village Hall. When she became terminally ill, she was under no illusions about what would happen and set about teaching Jack housekeeping and cookery.
Betsy died in 1978, the year before Jack retired, and in his retirement these skills became useful, not only for himself but for others. He cooked for others, and invited people to stay with him in his home. He cared for a teenage girl who had been thrown out of home by her father and stepmother. He fed two or three street people, who sometimes used to stay for two or three days. He took in someone who had had a breakdown, even though he hardly knew the person at the time. He also took over one particular concern of Betsy’s. She had always taken an interested in a lady in the village called Jean who had a son with special needs. The son went to live in a home and Betsy took her to visit him in Botley’s Park Hospital, Chertsey, every Sunday afternoon. When Betsy died, Jack took over these duties until both son and mother died about ten years ago.
Jack was extremely active in church life here. I have just noted his particular care for people, but there are some other incidents to mention. He was a class leader, as we sometimes call them in the Methodist Church, or pastoral visitor. One family he visited was Marilyn Meller’s. He visited her mother, Irene Elliot, in the farmhouse delivering the monthly magazine on a Thursday evening and would help her pack eggs into boxes ready for Marilyn’s egg round the next day. He would visit Marilyn and Tom at White Lodge after he had had his lunch, and talk about farming with them. he took an interest in their family, including their two daughters.
On other Thursdays he attended the Thursday evening fellowship group. Members of the group enjoyed sharing with him, and valued the contributions he made to the discussions. He could recite poetry and biblical passages.
Then there is the Spice Girls story. For those of you who don’t know, the Spice Girls recorded their earliest tracks in Knaphill. They used to have lunch breaks at the King’s House Coffee Shop, which is run by four of the churches in the village. A film was made of their early days, and a scene was recreated in the King’s House. Jack, who worked in there voluntarily, played the rôle of the waiter. He had to reel off a list of the available snacks – cheese sandwiches, ham rolls and so on. Finally, he had to deliver a line, the significance of which he did not understand:
“Tell me what you want, what you really, really want.”
He took an interest in the church youth club, often turning up on a Saturday evening to chat with everyone and make sure that the heating was working.
Indeed, the heating was but one aspect of the church property for which he cared, but the boiler room was the location where one day a fairy godmother left him a bottle of his favourite Guinness. He also made a new wooden gate for the car park and put in posts to hold up the fence around the church building.
However, not all Jack’s adventures with the church property went smoothly. Famously, he was one day climbing through the loft space to change some light bulbs when he accidentally put his foot through the ceiling. How he didn’t fall right down, nobody knows. Later, though, he made an almost invisible repair.
Then there was the time when he once covered the church cleaning for Helen Chamberlain while she was on holiday. During that period, he and Robb Peters decided to sand the church floor. They only did half, due to the sandstorm they created, which took twelve weeks to settle.
Finally on the subject of church work, as well as his pastoral and property duties, Jack was also for a period of time the church treasurer in an age before computerised accounts. He scrupulously kept a contingency fund for emergencies, decades before the Methodist Church required all local churches to formulate a reserves policy.
In the last few years before Betsy died, she and Jack holidayed in the Western Isles of Scotland. He continued to do this after they died, until he was about 90. He planned his routes, travelled light and walked long distances, befriending many B & B owners on his travels. He also continued to travel abroad, visiting relatives in Canada several times and attending a wedding in India.
In 1994, he could see that one day he would not be able to cope with the large garden in Knaphill, and moved to his bungalow in Goldsworth Park. He remained fit, active and independent until around the age of 90. That was when those close to him started to notice a change in his mental powers. He gave up driving a few months before reaching 92.
Jack leaves six grandchildren: They are: Margaret & Adrians’s children: Henry, Thomas and Emily;
Bill and Corrie’s son, Philip; and John and Esther’s children, Jennifer and Jack. He also leaves a great-grandson, Arthur, Henry and Cat’s son.
But he also leaves behind many more friends, and so many others whose lives he touched by his love and through his great gifts and talents. No longer for Jack the confusion of these last two or three years, but the peaceful sleep of rest, and the resurrection to come into a new, healed body in which he can continue to serve Jesus Christ.
And who knows what talents a resurrected Jack Rutter will have in God’s new creation?