It was a great privilege to be able to attend Sir John Houghton’s memorial service at the Neuadd Dyfi (Aberdyfi village hall) on Saturday 14th May 2022. Sir John was a founding father of JRI, the first Chair of our Board, and our former President. He died from the complications of contracting COVID-19 on 15th April 2020 (for a JRI obituary and links to many more go HERE). Because of the pandemic, his memorial service was long delayed, but when it happened it was very well attended with a packed hall, and another forty on a live link.
The service was preceded by a showing of slides illustrating Sir John’s life. We went from his childhood to his glittering career meeting the Queen, Margaret Thatcher, and the Emperor of Japan, amongst others. We also gained an insight into his family life and interests. I was surprised when I appeared myself on one of the slides!!
The service was led by Simon Morgan, leader of the Presbyterian Church in Aberdyfi, where Sir John worshipped and was an elder. We began with two reflections from Prof. Bob White, Vice President of JRI, who outlined Sir John’s life story in his eulogy, and Dr. Bruce Callander (former Head of WG1 Technical Support Unit for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), who concentrated on Sir John’s work with the IPCC. There followed a series of family memories and contributions from Sir John’s children and grandchildren. So we were all able to gain a multifaceted view of his work, family life, interests, and faith.
The address was given by the Rev. Canon Stuart Bell, former rector of St Michael’s, Aberystwyth, who had invited Sir John to speak at his church on a number of occasions on science and faith. Stuart emphasised just how integrated Sir John’s faith and his work were. Another word that stood out from the sermon was integrity. Sir John’s faith was a natural part of him and was never hidden, and he strongly believed that this faith was available to all.
The prayers were led by Hannah Malcolm, Sir John’s granddaughter, and a graduate of the CRES course. Hannah began by thanking God for the life of her grandfather and ended with prayers for those already badly affected by climate change.
The service was a wonderful and fitting tribute to Sir John. His widow, Sheila, who had organised the service in accordance with Sir John’s wishes, rose to thank all the people who had come, those who had taken part as he had hoped, and those who had helped to get the hall ready the previous day. She also illustrated the one love of Sir John’s which had not been mentioned previously, and that was music. Her final thanks were to the local organist, Tudur Jones, who had played throughout the service including a rousing rendition of Cwm Rhonda as the final hymn. She then announced he would play Sir John’s favourite organ piece, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, to conclude before a great spread of food was enjoyed.
In addition to Bob White, JRI was also represented by directors, Rev. Margot Hodson, Shan Dobinson, and myself. Several of our speakers at previous JRI/CRES events were also present: Prof. Myles Allen; Dr. John Bimson; and Prof. John Twidell.
And so we all left Neuadd Dyfi, and went our separate ways. I reflected on a life well-lived, and the huge honour it has been to be a small part of the story. I just wish more people had taken Sir John seriously about climate change earlier. But sadly too many people are still not taking it seriously. Look at some of the recent UK government announcements on new oil fields, fracking, and coal mines. And our government is far from the only one. Consider the horrendous heatwave in India and Pakistan. We really are in a very perilous situation, and even now governments are in the grip of the fossil fuel lobby. Sir John had to battle with that lobby for many years. It is our job to take up that fight. May God help us all in this task.
Dr Martin J. Hodson
Operations Director, JRI
All Photos, including the cover photo (Neuadd Dyfy) on the home page, taken by Martin Hodson
The full service booklet, with many photographs of Sir John, is available from this link.