Father Tribute by Justin Bairamian

Father Tribute

I’m speaking today on behalf of Bob’s family. For those who don’t know me I’m Justin, Bob’s younger son.

Rupert my older brother is also here, having flown with his family all the way from Australia.

And of course it’s wonderful for us to have so many of you here, from far and wide, from every part of Bob’s life. Thank you so much for coming.

I know most of you are here to pay tribute to Bob the Headmaster or Bob the cricketer. Or Bob the host of the most amazing parties. Haydn and Paddy will I’m sure capture those aspects of his life brilliantly.

And I’ve spent all my life bumping into those he’s taught & inspired. And since his death we’ve been bombarded with amazing tributes and wonderful stories of his enthusiasm, his generosity and his sense of fun.

I’d like to read a couple:

The first from Jeremy Vine who my father taught at Aberdour:“Your dad, my headmaster, Bob Bairamian was such a huge character he was nicknamed “Cresta Bear” by us kids. He was such a brilliant teacher we didn’t think of him as a teacher at all. He seemed to come to our classes just to have fun.”

And the second from Sandy Helm, a colleague of Bob’s at Holmewood. What he termed a Bobism. A young boy asked him: “But Sir why so we have to do Latin? To which he replied: “Because it is very difficult”.

I’m sure many more will be told today.

But I’m going to try and capture what it felt like to have Bob as a father, a stepfather and a grandfather. Family Bob if you like.

It’s fair to say that Bob didn’t leave much behind for us. Much that’s material anyway. Nothing conventional like a will.

But what is left is a box of memorabilia: Bluemantle scoring books, a boast book from his days at Claremont, quite a few unpaid bills, lots of photographs and oddly a CV.

And in many ways that’s perfect. Snapshots of a life well lived that tell their own story. The story of a life lived very much for the moment.

And the photos start in Cyprus in 1936. The wonderful picture on the inside of the order of service.

Bob with his parents. Vahe and Eileen.

This from his CV.

Father: Sir Vahe Bairamian. Chief Justice Sierra Leone, Judge of Appeal Nigeria, Editor of the Nigerian Law Reports. And then in brackets: First & only Armenian to be Knighted.

Mother: Eileen Elsie Connelly. Headmistress English School, Nicosia.

An only son. A possibly – and maybe thankfully – unique mix of Armenian and Irish blood.

And the first 10 years of his life were in the sunshine and warmth of Cyprus surrounded by his extended family.

And, as the picture shows, already the centre of attention. Already squeezing fun out of every moment. Even in a dress…

And then aged 10 he was packed off to England. Which must have been quite a shock. But he soon adapted, in fact thrived.

Ending up at Dover College where he was Head Prefect, Captain of cricket, hockey & squash and Editor of ‘The Dovorian’.

And this era is captured by the photo on the front of the Order of Service. Bob aged 18 in his sporting prime, bedecked in every signal of success he could lay his hands on.

And when we turned the photo over we found these words he’d written on the back: “Squash Outer House Competition. Beat C Charlie 9-4, 9-3, 9-5 in the final.”

Always competitive. Always wanting to win. With a healthy dose of arrogance.

From there he went to St Catharine’s College Cambridge where he read Classics of course – and played cricket & hockey for the University.

In 1957 on graduation he became Assistant Headmaster at Holmewood House.

And then in 1959 at the age of 24, triggered by the tragic death of John Collings, he became Headmaster. Haydn will pick up that part of the story a bit later.

But it was also the year he married Jane, daughter of Tom Crawford a Kent farmer and cricketer who had recently been captain of the Kent 2nd 11.

For 10 years Bob & Jane were Headmaster and Headmaster’s Wife – creating not only success at Holmewood but also 2 children – Rupert, first – when I think the whole school was given a day off – and then me – when I’m not sure it was.

(I guess that’s the fate of a second son.)

Sadly as the 60s ended so did Bob & Jane’s marriage.

As we all know other marriages followed.

Firstly to Jill Hume-Kendall – whose 3 boys, Simon Julian & Rupert were boys at Holmewood. It’s lovely to see Simon here today.

Photos of their wedding survive in the box – both the epitome of early 70s glamour.

And of course they lived up the road from here at Princestile.

Then to Shelagh Kittermaster – whose 3 boys, Philip, Johnny and Nigel were also at Holmewood. And it’s great too that Philip & Johnny are with us.

Shelagh moved with him to Aberdour School in 1975, then to Northbridge House in London and then to Claremont School in East Sussex in 1982.

My memories of my father in those years are in intense episodes all in bright technicolour, like the trips we made to see Vahe – the Old Judge as he always called him – and Eileen in Sandgate.

By then of course we’d become Rupertus Maximus and Justinius Maximus.

Driving at high speed in various Mercedes or Audis, the strong scent of cologne, wearing beautifully cut suits with extravagantly bright silk lining.

Screaming “Achtung Polizei” at passing police cars and instructing us to translate pub signs into Latin.

Stopping ahead of lunch for a Worthington White Shield. Poured carefully to avoid the sediment. And drunk swiftly. PAUSE

The marriage to Shelagh sadly foundered but in 1986 he married Ros Daunt whose son Seton was a pupil at Claremont.

To be honest, by then I was more than a little disillusioned by all the coming and going of wives. As I’m sure was Rupert.

But Ros never gave up with us or with Bob and slowly but surely she created the closest we or Bob came to a conventional family life.

At the same time Rupert & I gained a wonderful mother figure in Ros and a soulmate & brother in Seton.

I was chatting to Seton the other day about Bob’s impact on us during that time. And Seton captured it perfectly.

He said the things he’d learnt from Bob that he’s trying to take forward in his life and pass on to his children weren’t the parties or the showmanship.

They were his quieter qualities: his tolerance, his ability to engage anyone from any background, any culture – whether it was a taxi driver or, more often, a restaurateur.

And maybe most importantly his belief that everyone has a talent. Something I know those of you taught by Bob also felt strongly.

For Seton it wasn’t playing cricket or – I think he’d acknowledge – academic success, it was music – playing guitar, writing, producing.

And Bob supported him all the way. As he supported & championed Rupert & me in whatever we chose to do whether it was advertising or the wine trade. (Even though one was definitely closer to his heart than the other.)

During this time, he also became a Grandfather 7 times. Photos of all 7 take pride of place in the box of memorabilia.

And his grandchildren all have great memories of Grandpa.

In their words:

Funny Grandpa. Hilarious Grandpa. Mischievous Grandpa. Grandpa always with a glass of wine in hand, asking “What news?” and “How’s school?”.

And with an eye-wateringly crushing handshake.

It’s fair to say he was as unconventional a Grandfather as he was in everything. Not for him the conventional family moments like birthdays or Christmas.

But come results day they’d invariably get that 8am call. With cries of “Superb”, and “You must be very proud”.

Or in Rupert & James’s case, letters and even occasionally cheques to celebrate their cricketing achievements. PAUSE

First at Claremont, then in Hove while Bob was teaching at St Christopher’s and afterwards, Bob & Ros were together for 27 years.

I remember fondly as I’m sure many of you do many fabulous times at Fairlight End, Ros’s mother Zan’s home in Pett Level, and then at Fairlawns.

Places where it always seemed to be sunny and the atmosphere full of warmth and laughter. Amazing food on the table – courtesy of Ros, and endless libations poured – courtesy of Bob of course. Happy times.

So all the more of a loss when in 2013 Ros too suddenly and too soon died. A loss for all of us, especially of course for Anth her sister and for Seton.

But a real loss for Bob too. And I think it’s fair to say it’s a loss he never quite got over.

The final years were spent at Conifer Lodge – or Cone-ifer Lodge, as he liked to call it. Looked after and tolerated and maybe even ultimately slightly adored by Jo and her team – some of whom are here today.

Thank you to them and also to other friends who stayed close through thick and thin. Including Sonia Rouve who’d first met Bob in those Dover years and who came back into his life and has been a huge support both to him and me.

And Tom Simpson, who played such a central role in those Holmewood years.

And who, he was reminding me the other day, first met Bob at Cambridge through John Riley – another very close friend who sadly died recently who was best man at two, maybe 3 of Bob’s weddings.

They weren’t the easiest years – when he died Sonia and I decided the one word that described him best was Infuriating.

But there were always flashes of the old Bob.

You can see it in the last photo, the one on the inside back cover, and you can hear it in a letter he wrote to his granddaughter Daisy on her graduation just a couple of years ago.

The words of a man who revelled in success of any type. Inspiring Grandpa.

Darling Daisy,
Quite the best news since you were born into our family. Very, very well done GIRL – no, woman now! Justin & I will see that you are well rewarded pro tem (Latin) and we shall see you next month.
I cannot begin to tell you what great joy you have brought us all. Absolutely fabulous and the old judge would have been so very proud of your 1st – quite like old times!
O tempora O mores,

Bob, Father, Grandpa, occasionally GrandPAPA: always the centre of attention, squeezing fun out of every moment, always competitive, but always tolerant, without judgment, supportive, funny, hilarious, the life & soul of the party, mischievous, infuriating, inspiring, a complete one off.

Or as he might have put it: “Il n’y aucune”