Yes, today we celebrate the 112th birthday of Bob Weighton, who is officially the oldest man in the world. But there's no cake, no candles or balloons for the super-centenarian who is staying at home, without visitors, like everyone else… on account of the coronavirus threat.
Despite a cancelled birthday lunch he had looked forward to, Bob remains sanguine. He has been receiving congratulatory phone calls and knows there are many well-wishers thinking of him on this red-letter day.
Bob keeps himself busy doing woodwork. He's never happier than when making something, preferably out of recycled materials. He has crafted many wooden windmills, for example, selling them in aid of charity.
Bob has been a keen supporter of Anna Chaplaincy for Older People since it began in Alton in 2010. He's hosted the Anna Chaplaincy support group in his home for many years and is always keen to hear of the latest developments nationally.
He recently sold his anthology of a lifetime's poetry-writing, Diverse Verses, in aid of funds for the local Anna Chaplain. Bob is a trained counsellor, as well as having spent his career as an engineer and teacher. He understands the importance of being a good listener.
I remember when I first met Bob (when he was just 102!). I asked his advice as I embarked on becoming an Anna Chaplain, and he said this: 'Just introduce yourself as Debbie. No one wants to know what qualifications you've got. They just want to know whether this is someone I can trust and talk to. We sum people up very quickly and decide whether we want to share things with them or not,' he said.
Bob still lives independently in his flat in Alton, Hampshire, and until recently has always received plenty of visitors from family and friends who help with his shopping, etc. The one time missionary – he spent time teaching in Taiwan in the 1930s – was born in Hull, Yorkshire. He has published his memoirs, yet so rich is his life experience that they only go up as far as World War II.
I asked him what he thought of the current Covid-19 crisis, in the light of all he went through during the war. He said that compared with the privations of wartime, in some ways, the present circumstances are even harder. 'Then we could huddle together for strength and comfort, but this virus is keeping us apart, isolated, and that's not good, for any one.'
Bob is an exceptional man, and not only because of his longevity. His wisdom and prayerfulness are an example to all who have the privilege of knowing him. We wish him and his family well on this his remarkable landmark birthday and say 'many happy returns'. For we look forward very much to being able to visit him again – in person – in future.
Visit BRF's Facebook page to hear Bob reciting a charming poem he composed for his great-granddaughter's third birthday.