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News & Blogs: In Memoriam

Memories of Richard Vyvyan

jeudi 3 novembre 2016   (5 Comments)
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Richard Vyvyan in 1996The death on Sunday 23 October 2016 of retired Ecolint teacher and archivist Richard Vyvyan has prompted much reminiscing among his former colleagues and students. We share some of them here.

On this page you will find tributes from:

> Elizabeth Knight (retired teacher)
> Jenny Walker (wife of former Director General George Walker)
> Burt Melnick (retired teacher)

Comments from alumni and others who knew Richard can be found both at the foot of the original announcement of his death and on this related Facebook post.

Most of the photos on this page were taken from school Yearbooks, all of which are available for download to signed in users. Thanks to Robin Dormer for the photograph from 1968 and that of Richard Vyvyan working his mathematical magic.


Richard

Elizabeth Knight

Richard’s personality defies description. From a distance he could have been one of L.S. Lowry’s urgent stick figures striding across a painting. Children identified Richard as a Quentin Blake drawing for one of Roald Dahl’s bizarre stories, and were immediately drawn to his eccentric persona and booming voice. Even his fingers were long and loopy.

Behind this cartoon lurked a gentle and kindly soul to which most of us responded, especially children, who see through human facades. I think my own children and grandchildren saw him as a BFG, if not exactly “scrumdiddlyumptious”.

Perhaps it is important to begin describing him with the eye of childhood, for Richard, despite his adult and eclectic collection of books, paintings, music, exotic landscapes and people, had a quality of innocence difficult to define. His polished manners were often put under strain by his insistent desire to express himself. 

“Ah, ELIZABETH, there you are!”

While you braced yourself, like the wedding guest pinned before the Ancient Mariner, waiting to hear “the loud bassoon”, Richard would assemble his battery of extraordinary reminiscences. Useless to smile and sidetrack, futile to interrupt. Richard had a tale to tell, and just as you spotted an opening, one tale would spark off another and another and suddenly your eyes had glazed over and you had tipped wine down your favourite sweater.

Introducing a new memory of your own was difficult and unproductive because Richard could easily cap it. Once someone tried describing an acquaintance of hers who lived in a lighthouse on the Isle of Man, sure that Richard could have no riposte.

“Oh yes, I knew HER!” Richard improbably declared, and proceeded to prove it by avidly taking over the description of the character… and the lighthouse.

No one “knew” as many people as Richard. Some of his anecdotes about his famous cousin actor Rupert Everett, or the traveller Fitzroy Maclean drew our admiring attention. Even his cousin Catherine, who had a house near Arezzo within easy reach of the Piero della Francesca masterpieces, was deeply interesting, despite not being famous. The problem was that as these names sneaked up on you and accumulated, you began to feel that you were living in a parallel and surreal world.

Richard Vyvyan in 1968
Richard in 1968.

Richard had a knack of making himself known to everyone in his immediate vicinity: bird watchers on the Puplinge flatlands, dog walkers, and everyone working in the International School, including the workers of the Service technique and the concierges. He delighted in all types of humanity and their foibles, especially his students and often their parents. That is why he was so much loved and respected.

Living with Richard was a sure way to heighten one’s blood pressure. Our camping expeditions together took us to the Balkans, Byzantine churches, and markets where bent old ladies in rusty black headscarves and long skirts sold him slivovitz and giant potatoes called crumpir. They would grin toothlessly at Richard’s persistent attempts to speak Serbo Croat.

Caught in the famous wind called the Bora, I have memories of camping tables flying through the air, rubber boats swept away in the sea (empty of human content thankfully) and crazy meals eaten in little fish cafés where Richard, with typical noblesse oblige, would ask to inspect the fish before it was grilled. No one minded. Perhaps they recognised that blood of Empire flowed in his veins. Wherever he went, Richard was noticed. Restaurants would empty during our discussions, the customers blown by the force of his personality to the terrace outside. 

Arguing over the bill was a necessary part of the procedure for Richard. In later years, in Italy, when there were more of us and we divided the cost, this always led to the greatest muddles ever created by a practising mathematician. Within minutes no one knew how much anyone had contributed or whether someone had put in the tip. Eventually we grew wise and one of us would quietly slip the money to the waiter before Richard noticed. Shopping created the same effect.

“Pecorino, per favore. Poco. Er… signora: non quel pezzo… questo. Voglio Pecorino di Sicilia, non Tuscana.”

Signora would good-naturedly give him a bit to taste and he would screw up his mouth. “Troppo salata,” he would declare, jabbing his finger at another variety. Patiently she would reach for it. “Non Signora,” (having scoffed the morsel) “Er… questo e troppo blanda.”  His eye would wander over the wide selection.

Signora’s mouth tightens and there is a shifting of bottoms in the gathering queue behind.

“Hai un forte?”

I will miss Richard’s famous rabbit suppers and the famous Richard “uip!” that followed. I will miss him never wanting to go home after an invite and, finally, having woken up the neighbourhood from the doorstep, weaving off down the drive still pontificating to the stars. We loved Richard, and the world is a much duller place without him.

 


Richard Vyvyan: personal recollections

Jenny Walker

When George and I moved to Geneva in 1991, we were greatly supported and helped by several good friends. Among these was our next-door neighbour in Puplinge, Richard Vyvyan. From the moment we arrived until the moment we departed in the spring of 2006, his presence in our lives was a source of continuing interest and pleasure. He was a man of unfailing cheerfulness, great courtesy and kindness, with great breadth of knowledge and delight in life.

His garden was a sanctuary in which he took enormous pleasure; on summer evenings, ‘choral evensong’ could be heard gently drifting over from his open terrace doors, a sound I shall always associate with those peaceful times.

Richard Vyvyan in 1970

His love of birds led Richard to keep well-stocked feeders in a spot where he could view his feathered friends from his kitchen window. I have to admit there was some competition as to whose feeders attracted the most visitors, and woe betide the feline enemy from the flats next door who occasionally lurked under his hedge.

Richard loved expeditions into the countryside. In winter months, he could often be seen in our shared driveway, loading his ski de fond equipment onto his car before heading off to one of his favourite haunts, Praz de Lys. In summer, he would go walking on the marshes of Choulex, where he could spot unusual summer-visiting birds. Once, a migrating stork was a source of great excitement.

A generous host, Richard’s dinner parties for his local friends were memorable occasions. From our places by his fire, we would hear cries of ‘this is a disaster’ issuing from his small kitchen, but always something very delicious eventually emerged.

After our return to the UK, we kept in touch with Richard. Emails and photographs of birds were exchanged. We shared family associations with the North Norfolk coast, where he once managed to join us.

Richard brought much to our lives; we just hope he realised how much we appreciated him.


Richard Vyvyan

Burt Melnick

Richard Vyvyan was one of the most memorable of a generation of Ecolint teachers known for their colourful personalities as well as for their contributions to the school. Richard was so multi-faceted that no single portrait of him can do him justice, but I’ve written down some of my recollections of him, to be added to those of others.

I first saw Richard nearly fifty years ago. Tall and lean with a bony face and thin, lank blond hair, he was wearing a tweed jacket and, over it, an unzipped military parka, tan with a bright orange lining. He was thirty at the time, but with his broad smile and slightly unkempt air he still looked like a Cambridge undergraduate. I was immediately struck, and always fascinated, by his way of speaking. He had a strong baritone voice and spoke slowly, drawing out the important words as if trying to illustrate the long syllable in Latin verse.

I soon found that he liked to use folksy language and accents. He never went to see a film, for example, but always a “fill-um,” and when he said the word you could hear the faint quotation marks around it. He did love to mimic the speech of others. But sometimes he would feel that he had gone too far in his playfulness and had given offence. He would then deliver long, graceful, heartfelt apologies—unaware that the person he imagined he had hurt had never taken offence in the first place.

Richard never forgot that he came from a prominent and accomplished family. In the winter of 1969/70, we took a cross-country skiing vacation together. On the first morning we woke up to find a small blizzard outside our window, and Richard hinted, too subtly for me to understand him, that we might be better off spending the day indoors. Later, when I knew him better, I’d have realized that he was in fact dead set against going out but was too elegant to say so. At the time, though, I suggested that we might attempt a run despite the storm. “If the weather is really impossible,” I said, “we can always turn back.”

“Vyvyans never turn back,” Richard intoned. Two seconds later he added, “Vyvyans rarely set out.”

Clearly being a Vyvyan held a significance that being a Smith or a Jones did not; clearly, too, Richard was as ready to smile at his own family pride as at anything else. That pride had nothing to do with snobbery. But it did provide, among other things, a reassuring connection with the past. Just a few years ago, before he was diagnosed with cancer, Richard and I were discussing where, when the time came, we might want our remains to be deposited. I was hesitating among several possibilities, but Richard knew exactly where he would go—a family churchyard in Cornwall. “Lots of Vyvyans there,” he said, in a self-deprecatory but nevertheless very satisfied tone. The thought of returning to the bosom of his family carried with it, I felt, a sense of security and dignified appropriateness.

But Richard’s individuality transcended categories of class and geography. He had a Thai godmother (though she was as upper class as you can get—a princess), and lived nearly all his adult life on the continent of Europe. Anyone who knew him knew the uniqueness of his personality and treasured him even for his foibles. Actually most of those those foibles were qualities too, resulting as they did from a sense of psychological self-sufficiency. Richard had warm relations with others, but never did his sense of his own self or his own worth depend on the opinion of others. He did what he did, said what he had to say, expressed the opinions that he held (and he held many), and you could take it or leave it. One colleague tells of sitting on Richard’s right at lunch and at a certain point, when Richard was holding forth to him, having to leave the table. The colleague waited for Richard to pause so that he could excuse himself, but no pause came. Finally the colleague simply got up, gave a nod, and walked off to his class. Without missing a beat Richard pivoted in mid-sentence to the colleague on his left, who had not previously been part of the conversation, and continued his disquisition unperturbed.


From the LGB Yearbook 1983

Many of my memories of Richard have to do with meals. He appreciated good food and was fussy about bad food. In his last months he never complained about having been stricken by an incurable disease, but did complain about hospital cooking, asking during one hospitalization to be transferred to a different clinic, where the meals were better.

He cared about wine too, and had an excellent knowledge of European wines, due in part to his travels in France and Italy and the Balkans. (He was first person to tell me about Melnik wine from Bulgaria.) If he came to dinner, he’d bring you a carefully selected bottle from his cellar, and you’d save it for a special occasion. He wasn’t a heavy drinker, though, at least not in his maturity, although back in the day we did have a few bibulous evenings together. Once in my studio in Champel, Richard stayed on well after the other guests had left, and some reminiscences of his about Yugoslavia reminded me that a friend had given me some poems in Croat. I got them out—it must have been two or three in the morning—and in his booming baritone Richard read them aloud, until my upstairs neighbour ended the party by thumping on his floor with a broomstick. Another time Richard did leave with the other guests but had some difficulty descending my building’s circular staircase. “Burt has poisoned me!” he cried out.

Richard sang in a choir, and a good part of his enjoyment of life came from music. Perhaps because he gave me more than one CD of choral settings of the Psalms I’ve always wondered to what extent his feeling for music was connected with his religious sensibility, which was deep, though Richard never spoke explicitly of it, at least not to me. He loved churches, both the buildings and the institutions, as well as church music. Though he remained a loyal Anglican, he had an ecumenical sensibility. He showed great respect for Judaism. Also, possibly because it is an element in the history of the Vyvyan family, he felt a special affection for the Roman Catholic church, and sometimes attended Easter mass in a Catholic church in France where he particularly enjoyed the music.

Richard Vyvyan in 1981At the end of his life, when he knew he had inoperable cancer, Richard had two main concerns: first, a determination to live in his own home, as normally as possible for as long as possible, and, second, a wish not to inconvenience others. About staying at home his determination carried the day. Despite some temporary bouts in the hospital, he remained at home until, as I remember, less than three weeks before his death. And he succeeded also in not inconveniencing others, though that issue was more complicated. He did need assistance from his friends and family as well as from the medical services, but he seemed not to realize that doing this or that minor errand for him was a pleasure for his friends, not an inconvenience.

Sometimes you had to fight with him to let you do him a small favour. If you paid him a visit, he would thank you effusively when you left, unaware that you had probably gotten more pleasure out of the visit (since he remained as charming and funny as ever) than he had. Once during his illness I drove him somewhere, and he felt, wrongly, that he had incurred a debt. And so when I had my appendix out, he insisted against all common sense on chauffeuring me home from the hospital, though he himself was only months away from death.

All human beings are unique, but some are more unique than others. Richard was sui generis. How lucky we were to have known him!

 



Comments...

Sarah k. Brooks (Brooks) says...
Posted lundi 6 février 2017
Believing I was not very good at maths I did not concentrate too hard in lessons, resulting in an F at the end of term. Mr Vyvyan very simply told me that he had called my parents to "discuss" my lack of effort.... that was enough to scare me into action! Alec Dubose (also an F) and I were then given extra lessons with the kindest attention from Mr Vyvyan, resulting in.... an A the following term! I have never forgotten that THAT is how you handle under-performance: gentle kind patience. Bless you Sir! Sarah
Quentin Byrne-Sutton says...
Posted jeudi 17 novembre 2016
Yes Burt "sui generis" suits Richard well, and you too, of course! Burt was the English teacher who instilled in me my love for literature, and of course his expressive eyes and rich personality remain vivid in my mind as I write this "comment", as does the memory of Richard. As my tutor at ecolint - when I was going through a relatively short, yet severe, adolescent crisis, Richard was one of the few persons who seemed to take it with a pinch of salt and who supported me throughout, always that indulgent smile on his face, or even a good laugh, no matter what I did or had done! Non- judgemental, kind, somehow at once dreamy and with a twinkle in the eye. I always looked forward to those 5-10 minutes before or after break time (cannot remember which) in his tutor group, with my friends, Finn, Inal, Sophie, etc. Those few minutes and his confidence made all the difference. Thank you Richard and many hugs for your humanity!
Jan Dietzgen (Kimber) says...
Posted samedi 5 novembre 2016
Thank you all,for these wonderful memories of Richard - how I adored him!
Wanjoo Kim says...
Posted jeudi 3 novembre 2016
I did not have the pleasure of learning with Mr. Vyvyan, though I remember his lanky, towering figure well. The moving tributes by Ms. Knight (brave enough to deconstruct Sons and Lovers in front of a rowdy bunch of adolescents) and Mr. Melnick ("Take out your virgin sheets of papers!") are a reminder of how fortunate we were to experience all that was Ecolint. Perhaps one word sums up the Ecolint zeitgeist best. Care. Wanjoo Kim.
Amy J. Plotnick (Weinstein) says...
Posted jeudi 3 novembre 2016
I am grateful for the heartfelt memories of Mr. Vyvyan. I never had the opportunity to study with him but I remember his forceful personality with fondness. Thanks especially to Mr. Melnick, one of my favorite teachers, for his insightful memories.

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