The world's oldest man's final journey
Updated: Jun 25
At the age of 112 he was, officially, the world's longest-lived man. But on Friday Bob Weighton's funeral cortege made its dignified way through the streets of Alton, Hampshire, where he had lived for many years and out towards Basingstoke Crematorium.
I was there to meet his coffin and was joined not only by a small group of family and friends – the numbers restricted because of coronavirus – but by all the crematorium staff, including groundsmen who gathered silently at the entrance to the chapel and bowed their heads in respect. I then officiated at Bob's funeral.
The local ITV station Meridian carried a report (Friday 19 June 2020) of the sights in Alton as scores of well-wishers lined the route to express their admiration for a well-known and much-loved elder statesman of the town.
The funeral directors, Kemp and Stevens, based opposite the local Alton Methodist Church where Bob worshipped latterly, took care of all the arrangements. Alton's Methodist minister, the Revd Philip Simpkins, clapped with others in the crowd as the hearse went past.
More townspeople lined the road beside local landmark, The Butts, as Bob's flower-laden hearse made its stately progress, at walking pace. Wreaths had been made spelling out Bob's name and the figures 112, representing his great age.
Some mourners waved home-made placards expressing their sentiments. As well as applause, there were some who shed a tear for the man who had lived independently in their midst and only recently stopped making his customary walk down the road every few days to Waitrose supermarket. Bob was known for being an exceptionally good listener and conversationalist and was affectionately known as the 'unofficial chaplain to Waitrose'!
It was only in March that Bob was lauded by the Guinness Book of Records for being the 'oldest living man.' Curiously, they noted the wrong date of birth – out by just one day. He was actually born on 29 March 1908. But the fact remained that for these past months he was, indeed, officially the oldest man in the world.
The Weighton family showed their appreciation of all we Anna Chaplains in Alton had done for Bob by sending a personal card and a huge box of colourful 'thank you' biscuits, which the Revd Rachel Sturt and I were touched to receive. In truth, we received as much if not more spiritual support from Bob over the years than we gave – as his family recognised in their message.
We remember very fondly his generous hospitality and prayers while we visited his cosy close care apartment opposite Brendoncare nursing home. Bob had chaired the Anna Chaplaincy support group in Alton – where Anna Chaplaincy began a decade ago – from 2010 until late last year. He was always interested to hear about the ways our chaplaincy for older people was expanding nationally whenever we went to see him and took great pride in what was developing.
Bob was feted each year on his birthday by the Alton Library Club, which Anna Chaplaincy set up in the local library and which met monthly until lockdown. Every year a customised birthday cake was procured by Anna Friend, Peta Sutherland, and was presented to Bob who had been attending the club from its beginnings in 2010.
I'm relieved to say Bob did not die as a result of Covid-19 but from cancer, and his period of ill health and confinement was comparatively short. I shall treasure the scale model of a windmill – one of many he made raising money for charity – and all out of recycled materials from his 'workshop' in the flat's spare bedroom.
As I said in my funeral address, Bob remained young at heart… always. He was curious about the world – full of awe and wonder – and he continued to be interested in other people right to the end. What a role model he has been for us all when it comes to ageing well.
A devout Christian, he believed eternal life starts now and he faced his own demise not with dread but with confidence.
May Bob rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.