How little we know of those with whom we consort. Take Chris Hart: A time triallist to the core; an expert on all of a bike’s mechanics; and latterly as a cyclist politician, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of CTT’s Articles of Association, the Rules and the Regulations. When the standards came up for discussion a couple of years back, he provided a paper so large and comprehensive that there was nobody there to digest it.
As the District Secretary of CTT London West, his was a comparatively short span but possibly the most memorable. The advent of email provided the opportunity for him to express himself and to conduct the business of the District to a degree not seen in the days of snail mail – as other members of that Committee can testify.
There were many of his family and friends at the funeral on the 25th of March and it was there that we learned what a special person Chris was.
He was born in 1936 in Sussex and lived on farms in the New Forest and Dartmoor before the move to Oxfordshire in 1945.
He had a ‘casual’ education before the move but went subsequently to the London School of Economics where he earned the soubriquet of a brilliant scholar. He abandoned his doctorial thesis in 1966 when offered a job in the Foreign Office research department, African Section. In the same year he met Ann and, so it is said, pursued her with characteristic single-mindedness. They married in 1967, Julia was born in 1973 and Alexandra in 1975.
He was posted to Tanzania in 1968 which was a base for ‘freedom fighters’. This appealed to Chris who came to love the freedom anthem (Nkosi sikelele Africa) of the liberation movements. President Nyerer’s socialist stance also appealed and Chris proved an unlikely diplomat, whose determination to support what he believed to be fair soon led to his receiving gentle reminders that “Her Majesty’s Government is always right” and that he should promote British policy, whatever his views.
His idealism got him into further trouble in Kenya, where he sympathised with those opposed to the ruling regime in their struggle for greater democracy and all too readily espoused their cause. His later postings to Nigeria, and temporarily to Sierra Leone, led to his further frustration at the corruption and ineptitude in government that he witnessed as well as the apathy he perceived in his colleagues.
The love of cycling was concealed during the courtship of Ann, although, it was remarked, the racing bike in his bedroom should have been a clue.
Chris was delighted to combine these two passions in Kenya, when he coached the national cycling team. In retirement, Chris maintained his interest in Africa and had time to indulge his love of bikes and racing to the full. As his health declined he was still to be seen on his bike on the roads around Goring, latterly on his recumbent machine, and increasingly he devoted his energies to contributing to the sport in other ways.
Chris seldom wore his heart on his sleeve, but would dedicate himself unsparingly: e.g. to the campaign for Broadband in Goring; to finding out about developments in prostate cancer research. He was courageous in his convictions, even though some of his ideas were unorthodox, if not impracticable.
Chris’s integrity was outstanding; it impressed even those who cared for him in his last days.
The congregation was party to a memorable occasion, including contributions from daughter Alexandria:
‘To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose.’ For my dad the racing season was the most important and to cycling, as to every other passion in his life, my dad characteristically gave his all.
My dad always wanted more time, but spent the time he had not worrying what others thought, just trying to do, as he said, ‘the right thing’.
This meant my dad had:
A time to share a tiny portion of his vast knowledge and enthusiasm for his passions with whoever might listen
A time to stand up for what he believed
A time to slip in a joke and smile until the other person realised what he’d said
A time to sit with his grandsons, as delighted to watch clips of steam trains as they were
An infuriating amount of time to research, compare and contemplate before making any decision
And ultimately, when he was ready, a time to accept his fate and to prepare others to manage without him
A time to find peace.
Dad, I hope you are cycling among the stars...
From daughter Julia:
What did he like? What didn't he?
Here's a list:
The Tour de France and World War Two history,
A Question of Sport, Eastenders, athletics, the Grand Prix
He didn't like
Panel Shows. Stephen Fry or
Anything on ITV; nor historical dramas, including Shakespeare
Energy Drinks, Kendal mint cake and vitamins,
he disliked fancy meals, spicy food gave him indigestion
He rated nuclear power and three wheeled cycles,
He dismissed renewable energy and four wheel drives
Also in favour were
Suzanne Charlton, Auf Wiedersehen Pet, the Little Chef and crosswords
Less in vogue
Dark roads, snow and ice and pot holes
Pubs and Golf were a waste of time
Porridge and locomotives, all his life,
Swallows and Amazons, flying kites, these are things we remember him by.
And from Ann his wife:
With Chris life was never dull, whether he was designing his latest four-seater bike ‘contraption’, intended to our horror as the family mode of transport, or putting politicians to rights as he so loved to do. Often quixotic, ever resolute, Chris expected as much from others as he demanded from himself. He inspired in me all the love and loyalty expressed so beautifully in the following:
RUTH Chapter 1, v 16-17: Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God, my God; where thou diest, I will die, and there will I be buried…’
Goodbye Chris, all will remember you and many more will now know what an exceptional person you were.