Harrow County School for Boys

BOB SILSBY 1929-2007

Obituary by Colin Dickins

Bob Silsby, one of the best loved and warmly loyal of Old Gaytonians died on April 1st 2007 of a heart attack.  Known best of all at Sudbury for his rugby career – and to many more as a cricketer – Bob was for 15 years Membership Secretary of the OGA.  As in everything he did, he was diligent and efficient, and many Old Gayts will have joined the Association on his watch and they and many more will have bought their OG ties from him.  On his retirement from that post the Association recognized his sterling work by electing him Vice-President.

Born in Dulwich to a parks and gardens family in 1929, he lived sometimes in grand houses in various parks as his father's career progressed, eventually to Superintendent of some of the largest and most famous of London parks.  When his father was promoted to a desk job at County Hall with the LCC the family moved to South Ruislip where Bob went to junior school before passing the 11+ to attend Harrow County in 1941.

It was there that he discovered his love and talent for rugby a passion which stayed with him all his life.  (Just the day before he died he went to watch Wasps as they defeated Leinster.)  It was inevitable that he would join the Old Gaytonians RFC.  A fine, thinking fly half, he was described as one half back partner as "the best . . .I ever had the fortune to play with. . . always in the right place at the right time."  And a centre said, "always a good pass out to the centres, and never ever put you into trouble with a hospital pass."  His loose limbed, bandy legged running style, elbows out, seemed to give him exceptional balance and he tackled in classic style: never a massive hit, just perfectly positioned and totally effective.  After his days in the 1st XV, he took on captaincy of the Extra A XV, where he passed on his understanding of the game to many up and coming younger members.

On leaving school at 16, Bob followed his father into the LCC (later the GLC), where he worked in various departments for the rest of his working life and where he met his wife, Yvonne.  During National Service in the RAF he was posted to Germany where he worked on the celebrated Berlin Air Lift.  The German capital, Berlin, had been divided between the four occupying powers, Britain, America, France and Russia, but it was situated in the heart of East Germany under Russian control.  The Russians, in an early major move in the Cold War, closed down the road and rail corridors to the Western powers and they maintained supplies to the besieged city of everything from medicines to coal by air.  When the Russians eventually climbed down, Bob knew he had played his part in the first victory of the Cold War.

As a boy, Bob was always keen on the outdoor life, especially scouting, and he became a King’s Scout, a rare achievement.  Later he went on to run the 1st South Ruislip as Scoutmaster.  His love of the outdoors and the countryside included walking particularly.  For some years he enjoyed developing walking routes in the Mendips and used to lead rambles along the West Mendip Way.

He also inherited the family gardening genes and his back garden was a lovingly and diligently tended masterpiece of a vegetable garden (“not flowers; it had to be vegetables,” said Yvonne).  He joined the Newton Park Horticultural Society, a group of keen local gardeners and allotment holders who put up a shed – which grew to quite a large one over the years – and bought materials of all sorts in bulk.  Bob, who had actually been there the morning before he died to stock up with topsoil, was one of those volunteers who did a regular Sunday stint in the shed as members came to buy their supplies.  He also entered their competitions and won a considerable array of prizes for his displays in the annual show.  As cricketer and rugby player Bob was always utterly fair and honest, but he was not without the necessary guile to win.  And son-in-law Tony Williamson confided at Bob’s funeral that he learnt a few subtleties to enhance his winning vegetable displays.

The sad and affectionate tributes came in profusion on the news of Bob’s death.  Over and over again the word “gentleman” was used, “an exceptionally nice man”.  Many referred to his kindness and presence.  “A low-key man with an abundance of style – always a pleasure to see and I never parted from his company without feeling warmed by his enthusiasm and friendly manner.”  And a man playing his first away game was offered a drink by Bob, who had been playing for the 1st XV: “I told him I was an Extra A, but he said that I was an Old Gayt, so please have a drink.”

A very modest man, Bob would have been embarrassed by all this praise and affection, but we grieve with Yvonne and their daughters Jane and Sue at the passing of a man of such rare spirit.  He was among the very best that most of us will ever know.

Colin Dickins 2007

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