Eulogy J R Rank
Born 13th January 1930 – Died 31st August 2021
It is more usual to end rather than begin a Eulogy with a summary of someone’s qualities.
Uncle Johnny, as you may know, was not at all usual. So, forgive me if I begin with a summary.
He was a loveable man and a loving one too. His go-to attitude to life was joyful and he embraced life with a happy disposition. It was not like him to be quiet and withdrawn. He was not a troublemaker. He was very much a peace maker and a peaceful person. He hated aggression and abhorred war. He was one of those rare men who was very patient and took time with people from all walks of life. Above all he was kind and caring and took trouble to care for others. There was a goodness in his purpose towards others. He enjoyed being hospitable and not just for his own benefit. He would go out of his way to entertain in the true meaning of that word. If you made his acquaintance, you would quickly discover his loyalty and faithfulness in friendship. There was a noticeable gentleness in his dealings with others and he often demonstrated self-control where others might react more aggressively.
You may feel this summary is a bit over the top. Well, I didn’t make it up. I have simply picked these qualities out of the comments people have written in response to his death which James has kindly shared with me. And for those of you who made them and are here today I would thank you for your kindness in expressing them.
So, what shaped his life?
John Rowland Rank (Uncle Johnny to most of us) only spent the first nine and a half years of his life with his father, Rowland Rank. Rowland died in July 1939 after a long illness. John had limited memories of his father, but he held them very dearly.
But let’s wind the clock back to a cold wet day on 13th January 1930.
My grandmother, Margaret Rank, had promised my 12-year-old father, Joe, that she would take him to Madame Tussauds for an end of holiday treat. He had also persuaded her that he deserved a ride on the top of a double-decker bus. But as they passed through the chamber of horrors, a point my father liked to remind his young brother of later in life, it became clear that my heavily pregnant grandmother was going into labour with her fourth child. That meant a ride home in a taxi and not on the top deck of a bus! My father’s protests fell on deaf ears.
As a result, Uncle Johnny was born in his parents flat at 7 Park Lane London and he grew up in the family’s principal home at Aldwick near Bognor. Rowland had been gassed during the closing stages of the first world war and had recovered his health at Aldwick which was where his father, Joseph Rank, had brought the family when he was a child. Rowland liked the area, so he bought the house, and a decision was taken to knock it down and build a new one further from the sea. It was renamed Aldwick Place and was home to Johnny and his family. His mother was renowned for being able to make a home out of anywhere and this was truly home to all the family.
Set in 13 acres it included several features such as a sunken garden and a nine-hole golf course. There were thatched buildings housing a squash court come pavilion and a gymnasium. The garden had numerous ponds and water features, a tennis court, kitchen garden and greenhouse and beyond that a backdrop of woodland.
The estate included nearly 300 acres of farmland including stabling for horses, a racing pigeon loft and kennels for the greyhounds. Uncle Johnny had his own little garden complete with Wendy house and sandpit, but he wasn’t too keen on the sandpit. It filled up with Ilex leaves in summer.
Riding on the beach was a popular pastime and he had a little pony, but it soon worked out that it could dump Johnny in the sea without too much difficulty which annoyed him immensely.
If you talked to Uncle Johnny about Aldwick Place he would describe it in great detail. To him it was a heavenly place located next to the sea and a playground like no other. I don’t think he was inclined towards sports or athletic activity except for swimming which he loved, in fact he once commented that “I wasn’t a very energetic child. I was never the sort who ran about and made a fuss and things, so I was quite happy.” But Aldwick made a huge impact on him. It was a magical dwelling place to a small boy which inspired his imagination and fed the memories of those first nine and a half years of his life when his father was alive. It was described by a notable gardening magazine of the time as “The House of your Dreams” and he once commented wistfully that “…indeed it was.”
Uncle Johnny’s schooling quickly turned into an educational ‘hors d’oeuvre’. His first school, Queensways, was not a great success; apparently he only lasted one day! After that it was a governess whom he called Iddy, who taught him for about two or three years and whose abiding legacy was stories about a magic carpet that transported the two of them around the world at will. He reckoned it gave him the travel bug which stayed with him for the rest if his life.
There followed a succession of home schooling and schools up until my grandfather’s death in 1939. After that he was sent to Windlesham House School in Findon in Sussex until that too was relocated during the war. Then it was back to home schooling by the farm secretary who seems to have spent most of the time teaching him about the outdoor world.
Next, he was sent to another local School in Bognor until he took his Common Entrance in 1943. My father, Joe, his elder brother had been very critical of how my grandmother had mollycoddled Johnny. Joe himself had been sent to Lorreto near Edinburgh where the regime was extremely tough. It was therefore decided that Johnny should go there too. However, he failed his Common Entrance, which was hardly surprising and that, I can safely say, saved his bacon!
Instead, he was sent to Stowe School in January 1944. Although he enjoyed Stowe it didn’t get off to a good start. Being wartime, no lights or torches were permitted on the night train that took him from London to Stowe. It was a traumatic journey for someone whose life experience to that point had been very home centred. Matters got worse when it was discovered his suitcase had got lost in London. So, for three weeks he was the only boy at this school who had nothing but a suit when the rest of the school were wearing blazer and trousers. The combination of being away from home and going through these trials made him a nervous wreck. The doctor detected a heart murmur, so it was off to London to see a heart specialist who confirmed the diagnosis, sending him back to Stowe with strict instructions not to play games.
On games days he was allowed to wander at will in the beautiful grounds of Stowe gaining an appreciation for the Georgian period. However, he did have to join the Combined Cadet Force but once the war was over, he was very glad to leave “all that marching about” which he didn’t care too much for.
After Stowe he went to a crammer for a while and then it was time for his National Service but the heart murmur prevented him doing national service so all in all it became quite a successful heart murmur!
Having left his education behind the next step was the family flour milling business. He was apprenticed to learn the ropes which meant a cook’s tour of various departments in the company. He found the whole thing intensely boring until he discovered the Registration Department where details of share dealings were recorded but alas, he was not allowed to stop there. After two years he decided to retire.
Which brings us to the 1950’s.
After the war it became clear that with top rate taxation running at 19/6d in the pound (that’s 97.5% income tax) Margaret would have to sell Aldwick Place and buy something smaller. They moved to Wick Cottage in Aldwick and a London base in Duke Street. However, Johnny and Margaret had agreed that if things got better, which they did by the end of the 1950’s, their dream would be to acquire a Georgian House as they both found this period most attractive. Even while Rowland was still alive, he and Margaret had seen Sennicotts at a distance, a house built in the Regency Style in Chichester, and they had agreed it would be a dream house to own.
Therefore in 1961 when the opportunity to acquire Sennicotts came up it was purchased. In Uncle Johnny’s own words, “It became a tremendous interest to them both, historically and architecturally interesting”. It began a long love affair with the period. They spent a significant amount of time travelling the United Kingdom seeking out and acquiring period furniture for the house; visiting and learning about other historic properties as well as hosting groups who wanted to visit Sennicotts. Along the way they made many new friends. They both enjoyed participating in this new venture and becoming involved with entertaining the people who took an interest in the same things. After Margaret’s death Uncle Johnny carried on his involvement for another 15 years before retiring to Bosham.
His interest in this and the arts led him into many other ventures such as Pallant House where he was a founding supporter as well as the Oxmarket Centre of Arts which he helped establish. His other interests extended to the Prayer Book Society of which his nephew Johnny Scrivener was a prominent Director. He was a life member of the Georgian Group and a founder member of the Regency Society of Brighton and Hove. His love of theatre and music brought him into contact with the New Chichester Festival Theatre where he was a Trustee.
In 1982 he approached the Bognor Regis Lions Club with a view to establishing a centre for all sorts of social activities in a barn known as Hammonds Barn, previously part of the farm at Aldwick. The centre was named the Rowland Rank Centre and has a long lease with rent payable at 11am on July 11th every three years. This was the exact time of Rowland Rank’s death. The rent is a Specimen White Gardenia to be presented to a member of the family. This flower was my grandfather’s favourite flower which he grew in the greenhouse at Aldwick Place. Rowland Rank had been unwell for some years in the 1930’s and knew he did not have long to live. According to Uncle Johnny he had confided in his great friend Monty Collis-Brown that his great hope was that his youngest son would remember him.
Recalling this comment later he wrote, “I do remember him.” Clearly the creation of the Rowland Rank Centre was evidence of that memory.
In addition to local social causes Uncle Johnny was a keen supporter of many other projects including the establishment of the Brandy Hole Copse Local Nature Reserve, a 6.5-hectare Local Nature reserve on the edge of Chichester – Chichester’s first Local nature Reserve described as a hidden treasure.
He has also been a lifelong member and supporter of his local parish church. For many years he served as the Secretary of the St Mary’s Sennicotts Advisory Council. His Christian faith was all important to him.
And what of his family?
Apart from my father who was the eldest Uncle Johnny had two other siblings. His two sisters Peggy and Pat. Peggy lost her first husband who was killed in action and their only child who was born with Spina Bifida died sadly as an infant. Her second marriage was overshadowed by similar problems losing a second child due to Anaemia. Later she herself died from breast cancer in 1971 after a 7-year struggle. His other sister Pat sadly also developed breast cancer about 5 years after Peggy died. However, she decided she would keep it secret and only when it spread to her lungs 20 years later did she tell her family. Pat was a very gifted and practical person but also strong and courageous. Sadly, she did not recover from the secondary stage and died in 1997. In between Peggy’s death and Pat’s, Johnny also lost his mother Margaret, whose companionship he adored and whom he nursed to the end. She died peacefully in her sleep in 1988. Together they went on many cruises and trips to far flung parts of the world. A passion he pursued after she died for as long as he could.
It seems that through his childhood Uncle Johnny was the product of both his father’s early demise and an age gap in his family. I’m sure he was not treated well by his peers at school, and he was often described as precocious and preferring the company of adults. Indeed, there are stories of him being set up for pranks and teased but he took it well and bore no malice. As a child, he made a few good friends in Aldwick but clearly stayed close to his family, in particular his mother, and he loved the company of her friends.
You can see how his unique situation not only shaped his character but prepared him for the life he was to embark on. He had an extraordinary ability to relate to ordinary people and he was a loyal support to all who worked for him. He was also a very shrewd investor and had an excellent grasp of the Stock Market and the Property Market.
It is easy to compare one’s life with others or with the great and industrious but in God’s kingdom there is room for all. What the Lord seems to treasure is the enduring fruit in a person’s life. I mentioned at the beginning Uncle Johnny’s character and qualities that we all knew and loved. You may have recognised those qualities from a letter St Paul wrote to the Christians living in Galatia at the time. He lists them. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” he compares these qualities to fruit you might pick off a tree; only in this case the tree is the Holy Spirit. It’s what he expects to find growing on someone who permits the Holy Spirit to grow in them.
If we are asked anything at the Pearly Gates, I don’t think it will be what empire we built, nor how hard we worked, nor what achievements we have accomplished or whether we got married and had children but what fruit we bore, what talents we were given and what we did with them. Each of us is made only one way and then only once.
At the end of his life, I think Uncle Johnny understood what was happening to him and dreaded the protracted illnesses that so many of his family had endured. He loathed the idea of being a burden to anyone. His sudden passing was in effect a great mercy.
One thing I have left to the end. He never took pleasure in the approbation of others. He held no qualifications, not even his common entrance. No A levels, No University Degree. No profession. No frills. But one thing he did receive and in which he permitted himself a great deal of justifiable pride was a Civic Award from Chichester in 2015. This simple award recognised formally what he had quietly achieved and the key role he had played in establishing some of the enduring attractions which Chichester is well known for today.
He took no pleasure in blowing his own trumpet. But I hope this account of the life of a man who has been described by many as a True Gentleman, does it for him.