• Debbie Thrower

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.