Like millions of other people Geordie and I felt inexpressibly sad to hear the news of the death of HRH Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh: sad above all for HM The Queen and her family but also for the loss of such a presence and beacon of energy in national life.
What an extraordinary man and how many lives he touched in such a personal way. He was of a generation forged in war and post war trials yet always turned a challenge around to find what was positive and could be done, not with pomp but with action. The Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme exemplifies the personal test and resilience offered by trying to do something different, to achieve, to gain confidence and to be recognised for that achievement. The stories and quiet acknowledgment of the great benefits of this programme have poured into all forms of media over the last weekend.
With the clarity of loss, the value of Prince Philip’s personal and public life stand in front of us all. Courageous and calm, his deep intrinsic belief in putting aside your own needs to look after others defined his actions. His interests were widespread from writing, painting, carriage driving and travel to researching the pageantry of the natural world with his own eyes in order to create “programmes” of research and plans of action to persuade us all that we need to change our behaviour. Keen to understand progress in science and engineering, Prince Philip read widely and happily provoked debates on any number of subjects whilst continuing to challenge himself at every level, matching action to words.
Focused ahead of time on conservation and care of the landscape, inspiring and practical, he was an extraordinary man who never failed to charm, using the oft quoted British humour to prick complacency and break down barriers. From his work to his hobbies, his ability to put everyone he met at ease and even his barbecuing skills, he could turn his hand to most things and, more importantly, was willing to try.
“The conservation of nature, the proper care for the human environment and a general concern for the long-term future of the whole of our planet are absolutely vital if future generations are to have a chance to enjoy their existence on this earth.” Prince Philip, Canberra 1970
Always looking outwards, in summer 1958 The Duke challenged my father-in-law to a cricket match here at Highclere in aid of the National Playing Fields (a practical cause that contributed long standing benefits to young people). Needless to say it was competitive and each side pulled in a “dream team” of well-known players. Later on, Geordie, only just born at this point, joined and supported this charity. The Queen and Prince Phillip returned here to watch a further match in 1994: it was the first South African cricket tour after the end of apartheid and again it was for the same charity. Team spirit, challenges and doing something to help others.
What has been a great joy over the last few days has been the myriad of photographs of the intimate glances and laughter shared in the journey of his life with HM The Queen. We can only look with humility at the tolerance, resolve and grace they exhibit and hope and know that, as part of his legacy, his family will find that “still small voice of calm” over these sad days.
To quote from the poem “If”:
“If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.”
He led by example and encouraged us all to do the same.