16 January 1937 to 30 August 1998
Alex affected so many. He always made you feel that you mattered, and he was such good company.
This funeral address was given by The Right Reverend David Hallatt, Bishop of Shrewsbury and former Rector of St James and Emmanuel.
Good friends, Alex wants this occasion to be one of thanksgiving and celebration. Although, I suspect all of us do not feel in a very celebratory mood. It’s never easy to speak of a dear friend or of a great person, and doubly difficult to speak about one who undoubtedly is both. But surely we must observe his desires and the hymns and the readings and the whole tenor of this service has been, and will continue in just that ambience. We have already sung “Ransomed healed restored forgiven, Who like me his praise should sing”, Alleluia! And we shall sing finally, “Then Sings my Soul my saviour God to Thee how great thou art, how great thou art”. So I ask you to hear again just a few of those words that Andrew has just read to us: “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, in ministry, ministering, the teacher in teaching, the encourager in encouraging, the giver in generosity, the leader in diligence, the compassionate in cheerfulness”.
Now there is a person in the New Testament that has always reminded me of Alex. That person in the New Testament is called “Barnabas”, frankly my favourite apostle. His name means “Son of Encouragement” and you and I know Alex deserves that description. There may be some who are here because you have not really known Alex for very long, and in a way that’s the greatest tribute to him, because where he touched people, they never forgot him. Alex affected so many. He always made you feel that you mattered, and he was such good company. You have to be here this morning in St. James Didsbury, just as I have to be here. And it’s not so much because I’m a Bishop or because I was David’s predecessor, but because I had the privilege of knowing “Alexander James Royle” and I have the even greater privilege of knowing that he knew me. But I think Barnabas of for further reasons. For Barnabas it was said, he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. So too this twentieth century friend of yours and mine was a man of encouragement and a man of God. He didn’t always wear his faith on his sleeve, but those who knew him, and it didn’t take long, knew where his foundations were, and he knew that underneath were the everlasting arms of God. And that impregnated everything he did. There was a wideness in his support, for not only in St James and Emmanuel, but he gave his support to needy moments just 200 yards down the road at St Paul’s Methodist Church, playing the piano, and then he even learnt the organ.
And then here in St James and Emmanuel the list is endless. I thank God that he kept the light shining when I came in 1975, amongst children and young people’s work and encouraged and inspired us and laid foundations. He produced the pageant, which my wife Margaret wrote to celebrate the 750th anniversary of the founding of this church back in 1236. But Education was his profession, becoming at just 30 years of age one of, if not the youngest Head Teachers of any school in Manchester at Greenhays Primary School. Then barely five years later, Head of what I understood to be the second largest primary school in the city, at Old Moat. And as a Head Teacher he had that remarkable grace of true leadership, so that everybody on the staff knew exactly who was in charge, but he never ever paraded his authority around. It was just in him, Alex was there and therefore no matter what crisis or mundane or celebration or whatever, all was well.
Such grace ability and experience found further fulfilment in being appointed an adviser, first with Trafford and then with Stockport, in Primary Education and eventually rising to be the Senior Adviser for Primary Education in the Stockport Authority. Even in retirement, which is a misnomer as far as Alex was concerned, the University of Manchester recognised his gifts and value by inviting him to become a consultant and tutor in their post graduate certificate in education (PGCE). And then this last and dreadful illness meant that in the spring of last year, when he was in Christie Hospital, he had to give up. Perhaps it was very poignant but appropriate that his place was taken by his closest friend, dare I say almost his brother, Rodney Ashman.
Of course, all this professional talent was relayed to his other multifarious interests. Peter Sidebotham has already reminded us on the organ of operatic adventures. Many of us rejoice in his wonderful productions, in particular that moment one Saturday evening when he tried to come incognito although every single person knew he was there. And on that Saturday evening, when the presentations and the thanks had been given, the climax would always be when Alex was brought on. Chairman after chairman would say to the audience that they never had to worry when Alex was there. Of course there were crises, and there would be that familiar eyes lifted to Heaven, but there would be a whimsical smile and every one would say “it will be alright on the night”. I don’t know whether I am the only one here, but I must say that once or twice during the last few days I have just mused as to whether he’s now organising the Angelic Hosts with “the thin ones at the front as well etc etc”.
There is so much more: President of the Manchester Head Teachers Association, President of the Heaton Mersey Choral Society, President of Northenden Players and earlier on in his life, perhaps not so many would know this, but it is important, directing the first arts festival at Manchester Cathedral in company with his close friend Kenneth Slater.
Today is certainly a day for remembering stories and happenings, and most will be humorous or have a humorous aspect, for that of course was, no, is Alex. Please allow me one story. Alex loved, in the right circumstances, making double entendres of the family name. Holidays in Scotland were a favourite of the family, indeed Margaret and I and our boys met up with them on one occasion on the West Coast. This particular holiday that I know about happened more on the East Side, at Royal Deeside. As you are all aware, another famous family also regularly take their holiday at that time in that vicinity. Alex and Lorna had made arrangements to meet up with their friends Elizabeth and Fairy Gourley at an Hotel in Ballater. So just imagine with me the scene in the reception office of that particular hotel, where the rendezvous was due to take place at lunchtime. Down the phone comes this perfectly accented male voice requesting the receptionist to “be pleased to graciously inform our friends the Gourleys that at 1pm precisely the Royle Family would be arriving for lunch”. That’s Alex isn’t it! He brought such encouragement and cheerfulness, wisdom and sheer joy wherever he went. That was the Alex that God gave us.
Alex is, was, and always will be a gift from God, and with him God has given us his beloved Lorna, Andrew and Elizabeth, now expanded in the house by Rosemary and Christopher and grandchildren Alice, Cameron and Sophie. We are all so very privileged to have known and loved him and to be known and loved by him. You and I this day are thanking God for one of His very best gifts to us, though all of us would have longed, Father, that it might have been for a little longer on this earth. But then I have to say to myself that Alex was the sort of person who packed more into his 61 years than frankly many will put into much longer lives. To Lorna, Andrew and Elizabeth, to Ethel his mother, sister Beryl, our love and prayers go to you in your wondrous courage and bravery at this time. Thank you for so much selfless sharing of him with us over the years and also for sharing yourselves. As a family you have reflected the prodigal love of God, who shares everything with us. And that God is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, but in a new way because he sees him face to face, he is the God and Father of Alexander James today. For Alex did minister and preach, he exhorted and encouraged, he was cheerfully compassionate, as the Apostle Paul reminded us in the earlier reading.
I finish with some words which have helped me in these past days. They come from an ancient prayer book of an ancient Saint. I have used them on other occasions when I have needed them and I shared them with Lorna last weekend:
“We give them back to Thee dear Lord who givest them to us, yet as thou doest not loose them in the giving so we have not lost them by their return, not as the world giveth, giveth Thou oh lover of souls, what Thou giveth thou taketh not away, for what is Thine is ours always if we are thine, and life is eternal and love is immortal and death is only an horizon and an horizon is nothing save the limit of my sight. Lift us up strong Son of God that we may see further, cleanse our eyes that we may see more clearly, draw us closer to thyself that we may know ourselves nearer to our beloved who is with Thee, and while thou doest prepare a place for us, prepare us for that happy place that where they are and thou art, we too may be, through Jesus Christ our Lord”.