On Wednesday 18th May 2011 at 11:30am a service of thanksgiving was held at St Bride's Church for the life of Robin Richard Allen.
The BIDDING PRAYER
The Venerable David Meara delivered the Bidding:
We gather today to celebrate the life and honour the memory of Robin Allen, writer, journalist, former Gulf Correspondent of the Financial Times, proud husband and father.
We remember a talented, stylish and erudite man, warm and sympathetic, and we mourn his untimely death.
As we give thanks for him today, and all he meant as husband, father, colleague and friend, so we rejoice in the privilege of having known him; and we commend him to God's care and keeping, trusting that at the end of our brief day is the eternity of God's love.
Jonathan Allen, son
Robin Allen, for his Grandchildren.
I've often wondered, as the years have passed, when I would start to feel like a grown-up. For me, it happened this year, with two events, one of overwhelming joy - becoming a parent - and one of immense sadness - losing a parent.
I realized the connection when I asked my sister Josephine for advice on how to tackle the daunting task of capturing Papa's essence in a brief eulogy. She said "Just go up there and tell Noah, Jackson and Grace what they should know about their Grandfather." After that the words came easily, so here goes...
Robin was a loving and fiercely proud father...
- ...always embarrassingly vocal at school sports days and at other events, completely incapable of holding himself back, and oblivious to the reactions of others. It made us cringe at the time, but now it makes us smile.
- He never tired of calling Josephine "a star" whether it was for making a pencil holder out of cardboard or graduating from university...
- And he insisted on calling me "Darling" well into adulthood, much to the embarrassment of his brother Michael, when he did it in a very loud voice in the men's changing room at the Royal Berkshire Golf Club.
Robin fell in love with two women of extraordinary grace and strength,
- ...he was special enough that they fell for him too, and he considered himself truly blessed that this should happen. As most of you know, Papa's life had its ups and downs, and he would be angry with me if I didn't pay tribute to the two companions who guided him through his most difficult moments.
- Isabelle, the most loving mother a child could wish for, was relentlessly positive while he struggled with addiction, determined to help him overcome it, and always made sure that Josephine and I understood the difference between the illness and the man.
- And Fiona, who put the bounce back in his step and the twinkle back in his eyes, moved to the Middle East to start a new life with him, and gave him the confidence to re-start a career which led him to become Gulf Correspondent for the Financial Times, a dream job for him. Some of you may not be aware that Papa's last few years were difficult and painful. He battled two forms of cancer, severe back pain, and countless operations. In a cruel irony, the medicines he was forced to take often left him too tired to fight his way back to health, and sometimes robbed him of the intellectual curiosity that was his life-blood. Throughout, Fiona was a rock. Fiona: when one day you are reunited with him, that is the first thing he will tell you.
Robin was a man of honor and humility
- When I was sixteen, we traveled to America to visit universities. Prior to that trip, our relationship had been close, but I often sensed that there were things he wanted to tell me but was holding back. In Boston, he put that right with an act of great courage. He took me to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It was a large gathering, with well over a hundred people. And without fanfare, he walked up to the podium, introduced himself to the audience, looked directly at me, and told his story. He spoke of his guilt at his failings as a husband and a father, he credited Isabelle with saving his life, put into beautiful words the enormous love and pride he felt at his two children, and thanked God for bringing Fiona into his life. When it was over, his step was lighter as he walked back to his seat next to me, and I could see the relief in his face. A great burden had been lifted.
Robin was a master of his chosen subject, Middle East history and politics,
Robin had a wonderful sense of humour
- ...loved and respected by his colleagues at the FT, some of whom are here today. In an obituary which would have made him immensely proud, former Middle East Editor David Gardner described him as "a deep well of knowledge about the Gulf States and Iran, which he shared with extraordinary generosity, especially to younger colleagues, lacing his insights with mischievous humour and raucous laughter."
- ...even finding ways to inject it into his Middle East reporting. In a 1996 story on a coup in the ruling family of Qatar, he wrote: "it seems Sheik Hamad crucially forgot to instruct the Swiss banks... to take away his father's co-signatory power, with the result that Sheikh Khalifa has taken all the country's money. The moral of the tale for potential coup plotters: by all means take control of the radio station and the army; but don't forget to write a memo to the bank manager."
- Papa would want to be remembered with laughter, which is why I am going to poke a little fun at him now.
Robin had a unique sense of style.
- The highlight of his youth was undoubtedly his trip around the world with best friend David Norman. David recalls the immaculate suiting, always from Anderson and Sheppard, and finished off with a pair of meticulously polished hand-made John Lobb shoes; as well as the prodigious amount of luggage he hauled around, capped off with a very expensive typewriter in smart leather case, acquired in preparation for the glittering reporting career which still lay ahead. By the time Robin and David reached Saigon, the typewriter had seen precious little action, and so Robin dropped it into the waste paper basket. David picked it up, took it to the local street market, sold it, and presented an incredulous Robin with a $20 bill.
Robin was trusting
- ...always taking people at their word, sometimes to his cost and the great amusement of his friends.
- Another of David's wonderful vignettes from their travels took place on Lake Wula in Kashmir, when Robin decided to retain the services of a celebrated Kashmiri duck-shooting guide, and was persuaded that it was always better to have two guns shooting, one of which would be the guide himself. Robin positioned himself carefully, full of anticipation and impeccably attired, but somehow the duck always seemed to fly over the guide. End result: Robin 1, Guide 65, and an exorbitant bill.
Robin was eccentric, from the smallest detail to the grandest gesture
According to him,
- handwritten notes should always be in triplicate, and the end of carbon paper was a step backwards for civilization
- you could never have too many paperclips, post-it notes, rubber bands, or jacket pockets to keep them in
- brightly colored corduroys and layers of cashmere sweaters were quite appropriate attire for 100 degree heat
- and the manufacturers of Colmans' powdered mustard and Nescafe instant coffee had left a zero off the suggested serving size
On returning to London from his travels in 1964, Robin decided to entertain his close friends, but wanted to keep things intimate. So he gave two balls within 7 days of each other for 120 guests each, one at the Savoy and one at the Dorchester.
Robin had an enormous appetite
- ...particularly for steak, preferably blood-rare or raw. During a holiday staying with friends in the Tuscan countryside, our host returned from the kitchen with the salad... to find that Robin had polished off a plate of steak tartare intended for six. "But you put it in front of me," he protested.
- I will never forget him chastising the waiter at the Grand Central Station Oyster Bar, for presuming to bring the bill after Papa had polished off a shrimp cocktail, a lobster, and 36 oysters. He wanted more oysters...
Robin was stubborn, sometimes infuriatingly so.
- Try as they might, none of the Italian doctors and nurses who treated him over the last few years could prevent him from sneaking cigarettes out of the hospital window, or get him to appreciate that two packets a day might not be the fastest route to recovery from oesophagus surgery.
- When his doctor prescribed a six week diet of pureed fruit and vegetables, Papa's response was to ask the next nurse who came into the room if she wouldn't mind nipping into town to get him some éclairs au chocolat and tartes au pomme.
And finally... Robin was proof in death as in life that you can judge a man by his friends,
- ...and all of you here today are testament to that.
- I can't imagine a more perfect send-off, particularly here in St. Brides', the Cathedral of Journalists.
Alexandra Dixon, Robin's sister-in-law, read 1 Corinthians 13
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. Andthough I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give
my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth
not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly seeketh not
her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in
iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all
things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of
these is charity.
David Norman, Robin's best friend, read Desiderata by Max Ehrmann
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labours and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
Josephine Courant, daughter, read Footprints in the Sand by Mary Stevenson
One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the
beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For
each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: one belonging
to him, and the other to the Lord.
When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at
the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path
of his life, that there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that
it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life.
This really bothered him, and he questioned the Lord about it. “Lord,
you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the
way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times of my
life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I
needed you most you would leave me.”
The Lord replied “My Son, My precious child. I Love You, and would
never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see
only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
The choir & organist of St Bride's Choir performed the following anthems and songs:
Wachet Auf – Johann Sebastian Bach
Nimrod from Enigma Variations – Edward Elgar
I Was Glad – Sir Hubert Parry
Ave Verum Corpus – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Ave Maria – Franz Schubert
Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific - Rodgers & Hammerstein
Gaelic Blessing - John Rutter
Sortie in Eb – Louis Lefébure-Wely
Dear Lord and Father of mankind
The Lord’s my Shepherd