Dr Robert David Briggs 1939-2019

We had a wonderful funeral service for Nick and Jonathan Briggs’ father David on Monday 25th November 2019 at St Mary’s Easton. We sang Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, Abide with me and Jerusalem.  John Purver played the organ.

Nick gave the following eulogy about his Dad, written by himself and his brother Jonathan:

I can see you now in my mind’s eye.  You are in the kitchen, at Lowcroft.  You are cooking something.  Something complicated.  You’ve got an array of those little pieces of paper scattered across the worktop.  Each one has timings for different dishes you have been working on. Some in the oven, some on the hob, some you cooked last week.  All in your almost indecipherable handwriting.  

You look up and smile and say hello and announce the complex menu you have been planning for weeks.  You have a detailed plan for each course.  You’ve laid the table with so much crockery and rank after rank of cutlery.  You offer everyone a drink and of course you’ve made mince pies and little sausages.  You are happy hosting and revel in the complexity and abundance on offer.  You are relaxed and, of course, full of smiles.  You did love an occasion. The laws of hospitality for both you and Mum were sacred. An expert cook before it became fashionable for men to try their hand in the kitchen, you were so ambitious, you prepared everything beautifully and served it all with understated pride.

To our friends you were the ideal parent. You were welcoming and tolerant – obviously. You were fully engaged in their conversation, fully immersed in what they were saying and so appreciated everybody who came to stay. You had a boundless fascination with the world, and seemingly everyone you encountered in it.

You were by all accounts a remarkable doctor.  Mum often said that after all else you were outstanding at your job.  You were a GP for most of your career and you thrived on the responsibility and the care you provided for your patients.  I remember so many weekends and evenings when you were called out at all hours. I remember the concern on your face when things weren’t going well and the joy you felt when things were going right. I remember how absolute was your commitment to the NHS, to everyone being cared for and having equal access to that care.  I remember the piles and piles of presents from patients at Christmas and bottles and bottles of whiskey given by those you looked after that you were so pleased to receive but never drank. 

I remember all the cards you received on retirement. They were so full of praise and gratitude. People wrote:

‘we have complete and utter faith in you and your judgment’

 ‘we have little hope in finding a more caring doctor.’

‘we will be deprived of your talent and friendship’.

‘you helped me through the loss of both my parents.

So many cards and so many wonderful comments.

I have always loved to travel and you gave me that. I remember on school runs being tested on obscure capitals of the world. I remember you telling me about your travels behind the iron curtain and being shot at in East Germany. You instilled a vivid picture of foreign places and provoked an early interest in history. You seemed unsurprised and enthusiastic when I wanted to travel and when I left for Bermuda.

I remember greeting you at the airport on your first visit, eyes lit up and eager to embark on another new experience. I’d return from work and you be full of enthusiasm to regale me with the day’s experiences and encounters and of course you’d have a 100 new questions. Food would be ready, wine on the table and the expectation of friends to host.

You went sailing and skiing and driving across Europe, learning and seeing and then came home full of stories of how much it meant to you and how much fun you’d had. You could be a wide-eyed traveller, on a sailing holiday to Turkey when challenging seas and ‘misunderstandings’ with Jonathan at the helm led to the yacht plunging towards Syria, a long day’s trauma was finally relieved when guided to safe harbour by a rescue launch crewed by Australian girls. 

I was so pleased at the end of your life we got to travel together. Only last summer we were scooting around Budapest, in a car to Bratislava for lunch the next day and up to the Moravian vineyards for the evening’s entertainment.

Grumps or Gramps you were so pleased when the next generation came along and being a grandparent suited you as you got older.  Heather and I were blessed beyond measure when you took up the role of part-time carer for Emelia for several years. Dutifully driving the often traffic packed motorway every Tuesday and Friday afternoon to play games, take her on long walks, show her where fairies lived,  make her giggle by pointing out cow parsley, and quite frequently, just holding her while she slept. Seeing you playing with your grandchildren brought back to my mind faded memories of my own childhood, of hours building ‘Lego’ together, quizzes in the car to school, kick arounds in the garden, bedtime stories, walks across Wilverley plain, countless board games and hours of talking round the table after dinner at Lowcroft.

You told me only a few weeks ago that you were so pleased to have got on and done new things at the end of your life. In the same way after you retired you didn’t stop working, you volunteered on NHS committees across the south and you were so pleased to be involved and undaunted by all the paperwork as you did your bit to help the NHS plan for the future.

While clearing out your bedside drawer, I found some of the things that were really precious to you.

A newspaper clipping of Steven and Gill’s wedding.

A photo of your parents sharing an embrace.

A photo of you cradling baby Angus.

A photo of Linda and Suzanne on the beach.

A picture of yourself canoeing with Bob in Canada

A photo of Jonathan and Seonad’s wedding.

A photo of you, Angus, Tilly and Emelia cuddling on the sofa.

A photo of the family opening presents on Christmas day

and of course a photo of you with your family and your friends around the dining table at Lowcroft.

Because you lived such a full life, it feels time has caught up too fast on a such a wonderful father.

You were never less than illuminating company, you brimmed with anecdote and knowledge, fascinated by all things, the embodiment of generosity and caring; receptive, subtle, curious, amusing.

We will miss you Dad.

Heather Bisbee read the following passage called the Station by Robert Hasting

Tucked away in our subconscious minds is an idyllic vision. We see ourselves on a long, long trip that almost spans the continent. We’re traveling by passenger train, and out the windows we drink in the passing scene of cars on nearby highways, of children waving at a crossing, of cattle grazing on a distant hillside, of smoke pouring from a power plant, of row upon row of corn and wheat, of flatlands and valleys, of mountains and rolling hills, of biting winter and blazing summer and cavorting spring and docile fall.

But uppermost in our minds is the final destination. On a certain day at a certain hour we will pull into the station. There will be bands playing, and flags waving. And once we get there so many wonderful dreams will come true. So many wishes will be fulfilled and so many pieces of our lives finally will be neatly fitted together like a completed jigsaw puzzle. How restlessly we pace the aisles, damning the minutes for loitering … waiting, waiting, waiting, for the station.

However, sooner or later we must realise there is no one station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip. The station is only a dream. It constantly outdistances us.

“When we reach the station that will be it!” we cry. Translated it means, “When I’m 18, that will be it! When I buy a new 450 SL Mercedes Benz, that will be it! When I put the last kid through college, that will be it! When I have paid off the mortgage, that will be it! When I win a promotion, that will be it! When I reach the age of retirement, that will be it! I shall live happily ever after!”

Unfortunately, once we get it, then it disappears. The station somehow hides itself at the end of an endless track

“Relish the moment” is a good motto, especially when coupled with Psalm 118:24: “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad. Rather, it is regret over yesterday or fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves who would rob us of today.

So, stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot oftener, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more and cry less. Life must be lived as we go along. The station will come soon enough.

Rupert Brow read Psalm 23  

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; 

he leads me beside still waters; 

3 he restores my soul. 

He leads me in right paths 

for his name’s sake. 

4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, 

I fear no evil; 

for you are with me; 

your rod and your staff— 

they comfort me. 

5 You prepare a table before me 

in the presence of my enemies; 

you anoint my head with oil; 

my cup overflows. 

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me 

all the days of my life, 

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord 

my whole life long

Jonathan read the following Bible Passage:

1 Corinthians 13

13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (1 Co 13:1–14:1). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Revd Alex Pease gave the following address:

I think people know when you love them. They know when you are interested in them.

Reading between the lines of what Nick has told me about his father, who sadly I didn’t know, many of the characteristics that David had in abundance were those listed in this passage from Corinthians. This would explain why he was such a popular GP in the New Forest.

He was always sociable, easy going and approachable.  Someone who made people welcome and had friends across generations, but was above all always inquisitive.  He had lots of questions to ask everyone and anyone: interesting because he was interested in everything and everyone around him. He was the type of person who would sit next to someone on even a short plane journey and come away with their entire life story; someone who was kind. I think he would have made a great vicar!

When we review St Paul’s summary of love in 1 Corinthians 13, we can easily form the wrong impression of what this passage is about if we read it in the Kings James Version because there the word we have read as ‘love’ in the original Greek is ‘agape’.  That word is translated in the KJV as ‘charity’.  ‘Charity’ means something very different today from what ‘agape’ actually means. But even the word love’ Is a bit ambiguous today. 

‘Agape’ means a special sort of love, self sacrificial love, the love that Jesus showed for us on the Cross. 

I think all love involves self-sacrifice.  It involves a sacrifice of time, of concentration, of focus, as we turn these things on another, rather than on ourselves. And St Paul tells us in this passage that everything else that we spend our lives focused upon our plans and predictions of the future, or prophesies our knowledge and abilities, all of these things will ultimately fail……will ultimately be of no importance…

But love never fails, agape, self sacrificial love, transcends death, crosses that boundary which all of us must cross.  How do we know this? We know it from another passage of scripture often read on these occasions: John 14 where Thomas concerned that Jesus is talking of leaving them asks Jesus ‘How can we know the way?’ and Jesus replies ‘I am the Way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the Father except through me’.

The way that Jesus is, is the path of the sort of self sacrificial love that Jesus showed for his disciples agape love, but the path of this sort of love is a way which we can only really know, deeply, if we know him.

Some times funerals make us think about our own deaths, as we get to the end of the family conveyor belt where there is no-one after us!

But Jesus is saying there is nothing to worry about as we cross over that final boundary, if we get to know Him, now, and are known by Him, now while we can…..

He is the Way, the Truth and the Life and there is no greater journey of discovery, no greater line of enquiry for the inquisitive; no greater answer for the most fundamental questions of life the universe and everything, than getting to know Him and being known by him and getting to know him is life’s greatest task; It involves us asking the most fundamental questions and provides the most rewarding answer……


John 14

14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 

 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 14:1–7). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.


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