For a few months he was 'the oldest man in the world'- tributes are paid on the death of dear Bob...
Updated: Jun 3, 2020
Bob Weighton was a teacher, engineer, and in retirement a public speaker and regular writer of a column on Eco-matters. I first met Bob when he was 102. He took me out to lunch. Having chatted together over coffee beforehand in his flat I'd hesitated for a moment over whether he, or I, should drive to the pub where he'd booked a table. So chatty and debonair was he that I hadn't thought that, of course, this super-centenarian no longer had a car or a driver's licence!
Bob had that effect on you. In his company age became superfluous. When I asked him what he enjoyed doing most these days, he replied, quick as a flash: 'Entertaining people much younger than myself.' As the years rolled past everyone became younger than himself – literally.
I was teaching at Cliff College in Derbyshire, when news reached us, earlier this year, that he'd become officially the oldest man in the world. We'd already grown accustomed, back in his home town of Alton, Hampshire, to the fact that he was the oldest man in Britain. But to us he was still just dear Bob, who must always have been an exceptional man even in his 30s, 40s, 50s – kind, prayerful, widely read and with an impressive command of modern languages – let alone once he'd turned 100, then 110, and rising.
One of my favourite ploys when speaking to groups about ministry among older people, was to show a picture of Bob and ask the audience to guess his approximate age. '78?' someone might venture? '80?...85 then?...90?...Not 95?...100?!' 'Any advance on 100?' I'd say in my best auctioneer's patter. No one could ever believe by his looks that he was the age he was.
He celebrated his 112th birthday on 29 March this year, but it was a low-key occasion, despite intense media interest. Lockdown prevented a planned family lunch. The Archbishop of Canterbury sent him a letter of congratulation. Bob had long suggested Buckingham Palace no longer send him an annual card, saying Her Majesty the Queen already had enough to do... and the cards he had received in the past more than sufficed.
Bob was a stalwart supporter of Anna Chaplaincy from the start. He hosted in his own home the support group for me, and then my successors as Anna Chaplains in Alton, for almost ten years. It was to Bob that each of us would go when we needed advice about a knotty problem, a morale boost or a special prayer. He was an elder statesman of prayer. He read his Bible daily and when I brought a film crew to record an interview with him back in 2010, I saw open on his chair a spiritual classic he was part-way through reading: The Stature of Waiting by W.H. Vanstone.
His grandson and family were doing his shopping lately and he is survived by two of his and his late widow Agnes's three children. It doesn't seem long ago he was still walking by himself down to the supermarket to get his deli items – and was dubbed the unofficial chaplain to Waitrose!
Many tributes are being paid to Bob in the wake of his death from cancer yesterday (28 May 2020). The dedicated carers who latterly were coming across from the nursing home, Brendoncare, opposite his close care apartment several times a day to look after him will be among those who'll miss him most, I'm sure.
Bob had ten grandchildren and 25 great grandchildren. But only a few people are permitted to attend his funeral. I'm sure there will be a large Thanksgiving service arranged some time hence when Covid-19 restrictions are fully lifted.
On camera, I once asked Bob about death. He said: 'You either choose to believe that all will be well, or you choose to think that’s the end of me. Perhaps there are some questions of life and death which our minds can’t grasp at all, and it’s whether we face that immense change, whatever it might be, with confidence or with dread. That is the big question.’
That Bob faced his own terminal diagnosis with courage and with confidence is beyond doubt. His family described him in their news release of his death as 'a witty, kind, knowledgeable conversationalist'. I feel too close to this event to have found the right words yet to express all that he meant to me. Inspirational is too over-used a word to capture how significant a place he has had in my life and my heart this last decade, but it's an appropriate one nevertheless.
Perhaps the most apt words come from the Chief Executive of BRF, Richard Fisher, whom I took to meet Bob in 2015. They hit it off straight away. Bob was the most charming host, and you always came away feeling privileged to have spent time with him. Last night Richard wrote to say how sad it was to hear this news, 'But what a wonderful long and well-lived life. I imagine there is real rejoicing in heaven. Definitely a case of, "Well done, good and faithful servant."'