Friday, 5 December 2008


The past few days have seen the passing of two people who were extremely special to me, and to many others.  Both men were remarkable for their kindness, their tireless energy and a supreme level of dedication and skill in their professional lives.  

Peter Buckley was a phenomenally successful financier, chairman or director of several major companies, inspired gardener and President of the Royal Horticultural Society.  When I joined the Society's Council he was Treasurer, guiding the finances during the most ambitious period of investment the RHS has ever seen. His extrovert friendliness and positive attitude were wonderfully infectious and when he was elected President, a couple of years ago, these qualities helped him to succeed in that difficult and challenging role.  

I've known few people with such energy.  He'd even make Margaret Thatcher look lazy, running his businesses, working day and night with, for example, 6 am Fundraising Breakfasts at Chelsea, late night phone conferences to the USA, globe trotting on business and commuting between his London home and his magnificent house and garden in Scotland each week.  There was never a moment to be lost, with Peter, and I suspect that if he had ever caught me sitting quietly, staring into space - one of my favourite occupations - he would ask, with great concern, what was wrong and how could he help?  

Out of the blue, Peter contracted pulmonary fibrosis.  There was no remission, sadly, and within a few weeks, this hideous disease literally took his breath away.  

Ron Grey was the most skilled carpenter I have ever known and also a fanatically keen gardener.  His craftsmanship was unsurpassable, particularly when working on the irregular shapes and awkward corners with which old houses like ours abound.  He could look at a surface, even if it was irregular, adze-hewn oak, and then, purely by eye, cut a piece of timber to the required shape.  Nine times out of ten, the old and new wood surfaces would fit like a hand in a glove.  I never once heard him crow in triumph, if he got it right, but self-blaming vexation would be written all over his face if he got it wrong.

Ron was one of ten children, born in the Fens, near where I live.  Over thirty years, he has been a regular visitor, building, mending, repairing, always working in challenging situations, always with a profound respect for, and knowledge of the materials of his trade.  He was quiet, modest, generous and thoughtful and by all accounts, a kind father and devoted husband as well.

When, soon after moving to our new house, I fell behind with my vegetable gardening, he brought a car boot full of young leeks, runner beans and brassicas, ready to plant out.  He even offered to plant them for me.  And when I mentioned, wistfully, that I was unable to find a source of Yucca gloriosa anywhere, he turned up with one of those, too, dug from his own front garden.  It still grows in a place of honour, in our yard.

Ron came on Monday 24th November to begin a week's work, repairing and refurbishing part of the house. He died suddenly, from a cardiac infarction that evening.

The world is poorer for the loss of both these good, kind men.   But I'm thankful for their lives, and for having known both of them.


  1. That's very sad and a moving tribute from you Nigel.

  2. I'm sorry for the loss of these two men, but your tribute is lovely.

  3. I am sorry for your loss.

    Your lovely writing was a beautiful tribute to these men. Through your words, I could see they were special.

  4. I heard about Peter Buckley earlier today and was shocked and saddened. I met him on two or three occasions in my travels (almost always at Chelsea) and despite the fact that he must not have had the faintest idea who I was he was unfailingly polite and a total gentleman.

    I never met Ron, of course, but I wish I had. He sounds like my kind of guy.

  5. It's hard when you lose people you like and respect. It's lovely to see tributes like these, because these will help keep their memory alive.

  6. It happens over and over - I read obituaries of people of whom I have previously known nothing - and wish I had.

    (Though I would probably have been in awe of both.)