Today was the day we all had a chance to say celebrate the life of Sir Mervyn Dunnington-Jefferson at his wonderfully moving memorial service at St Luke’s Chelsea. The church was packed (600 approx) which was in now way a surprise nor was the fact that OER&TC, IZ and Ramblers ties were all much in evidence. I only knew Merv for the last 15 years or so and so it was great to hear stories in the address about his life as a young man. The music from the choir was truly exceptional I thought with two beautifully sung solos in two of the anthems. Merv’s son read a poem called “The Eighth at Brancaster” most apt of course as this is where Merv played his golf.
Merv always struck me as a man who could squeeze every last drop of enjoyment and fun from any experience. He was a true supporter of Eton Rackets, always keen to hear how the boys were doing and generous with helping us financially with tours and prizes for boys. For many years, and in spite of all my advice, he would place a bet on the Eton runner in the Foster Cup at Queens. I don’t think he ever won. The one year in which we won, when Merv could have got some of his money back off David Makey, was the year of Will Hopton’s success and Merv inexplicably decided not to make his usual mistake and instead backed the top seed and favourite, who we beat in the final.
I loved talking to Merv about horses. I used to bump into him frequently at York for the Ebor meeting in August and Merv would regale me with his tales of woe about the 2 year olds he had in training with Paul Cole. Each one was a disaster, never fulfilling potential or breeding promise, but Merv’s grumblings about his horses were always delivered with a twinkle in his eye. Merv loved the competition, he loved the stories and characters in racing and clearly loved York. I will miss him massively in the summer when the flat season starts once again.
For the past 10 years or so, Merv used to come to Eton just before Christmas with his great friend Dudley MacDonald to play rackets. Peter Brake and I would play what came to be known as the “Christmas Doubles” on what was always a cold Monday morning with Merv and Dudley. The knock ups and match usually lasted 45 minutes or so in total with many expletives and profanities uttered by Merv through the game. We would then adjourn to Gilbey’s on the High Street for a lunch that normally took three or more hours. Having worked our way through some of the wine list, always chatting about rackets, cricket or the horses, in conversations accompanied by raucous laughter, I would stagger home up the road and usually crash out on the sofa. Merv would drive back into London for a drinks party in the evening.
It was clear from the service today that Merv was clearly a beloved friend to many and I am sure that all 600 of the congregation could tell similar stories of happy times in his company. The last few months of his life were sadly blighted by illness but prior to that Merv had lived his life to the full. His service reminded me today that our time is limited, that family is the most important thing and that every day gives us the chance to laugh, to enjoy time with our friends and to have fun. Merv I never got a chance to say any of this to you in person and you would certainly not have found this on Twitter. But I valued the kindness and friendship you showed me more than you could know and I miss you. RIP.