Many relations and friends (including the current mayor of Winchester Cllr Eleanor Bell) gathered at St John’s Itchen Abbas to say goodbye to Neil Baxter on Wednesday 18th December 2019. We heard a recording of Amazing Grace played on the bagpipes as we arrived in the church. We sang Lord of All Hopefulness, In the bleak midwinter and Silent Night. Jamie Baxter read the poem Epitaph on my own friend by Robert Burns. Matthew Cockroft read Psalm 23.
Jim Baxter, Neil’s brother read the following tribute to Neil;
I was honoured to present the eulogy to both my brother’s wives at their funerals, and I am sure that my brother would have wished me to present the eulogy at his.
Neil was approximately 8 years 10 months and 29 days older than me, and I am nearly 83 years of age, so we knew each other a long time. I loved my brother and thought that there was nobody like him. In the beginning, I thought I had two fathers, with Neil acting the part of my second. As we both grew older, the relationship became a more brotherly one, and stayed that way for about 70 years.
Neil was a member of the 185th Glasgow First Cathkin Boy Scouts, and was the patrol leader of the Curlew Patrol, which position I also aspired to in due course. After his National Service, he returned and re-joined the Scouts as an assistant Scout Master, and I used to attend boy scout camps with him primarily at Turnberry.
Burnside, where we lived, was a very wealthy area, while we certainly weren’t, and quite a few of the scout’s parents used to take a 2 week break in Turnberry hotel, just to keep their eyes on their son, and make sure they were both well behaved and well treated. With Neil in charge, there was no reason to doubt it. Neil was a well-liked scout master, being capable, strong and thoughtful. Only on one occasion in my life did I see Neil losing his cool, and I’ll save that story for another time.
Neil was educated, as I was, at Rutherglen Academy, and this school was also called Stonelaw Public School. At one interview, when Neil was asked about his education, he stated he had a public-school education, which is a very different thing in Scotland from the one you receive in England. He was offered the job.
Neil has three children – Jim, Karen and Lorna, and four grandchildren – Matthew, Rory, Amber and Sophie, all of whom he was very proud of and who brought a lot of joy into his life.
Neil qualified MCSP at Glasgow Royal Infirmary in 1952 and was appointed superintendent physiotherapist at Arbroath infirmary in 1954. Neil joined the pharmaceutical industry in 1955 when he was appointed as a sales representative by Cyanamid GB. In 1958 he moved to Eli Lilly as a representative and was appointed assistant sales manager in 1962, and sales manager in 1963. He transferred to Elanco in 1965.
A move was planned to Beirut in 1967, however the six-day war intervened, and Margaret was left at Heathrow Airport while Neil caught the last flight out of Beirut. Neil had taken over in Beirut from an American, who had rather talked down to him. The American took a slow boat home to Indianapolis. In the meantime, Neil was without a post and was called for interview to Indianapolis, where he was appointed as an International Sales Manager. A week later when the American arrived in Indianapolis, he was required to report to Neil who was now his boss.
Neil and his family enjoyed their time in Indianapolis, until he moved back to the UK in 1970 as the Director of the Agricultural Division for Benelux and Eastern Europe. He moved to Rome in 1972 as Director of Operations for the Middle East and North Africa, and then onto Athens in 1974 as Director of Operations for the Middle East and Africa for all of the regional Lilly Industries.
In 1980, he moved back to the UK as the Corporate Affairs Director for the UK and Eire for Lilly International. The role was originally based in Basingstoke, then Hanover Square, London. He purchased a house in Itchen Abbas in 1981 which he retained when in 1987 he was transferred to Brussels.
Neil retired from Eli Lilly in 1993, after what should be considered to be a very successful career, as a result of which he made friends in many parts of the world.
After Neil’s retirement from Industry, he became a Member, Vice-Chairman and last Chairman of the Community Health Council for Winchester and Central Hampshire. He was the CHC’s representative on Mid Hampshire Primary Care Trust, and Winchester and Eastleigh Hospital are Trust.
In May 1998, he was elected to the Winchester City Council, and served on the Planning, Licensing and Regulation committees. He also was Vice-Chairman of Planning, and the Chairman of Standards Committees. He was also a member of the inaugural South Downs National Park planning committee.
He was elected Deputy Mayor of Winchester by his fellow councillors in 2004, even though he was a conservative councillor, and it was a liberal democratic council. This was therefore a very personal honour that he received from the members of the council.
The same year, his wife Margaret died, following a severe stroke, shortly before their golden wedding anniversary, which they had planned to celebrate in Cyprus, and to which as his best man we had been invited. This of course was cancelled by her death. I spent well over a month with Neil while Margaret’s life slowly, but surely came to an end, and we could hardly have been closer than we were during that time.
Neil became Mayor of Winchester in 2005, and we organised a lot of things together, including a Burn’s Supper, which was held in the Guildhall, bedecked with Scottish flags, which had never been there before. I brought a friend of mine down from Scotland called Laurence Blair Oliphant to recite Tam O’Shanter at the Burns Supper which he did very well and which was appreciated by everyone present on the occasion, and indeed you almost might say he was the Belle of the Ball.
Neil was invited to the Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, and he also represented Winchester at the Battle of Trafalgar Bicentenary Celebration in June 2005.
Neil remarried in 2006 to a long-standing friend, Meg Cable, who subsequently died in 2010 from cancer. A happy, but all too brief marriage and this death of a second wife seemed to take a lot of the stuffing out of Neil, though it wasn’t apparent early on.
Going back a bit, Neil and Margaret returned to Scotland to live in Glasgow in the mid 50s, and they purchased a very nice home in Riddrie Crescent, without ever having seen the house in daylight. Again, they moved into the house in darkness, and when they got up in the morning, Margaret asked Neil what the very large wall was at the bottom of the garden, to which Neil said, “I’ll find out’. He went out and asked the neighbour who told him it was the main wall for Barlinnie Prison, known in Glasgow as Bar L. This choice of house turned out to be a very successful one, as the neighbours were all terrific people who took Neil and Margaret and their family to their hearts and indeed my wife and I were staying with Neil and Margaret when Marion started having her first baby. It was at new year time and we couldn’t get an ambulance to take her to hospital, so one of the neighbours took the front seat out of his car. We were then able to get her in the car and take her to hospital, to allow her to deliver our baby. That house was one of the happiest homes that Neil and Margaret ever had.
In June 2016, Neil left his home in Itchen Abbas and moved to the St Catherine’s View, Winchester where he lived very comfortably until he passed away this November aged 91. Everyone in the care home cared very much for Neil, and wholeheartedly looked after him, and he was very lucky to spend the last days of his life in such a place.
Neil had many interests, of which an important one was Lions Clubs, which he had been a member of in Athens, Brussels and Winchester. He had been Vice President of the Brussels Club, and twice President of the Winchester Club of which he was a past President, and a member of Itchen Abbas Investment Club.
Neil enjoyed an occasional game of golf and was very fond of reading both autobiographical and historical novels. He also occasionally watched Southampton Football Club. He enjoyed travelling, more than anyone else I have ever known, and never seemed to be upset by changes of time zones or anything like that.
Our families enjoyed many holidays together, visiting each other’s houses and far flung countries. On one occasion when we visited Sharon in China, a friend of my son-in-law’s organised his company’s junk to take us out to Lantau Island which as you know is now the site of Hong Kong airport, but not at that time. We had a very enjoyable fish meal, until the Chinese decided to challenge us to eat an eyeball. Neil was the only one who took the challenge up, and I’m not ashamed to admit I didn’t fancy it at all. Neil won the prize on that occasion.
I couldn’t have asked for a better big brother than Neil, of whom I have always been very proud. So God bless you Neil.
Revd Alex Pease gave the following address
I met Neil through the introduction of John Bouldin his neighbour and giving him communion from time to time.
It is sad for me that I did not know him when he was at the peak of his abilities and, of course, these were very considerable.
He was one of so many Scotsmen over so many generations who have blessed the United Kingdom, and indeed the world, by the contribution of their talents and abilities. In this, it can be truly said, that Scotland has always punched way above its weight.
It has not been an easy time for politicians recently. I think that the motivations of politicians, of whatever political stripe, have been rather maligned, especially over the last few years. But there is something very worthwhile about public service; about the urge to change the world for the better, with no gain for self.
In Neil we saw that drive taking paticular shape in this parish in the case of his support for low cost housing (Baxter Cottages in Itchen Abbas), in an community where few people brought up here can afford to live. And it is clear that the thrill of politics remained for him right until the end.
Any funeral or thanksgiving service does tend to make us think about our own mortality, as we each move towards the end of the family conveyor belt, and there are less and less people in front of us.
And this can be a scary prospect for many of us.
What happens when we die?
Psalm 23, which we have just heard read, responds so beautifully to that fear;
‘though I walk through
the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me
your rod and your staff
they comfort me’
It was a fear that even Jesus’ disciples felt as, in John 14, when Jesus, on the eve of his arrest seeks to comfort them. He talks to them about going to prepare a place for them.
Jesus says ‘You know the way to the place where I am going’.
St Thomas says, quite reasonably, as we might say,
‘We don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?’
Jesus simply 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 service, not just public service but self sacrificial service to family, friends and neighbours and indeed to strangers.
Its a path which we can only really know, if we know him.
Jesus is saying there is nothing to worry about as we cross over that final boundary, that Valley of the Shadow of Death if we get to know Him, now, and are known by Him now while we still can…..
He is the Way, the Truth and the Life and there is no greater task for us in our lives today; no higher priority, no more rewarding task, than getting to know Him and being known by him.
And the time to start on that journey is now…..