© 2017 The Harpenden Society
On the front page of the Summer 2012 issue of The Harpenden Society News under the headline 'Recalled to Life' we reported the words of that distinguished figure Ian Fulton on his yielding up of the presidency of The Society. 'There had been a time when I thought The Society might have to close down', he said, 'I am pleased to report that...The Society is revived and flourishing.' Ian Fulton, the salient character in the civic and voluntary life of the town over many decades, spoke perceptively as well as feelingly.
Richard Thomas, the sorrowful news of whose death on 16 My 2015 we briefly recorded in the last issue, was the key player in that resurgence. He had become a member of The Harpenden Society chiefly as a consequence of his being the concerned and very able founder-chairman of the Harpenden Green Belt Association which had been established to campaign against irresponsible housing development. This was but the cutting edge of his strong affection for the town and his determination to serve it, so it was a great boost to the Committee to have the support of one whose civic conscience could scarcely be bettered. However, by the spring of 2011 The Society was in moribund condition and, as Ian Fulton recognised, at a critical, perhaps even terminal point.
It was at that crucial moment that Richard demonstrated that as well as a love of Harpenden he had developed, not least because of the affable benignity of his charming personality, an unsurpassed network of friendships among its inhabitants. This he brought convincingly to bear in persuading various of this wide-ranging acquaintance to, well, 'volunteer' is the perhaps imprecise verb... Committee and allied posts suddenly were being filled by his sometimes surprised protégées. For example, two absolutely fundamental Thomasian appointments were of the chairman, the ebullient and incisive Chris Marsden and the secretary, the quietly authoritative Bob Fletcher. And there were several others who found Richard's allure resistless.
Richard himself acted as vice-chairman and as co-convenor of both the Education and Leisure and the Health and Social Welfare Working Groups, as well as continuing to be in the van of The Society's crusade to halt the rampant spread of an ill thought-out housing programme. He was, of course, a man who had enjoyed a busy career and who was heavily involved in church and other significant voluntary activities, all of which are worthy of detailed remembrance. His was an avowedly happy family life and he was a model neighbour. All these fine qualities will be endorsed by those who knew him.
But, from the single viewpoint of The Harpenden Society, it is for his pivotal act of salvage that, after similar awards made in the winter issue of 2014 to those who have made a decisive service to the town on behalf of The Society, we bestow the honour posthumously on Richard 'without whom', quite simply, The Society might have folded completely.
Clichés abound when, sadly, fine men and women die but sometimes a literary citation encapsulates the essence of what one is trying to say. From 1386 Geoffrey Chaucer began – he never finished – The Canterbury Tales and in 'The Prologue' he introduced all the pilgrims to Canterbury who would each tell a tale to ease the journey. This is how he described The Knight, omitting the lines about his actual battles etc. in the translation from Old English by Nevill Goghill. He could have been writing about Richard Thomas.
There was a Knight, a most distinguished man,
Who from the day he first began
To ride abroad had followed chivalry,
Truth, honour, generous thought and courtesy.
He had done nobly in his sovereign's war
And ridden into battle, no man more,
As well in Christian as in heathen places,
And ever honoured for his noble graces...
...He was of sovereign value in all eyes
And, though so much distinguished, he was wise
And in his bearing modest as a maid.
He never yet a boorish thing had said
In all his life to any, come what might;
He was a true, a perfect gentle-knight