Saturday, 21 April 2012

Matthew Ridleys Memorial Service at Newcastle Cathedral

I have never seen Newcastle Cathedral so packed: I sat with my Northumbrian colleague Ian Lavery MP and we marvelled at how Matthew was a man without a single enemy and so many friends, from every walk of life from miners to royalty. I took some notes of Professor Oliver James's address which featured how,
- aged 19, Matthew had driven his tank from Normandy to Germany in the second World War: my favourite wartime story was a description of how they took over a French town which featured a giant Camembert Cheese Factory, whose smell was powerful and all pervasive over the local French town. As the rationed British troops did not know of such cheese delights the explosives team were sent to blow the cheese factory up, in case the cheese was some deadly weapon!
- He described how Matthew was a legend amongst the mining community for his role in ensuring that 700 homes for former miners were provided to local Northumbrians
- Matthew was a famous gardener, arborist, naturalist, fisherman, collector, Chair of the County Council and an apolitical force for good.
- Professor James described how after the war Matthew had gone to the Seychelles with 2 others and that they had successfully stopped the extinction of the famous Sooty Tern from these islands. Matthew loved birds but above all he loved Red Squirells. As Professor James remarked: "Matthew ensured that public fiunds were spent to such a degree on the Northumbrian Red Squirrels that they might as well have been gold plated by the end!" Their ongoing legacy in Northumberland is further testament to his great work.
But finally here is an extract from one of the poems read at his memorial service. This was a man born to great privilege - and a family who for centuries have been intrinsic to the way of life of this part of the world, but it sums him up well:

Not - how did he die? But how did he live?
Not - what did he gain? But what did he give?
Not - what was his station? But - had he a heart?
And - how did he play his god given part?
Not - what was his church? Nor - what was his creed?
But - had he befriended those really in need?

These are the things that measure the worth
Of a man, regardless of birth.

It was a privilege to have known this man who mad us all feel humble.