Fred Haslam 1930-2019

On Wednesday 7th August 2019, St Swithun’s Martyr Worthy welcomed over 1oo people to celebrate the life of Fred Haslam, a long term resident of Martyr Worthy.  John Purver played the organ beautifully with Sheep may safely graze by JS Bach, The Lord bless you and keep you by Rutter and Nimrod by Elgar as the entrance music.  We sang some excellent hymns: Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, Love Divine all loves excelling, Lord of all hopefulness and Praise my soul the King of heaven.  Olivia Bickford-Smith (Fred’s granddaughter) declaimed the reading The Ship by Victor Hugo and Michael Weston (a friend) read the Bible reading Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (see below).

Sally Johnston and Jo Bickford-Smith read the following tribute about Fred:

Thank you so much to you all for coming today to celebrate Dad’s life we are thrilled to see so many people. Before I start, I would like to say a big thank you on behalf of Mum Jo and I to all of you for your support and kindness and for being here today to celebrate Dad’s life. We have been overwhelmed by the letters cards and messages that we have received as well as the immense amount of practical help when we were finding things just too much to cope with. Thank you also for the beautiful flowers here in church. We really do appreciate it all.

FRED what can we say, Scientist, captain of industry, friend, colleague, dad and papa!

He was a highly intelligent, intellectual and very successful man but also a very private and modest man too. This was made clear to me when he explained to me that he didn’t want a boring biography or boastful account of how brilliant or successful he was, but we couldn’t let the moment pass without briefly describing his exceptional and very interesting life.

Our father was born in Cheshire in 1930, the eldest son of a distinguished scientist whose career spanned the British nuclear programme and the development of Teflon. Dad was awarded a county scholarship to study chemistry at Manchester University and took up his place following serving his National Service at the age of 17 with the RAF. After his chemistry degree dad moved to University College London where he took a second degree in Chemical Engineering before completing a PHD in studies related to rocket propulsion, supported by the Unilever Foundation. Dad’s love of science continued throughout his life and it was difficult to keep up with his encyclopaedic knowledge of everything from the properties and uses of graphene to the applications of gene editing- which he discussed with his consultant at great length at his last appointment…….I’m not sure who knew more!

After managing to avoid being blown up in the highly dangerous world of phosphorus and phosphine with Albright and Wilson Dad was invited to join BAT with whom he stayed for the rest of his working life, rising to Head of Research and finally the company’s Chief Engineer. His career was intrepid and eventful. His work took him to over 80 countries and he survived at least 3 potential air disasters, kidnapping in Argentina, revolutions in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, 3 earthquakes, the KGB and Las Malvinas Argentina’s! His packing list was always the same – a few items of clothing and vast quantities of whisky and digestive biscuits on which he survived. Despite this adventurousness Dad remained a very cautious traveller when it came to family holidays. On the few occasions that we took an aeroplane he would insist on us getting to the airport with a minimum of 5 hours to spare, but our trips mostly involved long car ferry trips to Europe with a small tent or caravan packed to the gunnels with dried packet food, tens of cartons of long life milk and many packets of water purification tablets……as you could never be too sure…..

Dad was quietly proud of his achievements, particularly his ability to make the best Victoria sandwich ever, but strangely these really didn’t matter to him at all. He truly believed who you are is more important than what you are or what you have amassed, the quality of the person was most important, and integrity was to be valued above all else.

He was an old-fashioned man with old fashioned values, a lifelong supporter of Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) yet open to and interested in all the developments emerging in the modern world.

He was also very mischievous and great fun too.

A terrible tease never would an April fool’s day pass without some ridiculous phone call or prank. He didn’t like swimming, but taught us both, once we were off we never saw him swim again, we called him the human thermometer because you could gauge how hot the air temperature by how far up his legs the water reached when he was paddling ! The Haslam inverse temperature rule!

When we lived at Nonsuch there were regular ride on lawnmower races with his neighbour, fiercely contested and dad was always sure he had won. His caused chaos on the Canberra organising the moving of trash cans in the middle of the night and then there were the crazy hazy days of family holidays in St Tropez. Each year he had a theme for his photos, thank goodness one year with the plethora of topless beaches his theme was moustaches! All these escapades always accompanied by his broad grin, a twinkle in the eye and an infectious giggle.

He employed his somewhat quirky sense of humour so well over the last few months in helping us to deal with his failing health, which was always his intention. One morning in hospital when he was surrounded by a posse of various doctors and nurses, he was asked with great seriousness whether he had made plans for the future – to which he replied in his own inimitable style …….. oak!

In his younger days he looked very like and was often mistaken for Marlon Brando which he rather enjoyed; we always wondered whose name he signed when giving autographs. He genuinely was routinely stopped on aeroplanes, usually by American ladies of a certain age demanding attention from this “filmstar”!

He loved cricket and it is perhaps no surprise that he waited until England won the Cricket World Cup before he died. As children my sister and I were regularly dragged to Hampshire County cricket ground for a day of extensive education including inspection of the wicket during the break in innings! He even tried to teach us to spin bowl, with limited success.  He also introduced us to two of his other passions; Opera and jazz.

In spite of this indoctrination at an early age, we had an amazing childhood being exposed to cultures, people and artefacts from all over the world. This was a real inspiration to both of us to travel and explore and there are many stories to tell of the overseas visitors he welcomed into our home, some who even bought their own minders.

He was a brilliant and dedicated father. As girls growing up with ponies, his life was spent ferrying us to gymkhanas and pony club even though he had never sat on a horse let alone try to manoeuvre one into a horse box! He paid vast sums for their upkeep and he did try to hand over Jo’s aged pony to her husband Mark on their wedding day, but I am pleased to report his cunning plan failed!

Dad met Eirlys, the love of his life, who is sadly not well enough to be here today, when they were both studying at Manchester (a real life brief encounter on a train) and they remained devoted to each other for 63 years. On retirement Mum and Dad continued to travel the world, making annual pilgrimages to France for the Vendange in addition to other far flung places. But his favourite place came to be The Cricketers on Wednesday lunchtimes where he and his friends would meet and, in his words, deal with all matters of world importance. He kept very busy, walking the Pilgrim’s Way, enjoying Grange Park Opera and threw many a party with Eirlys – always accompanied by a rather bad poem that he had composed and some very strong cocktail concoction!

You will all, I am sure have your own very precious memories of the man,

But the Dad that we will remember most fondly is the quiet thoughtful man who was engaging and interesting. To whom people came when they wanted advice (which was offered to those who didn’t ask as well). He didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve believing emotions were private, but he felt things very deeply and cared very deeply. When our IVF treatment failed for the n th time, he didn’t weep or wail just turned up on the doorstep with a little rose bush in bud and said “buds grow into flowers, Sally, you will be fine”.

Dad loved Martyr Worthy, the church and the valley, he loved playing boules and being involved with the village hall and the PCC. He loved his family and was immensely proud of his grandchildren Olivia, Jack and Flora, who he would do anything for, but most of all he loved Mum.

We will miss him terribly, but for him it was time, he wouldn’t want us to cry but would tell us to move on and to try to be the best people we can in his memory and never-ending love.


Revd Alex Pease gave the following address:

What can we say about Fred, which has not already been said in that beautiful eulogy by Sally and Jo?

He was a truly remarkable man, interested in everything round him and interesting with it.  He had the most wonderful collection of stories about his fascinating life and had a clear opinion on most issues…….

When I last saw him at the end of June he said to me ‘I have so many stories to tell but they will all be lost now…’  Jo and Sally – get those stories down while you still remember them!

He was so alert and intelligent right to the end….he was the only person to whom I have given a book in the last few weeks of their life with every expectation that he might actually read it and he did!

Hearing Jo and Sally speak of him, the other day there was still the memory of this glamorous Dad (often mistaken by women of a certain age for Marlon Brando) to his young daughters; a traveller who came back from incredible adventures abroad, and as a brillant raconteur, would have held them spell bound.  It doesn’t surprise me at all that Sally and Jo have put Chaucer’s description  of the Knight (from the prologue to The Canterbury Tales) at the end of the service sheet.  I can quite see how they would have seen him in this way.

He clearly adored Eirlys and his two daughters and grandchildren.  The whole idea that he learned everything about horses so that his daughters could enjoy riding them even though he had never ridden and taught them to swim even though he hated swimming speaks of a deep and unselfish love.

In a manuscript, which Sally has given me, he describes them as daughters of whom he is justifiably proud, who have lived up to every possible expectation, with successful husbands Scot and Mark and grand children Olivia, Jack and Flora, all making their way with great promise in the world; and he describes his whole family as loving and happy, and the envy of many.

Fred was a man of great achievements, about which he was modest and adventures, about which he was funny

But most significantly for me was what Sally and Jo said in the tribute, that his achievements didn’t really matter to him rather he truly believed that who you are is more important than what you do or what you have and that integrity was his touchstone.

In the passage of scripture which Mark has just read from Ecclesiastes (written we think by King Solomon possibly 3000 years ago) the author faces up to the truth that all our lives are limited: there is a time to be born and a time to die. Fred must have faced this issue particularly acutely on the three occasions when he narrowly missed being killed in air disasters.

I think those who have nearly lost their lives have a deep sense of how precious life is there is no time to be wasted but for him to conclude from this, that what life is about is not what you do (a collection of bucket list experiences) or what you acquire (the financial and material rewards of success), but rather who you are….is a profoundly Christian way of looking at things and gives us a glimpse of Fred’s strong faith and a sense that it is who Fred is as a person that matters for eternity…and not what he has done or in his words what he has ‘amassed’.

How can we know that this is what really matters? How can we know what path to follow through our very limited lives?

Only by following Jesus Christ…the path of the only person who has passed over the barrier of death before us and returned to assure us that he is going ahead of us and that all will be well  and who promises that he will be with us….whatever the darkness of the journey that we travel, who assures the sceptic, Thomas, who asks not unreasonably, as we might ask, ‘How can we know the way?’ Jesus replies, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me’.

Knowing that way, knowing that path, knowing that person, knowing Jesus Christ, is life’s most important task and its greatest privilege.

There is a time to be born and a time to die but the time to get to know the Way, to get to know Jesus Christ, is now.


Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Everything Has Its Time

3 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 

2 a time to be born, and a time to die; 

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; 

a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; 

a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; 

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; 

a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 

7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; 

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

8 a time to love, and a time to hate; 

a time for war, and a time for peace. 

 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ec 3:1–8). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.



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