franciscan - September 2000
© The Society of Saint Francis, 2000
Brother Ramon SSF, RIP
Brother Ramon SSF died on 5 June 2000. He was aged sixty-four years and in the nineteenth year of his profession in vows. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
A personal reflection given at his requiem mass in Worcester Cathedral, by Dr Ieuan Lloyd, Companion of SSF
Ramon must look on us today with a wry smile. We are gathered here in a cathedral to remember him when he himself lived in a wooden hut, ten feet by six. In the day of Pentium computers, digital cameras, scanners and the like, Ramon achieved what he did by pen and steam typewriter. It shows us that what is of lasting worth can be achieved with the simplest of implements and in simple surroundings, if you have energy, discipline and above all compassion.
I first met Ramon (Raymond Lloyd) when he came to a mission hall in Morriston, in the 1950s. He bubbled over with enthusiasm for his faith. At the time he was an active banner carrier and even had a verse of scripture sewn on his swimming trunks. Though that enthusiasm took a different form later, it remained with him all his life.
He was at the time attending a commercial school where he learned shorthand, something he told me was invaluable in keeping the confidences of so many that visited him. His parents were not well off but struggled to keep him in school; something for which he was forever grateful.
His decision to be a conscientious objector at eighteen showed his resolve. We may think of him as tolerant and open, which he was, but he had baselines from which you would not budge him, and his refusal to take up arms was one such – even the recruiting sergeant was no match for him. On another occasion when he worked in Morriston Hospital, the bed sheets of one old and sick man needed changing a second time. A formidable sister told him that sheets should not be changed twice in a day. Ramon told her that the rule was inhuman – there were plenty of sheets in the cupboard and he was going to change them even if she were to sack him. His fellow nurses were astonished at his boldness, but he gained their respect. It was at this hospital that he witnessed at first hand the pain and suffering about which he was able to write with feeling, for among the wards he worked in was a children’s cancer ward.
His energy is legendary. While he worked at the hospital, he also looked after a Baptist chapel in Pembrokeshire. On Monday morning before breakfast, he would cycle the fifty miles to Morriston – and that included the dreaded Nant y Caws hill near Carmarthen – and then return again on the weekend.
He had his faults, though I would have gladly exchanged mine for his. His judgement faltered when it came to a bargain. He would buy batteries that lasted only minutes, because they were cheap. When he was the Guardian at Glasshampton he used to buy provisions at Bookers. He would be delighted to find some things were five for the price of four. But it had nothing to do with his owning anything. The Bishop of Glasgow said to him with admiration when Ramon was leaving after being attached to the cathedral for four years, ‘Ramon, you came with a rucksack and you are leaving only with a rucksack’. Ramon resisted modern technology with one exception – a microwave given to him by his sister. Apart from that recent acquisition, like any true Franciscan he had pared his possessions down to a minimum.
He was always approachable. He could speak to anyone and anyone could speak to him. We all could relate stories illustrating this. And however fleeting a meeting with him was, it would always be memorable. There was the truck driver who drove all the way back up the motorway because Ramon had left something in his cab, to return it to the cathedral here, where he had dropped Ramon off earlier. There was the lady who gave him a lift because someone dressed like him a year before had so helped her husband who was depressed; only to find out that that other person was he, Ramon.
He had an agile mind and possessed a wealth of knowledge. He loved learning and usually was reading – at any one time – six books on a variety of subjects. His discovery that he could write was a joy to him. He had a phenomenal memory. Around the piano we would test his knowledge of the Baptist Hymnal and Hymns Ancient & Modern, by giving him a number and, invariably, he could recite all the verses. He told me that when he was – in recent months – too ill to read he could just name a Psalm to himself and read it off in his mind.
He was a charismatic preacher. But you may not know how marvellous he was with children. He could have them eating out of his hand. His training had been on the beaches of South Wales where every summer for many years he would – with his loud speaker – (he did need one sometimes) teach, talk, sing and organize games for vast numbers of children.
He enjoyed the world he was born into. He liked being close to the elements – in particular, walking into the wind and climbing the cliffs on the Gower Peninsular. There was joy and laughter in all he did. Even towards the end of his life, his joy and laughter had not left him.
One unique feature of his Christian life was that he had attended, worshipped and preached in all branches of the Christian Church. And so with his warm and open manner, he was able to replace bigotry and prejudice with tolerance and understanding. Only he could get Anglo-Catholics to sing Elim choruses and a conference of Baptist ministers to handle the rosary. And he had a growing understanding of and sympathy for other faiths. Much to the surprise of a Hindu doctor who attended him at his last visit to hospital, he was able to talk to her about Hindu sages. He believed that God was wherever there was love and compassion. That, he came to see, was a very valuable insight.
He was especially grateful to the brothers at Glasshampton and the nurses who gave him so much care, attention and love, especially in the last few weeks of his life. He died where he had chosen to be.
His family was very important to him. His sister Wendy was ten years younger than him. She remembers with affection how – when she was young – he pushed her in her pram miles just to show her things of interest. He continued to show a fatherly interest in every member of his extended family. They in turn loved him dearly.
But what I think he will be remembered for most is the wise counsel and guidance he gave to so many people. Here was the other side of him, listening and not talking, understanding the person’s situation, finding the right thing to say at the right time, planting a thought, then suggesting and opening up possibilities, sometimes nudging, never thrusting. He took such great care over his letters. They were usually at least two sides long with single spacing. He kept everyone’s letter for a while and carbon copies of his own. He continued to write even when he was quite ill. Not long after Christmas he replied to over a hundred in two weeks, each tailored to the needs of the person. He knew exactly where you were on your pilgrimage. And what he gave – either face to face or in his correspondence – was hope, whether the difficulties were psychological, personal or spiritual. That hope changed the lives of so many people. That hope is something that he had found in his faith and for which he himself was such a wonderful channel. f
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