John Metham Roberts – an Obituary

John Metham Roberts
2nd April 1939 – 18th May 2018

75th birthday trip to Istanbul 2015

John Roberts was born in Salford on April 2nd, 1939. He was the eldest son of Oscar Cedric (known as Jimmy) and Maude Roberts. He was born a twin, though his twin died at birth.

As the war made Salford a potential bombing target, John spent much of his early life in his Mother’s home town of Ilkley. His father continued to work as a cotton trader in Manchester, spending his weekends with the family in Ilkley.

When John was only 7 years old, his father died (partly from the effects of being gassed while fighting with the 2nd 6th Manchester regiment in the First World War). This brought about a dramatic change in the family’s circumstances and led to his being offered a place at the Royal Masonic School for Boys in Bushey, Hertfordshire – a charitable boarding school for the sons of deceased Freemasons, which he was to attend until he turned 18.

The school was run along the very traditional lines of an English public school with a lot of emphasis on sport and the army cadet corps, neither of which interested John very much. As John trekked up the School however, his academic ability, together with his likeability and humour, became increasingly appreciated. His talents, together with hard work, culminated in his being awarded both a State Scholarship and an Exhibition to Keble College, Oxford. While he maintained very mixed feelings about the school as an institution, he made a number of firm friends there who he remained in close touch with throughout his life, with several joining him at Oxford.

Graduation 1961

John’s Oxford was not of the Brideshead Revisited variety. Both his background and innate thirst for knowledge ensured that his abilities would be put to good use – not only in his chosen subjects of German and French, but across a wide range of topics. College friends appreciated the breadth of his knowledge and just how good his memory was. One recalls an occasion when he startled their group with an analysis of the constitutions of various countries in Europe, and of the British Colonies and Protectorates which had recently joined or were soon to join the Commonwealth. He was always interesting to be with, and could be relied on to put a humorous slant on life. More importantly, at the same time he could be a very staunch friend in times of difficulty. John did have a weakness, though, and that was his inability to cope with road traffic. He often told his university friends why he had given up attempting to ride a bike in Oxford: it appears that whenever he was on a roundabout, he was petrified and had to ride full-circle several times before daring to exit on the road he wanted.

His hard academic work, particularly in his last year, was rewarded with a well-deserved double first class degree. He went on to study the lost language of the ancient Burgundians as a postgraduate. This was followed by a year teaching English at Munich University, a city and experience which he remembered very fondly.

In 1965, John found a place teaching in the modern languages department at Glasgow University where he specialised in mediaeval Germanic languages until taking early retirement in 1991. He was very involved in university life, making good friends at the university’s staff ‘College Club’. He married Diana, who he met through a friend at the university, and had two children – James and Peter.

John’s connection to Arran began in the 1970s when he visited the island with his brother and stayed at a cottage in Whiting Bay. Along with a group of friends from the Glasgow Liberal party, he later bought a share in this same cottage as a holiday residence. Through this link, John and his family became regular visitors before moving to Arran in 1987.

John’s faith was very important to him. Prior to moving to Arran, he was a regular visitor to the small Episcopalian church in Whiting Bay. With a small congregation and no permanent priest, the church was and remains heavily reliant on the dedication of its congregation and John committed fully to this. He took on the role of Lay Leadership, chaired the Vestry and was a founder member of the Taizé Group in addition to becoming actively involved with Arran Churches Together. John also represented St Margaret’s at Diocesan Synod for some 30 years, was a founder member of the Diocesan Mission Task Group and then a member of the Diocesan Mission and Ministry Board. He represented the Diocese on the Provincial Faith & Order Board for many years and also as a Lay Member of General Synod. He supported the Diocese in every way he could, travelling miles to attend events and reporting on all that went on at St Margaret’s. He was good at keeping in touch with regular visitors to St Margaret’s, and congregation members who had left the island.

Language and linguistics remained key interests of John’s throughout his life. In retirement, he learnt Gaelic to a level where he was able to teach others and was a committed member of a number of Gaelic groups – most recently as treasurer of Na h-Arrainnich. He also maintained his love of German – continuing as an oral examiner in A-Level German for the NEAB exam board (now AQA), and teaching both evening classes and private tutees.

John was equally passionate about and committed to his many other interests. Over the years, he was heavily involved in many community groups on Arran including the Arran Civic Trust, Music Arran, and a local food bank.

With Magnus Magnusson 1989

Extremely well-read and known for his extensive (often obscure) knowledge, John was crowned the first and only Arran Mastermind by Magnus Magnusson in the 1989 Corrie Capers. He also overcame lifelong stage fright in his sixties, first performing in the Life of Christ at Brodick Castle, as a sonorous Joseph of Arimathea; later performing at drama festivals both on the island and in Argyll.

John was also a very keen and adventurous cook. He and his sister-in-law developed a tradition of birthday feasts where each year they would take it in turns to cook a meal on a challenging theme chosen by the other. Over the years these covered a range of unusual ideas, taking significant planning and research. These included Roman, Mongolian, Mediaeval Mesopotamian and Filipino menus.

He was very well travelled throughout Europe (and could hold a conversation in most countries!). Latterly he followed his lifelong passion for India, taking tours to both the North of the country and, at the start of this year, to the South.

Family was very important to John. He was a close, loving and supportive father to his two sons James and Peter, delighting in sharing their lives, and was thrilled to have become a grandfather to Adam just over a year ago.

His funeral service was performed by Revd Canon Simon Mackenzie from the Scottish Episcopal Church in Whiting Bay Parish Church on 2nd July. This was a beautiful and fitting tribute with the readings and some of the music requested by John himself. The full church reflected the breadth of John’s life and the affection in which he was held. A collection raised £450 in aid of Arcas – a charity he had supported in life. John’s family would like to express their thanks to everyone who came to the funeral or sent cards, to Revd Simon Mackenzie for performing the service, to Elizabeth Watson for making the church available and to all who helped at the church.

John is survived by his brother Bill and sister-in-law Sandie, of Whiting Bay; his sons James and Peter; their partners Marie and Megan; and his grandson Adam.

He will be sorely missed by his family and many friends.

Marbhrann do Dh’Iain Roberts
[A. Paul, Na h-Arrainnich]

Bu shruth caoin thu
An cuan luaineach
B’ fheàirrde sinn dom b’ aithne thu
On a ràinig thu ar cladach

Bu eathar treun thu
Gun fhiaradh nad stiùir
Thug thu gu cala sinn
Ar cas gu tèarainte air tìr

Bu thlàth-ghaoth shiùbhlach thu
Gun abhsadh nad shireadh
B’ fhialaidh a shèid oirnn d’ eòlas
A thug blàths do dh’inntinn is spioraid

Is mòr ar n-ionndrainn
On a shiùbhail thu far ar n-àrainn
Is milis a mhàireas do chuimhne
Nar cridhean is nar n-anman