The following Eulogy was given by his nephew Rob Wills at
a Memorial Service in Ilsington Church on Thursday 8th May, 2003.
Before I even start these few words of appreciation of Dick's life, the life that we are here to celebrate, I would like to say a few words of thanks, extend an invitation and offer an apology.
No man is an island and any life can only become truly relevant because of the people around that life. On behalf of the family, we want to thank all of you for the many and diverse parts that you have played in Uncle's life. We thank you for your great help and kindness, not only through his short illness with cards, messages and visits to him in hospital, but throughout his life. He could not have been who he was without you.
Thank you too, Cliff, for your part in this and in the family funeral service. To the churchwardens, Geoff and Martin for your tremendous help and organization; to you Linda for the flowers, to those who have made cakes and scones for afterwards, to the bellringers and, of course, to Al and Andrew for playing so beautifully.
The invitation is to all of you to please join us afterwards at Narracombe for a cup of tea and a chat and a chance to meet the many that meant so much to Dick.
The apology is this. When trying to sum up 81 years in a few short minutes, there are bound to be omissions. Please accept my apologies now to those of you, and those organizations not mentioned. You are not forgotten, far from it. You are very much a part of the rich tapestry of life of Dick.
Another river reaches the sea. In a few words I want to try and capture Dick's life and how, like a river, he touched so many lives on his journey to the sea. The river was never a torrent. But it was a full and a privileged life, a life of great interest in history and tradition and a life of duty and deep faith. The testimony of so many of you being here today and so many of you showing such great kindness and concern at his illness and then his passing would have made him proud, very proud of the role he played in life.
Dick was the youngest of the three sons of Sidney and Mary Wills, born into a cricket mad world he soon found that his interests were taking him elsewhere, notably the history and natural history all around him. This was, apparently, evident from an early age when his father was reading a letter in the Western Morning News one day over breakfast and was amazed to find that the views expressed on the Haytor Granite Tramway came from the pen of his nine year old son!
Life at Ilsington School was not enjoyed with stories he often told of tantrums on Narracombe hill leading to a day off every now and again! But happy days were around the corner, firstly at Wolborough Hill and then at Allhallows, now both sadly closed.
Dick was of the generation that as soon as school was over it was into uniform again and off to war. He spent his war years with the RAF in India and Burma between 1942 and 1946 and like so many others, spending his 21st birthday on guard duty.
He joined his eldest brother, Charlie, on the farm, when he returned and almost immediately became involved in Parish life, which was to mark the course of his life from then on. He was always a great collector of things, and I would almost say hoarder having started to go through the huge volumes of material that he has kept over the years. Dick found that his great passion was for history. This took many forms but mainly centred on the family, the church of St Michaels and the Parish.
It's here that I really wondered where to start. The letters that we have received, both during his illness and after his death have all featured comments on the enormous help that many have had from Dick and thus truly proving a link to the past through his vast and wide ranging knowledge of all things 'Ilsington'. Because of his involvement with so many facets of life in the village and because of his links through the milk round, Dick became a font of knowledge that many began to rely on. Over the years there has been a constant stream of visitors to Narracombe to trawl over documents or enormous family trees and to help many people find their roots. The recent introduction of the internet and e mail, care of cousin Mike, has lead to another extension to the worldwide family of 'Ilsingtonians' and to the formation of many friendships around the world. Dick was never happier than when ploughing through these records to find the answer to a puzzle.
In the Parish, there were boundless organizations and committees that Dick served on over the years and these are almost too many to mention here. But, he would certainly have wanted me to mention his great joy in his involvement with the Ilsington Flower Show over the years and also his interest with the Ilsington and Bickington branch of the British Legion and, of course, the two schools, where he was proud to be a manager, and later governor, for many years. The tantrums on Narracombe hill were long forgotten.
I have, here, chosen a few of the areas to feature which he enjoyed many years of association.
Dick was a member of the Ilsington Parish Council for over 40 years and, in his time, serving as Chairman (4 times) and also as Parish Clerk. Through this he built up a particular interest in what Philip Gibson so accurately calls the antiquity of the Parish Charities, an almost unique body that constantly struggled with a fair and just method of both raising and distributing funds.
One of his proudest achievements came because of his association with the Ilsington Sheepdog Trials, which were first held in 1951 and lasted right up until 1999 with just one break when it clashed with the funeral of Princess Diana. During all this time he was Secretary and therefore responsible for the general running of the event. The real success of the Trials was the enormous contribution that the funds made towards village life. It was largely from these funds that built the Village Hall and Dick's quote at the opening ceremony is long and well remembered. He said that the church of St Michael had been built largely through a thriving wool industry in the area and now, centuries later, the Village Hall had been built with yet another strong link to sheep.
With the mention of sheep, it still makes me smile to think of Uncle's strong sense of history and tradition even down to the sheep that grazed Narracombe. Grey Faced Dartmoors had always been kept by his father and grandfather and so, the theory went, they were good enough for us! The fact that they have few lambs, are a pain in the neck to get the said lambs to suckle through a huge mat of long wet fleece and that it took nearly 20 minutes per ewe to hack this fleece off once a year was a side issue to Uncle! Yet, when change came, it took us all by surprise and he was an early convert to the Dartmoor Half Bred Society which were far more user friendly! However, I never did manage to convince him that Holsteins were far better than South Devons!
And this brings me to the next point. British farming is suffering from many ailments, not least being able to attract new blood from outside. By working with Ed Williams over the past 16 years, Dick has actively assisted a very welcome new entrant into farming. The farm that Dick loved is in good hands and I am delighted to tell you that his beloved South Devons are back grazing the slopes. He had great fun touring the farm on the quad with his constant and faithful companion Snowy yapping at his heels! She was always with him over the past 15 years and particularly enjoyed being his front seat passenger in the car.
Dick had a great fascination for the countryside in all its forms and, in particular loved bird life. He spent two very happy holidays, one in Spain and one in Northumberland, on bird watching holidays. There was always a battle at home to see who would see the first swallow or hear the first cuckoo.
His great interest in travel took him to France, in particular, many times and I don't suppose that there are many areas of Western France that he did not travel at some stage! This led to his strong involvement with the establishment of the twinning of the Parish with Brasparts in Brittany and was, for a time, Secretary of the Twinning Association.
But, back to the Parish of Ilsington and, perhaps, his greatest love was for this beautiful church of St. Michaels of which he always felt such a part. Dick was extremely proud to have been a Churchwarden here for 35 years and then, on his retirement, to be granted the honour of being Churchwarden emeritus. I can honestly say that that honour meant as much to him as any throughout his life. Because, again, of his fascination with tradition, convention and history, his deep knowledge was a constant source of help to generations of Church Councillors and incumbent vicars. Change, for him, was hard to bear and it is evident from the hymns that we sing today that they were very much his choice. He loved to be able to sing (as loudly as possible!), hymns that were easy to sing and carried a great message of faith, loyalty and devotion to duty. The church, with the generations of involvement from his family, was a place of great solace and of constancy. As I mentioned earlier, he would have been very proud of this service today and to know that so many of you are here to join in this celebration of his life.
This life was brought to a wonderfully complete circle by the production of his book of Ilsington. Although at times nearly driving us all mad, it gave him enormous pleasure and satisfaction. The articles that he had written for the Parish Magazine over many years have, as one person put it, almost made them collectors items! It was a natural step to gather all these many memories, the photos that he had gathered over the years, the anecdotes and his opinions on the history of the Parish together and publish a book to be enjoyed by so many right around the world. It was obvious at the book launch how many of us want to have a sense of identity and belonging. This Book of Ilsington gave parishioners, both those still living here and those now living elsewhere, an opportunity to hold onto the past whilst looking into the future.
Dick Wills was a proud member of a very strong community. He died in peace and was buried on a glorious spring day a month after his 81st birthday. The birds sang as he was carried to his grave by those who had worked with him on the farm that he loved and, as a final piece of the jigsaw, his grave is not only in the corner of the churchyard nearest to home, it is also in the very foundations of the old Ilsington Manor itself. He truly is at rest in the heart of the village.
Updated by Mike Wills on 9 May 2005