John Hall eulogy

John Charles Hall MBE, 1938 - 2010

Firstly I would like to thank John’s family for kindly letting us share with them this occasion.

Please forgive this clumsy attempt at expressing what I know to be a mutual feeling amongst many of you gathered here today. I don’t think there are any words I can use to express either my feelings on the day I heard that John had passed away or here today, what he meant to me and hundreds of people like me.

As an older ex scout as I look around here, I can see some of the amazing effects John has had on our lives – I guess a lot of us here, have John and Scouting as our common bond.

John’s influence on young people started in Hong Kong in the 1950s, and in scouting, he remained highly active until 2010. Here today are several people who were influenced by John when they were in Scouting at a tender age in the ’60s and 70s – and have now also experienced their own children being helped and guided tirelessly by John several decades later.

In the 1960s aged 7 at a cub scout camp, I had my first major encounter with the magic of John Hall.

A rotund, enthusiastic, bubbly man with a large beard and no front teeth.

He was teaching climbing, and some of us were definitely too frightened to have a go at it.

He started to banter with the various individuals – he was funny, he was different, not like a parent, he provoked, challenged, questioned, listened, reasoned – he called you MR… and before you knew where you were, you were dangling on the end of a rope, worried, frightened and being verbally pushed and abused all the way to the top of the climb.

It was the same when you got in a canoe, or when you went hiking, John was always there driving you along, motivating, tormenting, and encouraging you to do more. He had the ability to push everyone to achieve things far beyond their comfort zone. As one event finished he was never slow in reminding us what was happening later in the week.

He was able to orchestrate events so that even a complete disaster became both fun and a challenge.

How many of us gathered here today can remember similar John Hall experiences as:

Finishing a hard day walking with him only to find a huge boulder nestling happily at the very bottom of your rucksack.

The John Hall breakfast deal – his kind offer of sharing his glorious chocolate cake with you at lunchtime – as long as you supplied the breakfast. So you fried the eggs and bacon and gave him half your breakfast. Lunchtime arrived and John duly unwrapped the glorious chocolate cake … and just as you reach for a piece – he would spit on the cake – and suddenly it’s the last thing you might want to eat.

Eating your lunch and being distracted only to find that someone had taken a huge bite out of your sandwich – on accusing John he tried to sound all hurt and innocent … but the bite was like a signature – the missing front teeth always gave him away.

A Wet Rydal Camp – when there were so many rain-soaked Scouts drying off in the local cinema you couldn’t see the screen for the steam.

The words “blood” with a “y” on the end, and “hello” without the “o” ringing in your ears when he felt you could do better.

The promise of the ice cream van on the top of Snowden, or the cafe just round the next corner.

The endless banter…You’re neither big enough nor strong enough – and when you are – you’ll be too old!

The endless story of the tortoise and the hare.

In freezing temperatures on a grinding walk putting your newly purchased balaclava on your head – only to find John was wearing the one you had lost the week before.

He was good at bar work – always last to the bar – he’d get there and then strangely discover that he had left “that fiver” back in his van. Or the other version where he gets someone to go to the bar to order a large round on the basis that he will return and pay for it when he’s been to the loo… only he always returned too late.

He scored a goal in one Boxing day football match – probably about 1973, everyone at that time went to the Abbey after the game, where John got a little drunk. He said he had to be at work at 6. a.m. the next day – so he was taken home to sober up. Later, he, clutching his car keys was pushed onto the back seat of a car with his feet hanging out of the window, and taken to look for his car. On finding the car, the same colour, make and age, and with the key fitting after some jiggling about. The car was started and driven in procession behind the other car with John’s feet still hanging out of the window, back to his house, it was parked, and John was thrown into his bed.

The next day John got up for work and looked out of his bedroom window to find someone else’s car on his drive, in typical fashion, he phoned Pete Stevenson and said: “Pete, We’ve got a problem”. Pete picked him up and they went to the police station and explain what had happened – luckily they saw the funny side.

His various vehicles, the maroon Bedford van, the mustard Moskavitch – we were all happy to put our kit in them – but preferred to travel with someone else for safety reasons. The various architectural antiquities in the form of bridges and certain listed buildings that he managed to clip with the front wings of the unit bus – usually while singing or bantering with someone else who was sitting on the back seat.

On one exceedingly tedious journey to the lake district, in an ancient commer minibus the boredom was somewhat relieved by John leading the singing of “a wild rover”. He pulled out to overtake a lorry on the 3/4 mile “straight” just past Ilkely, the chorus of the song came round again 1/4 mile later, John lets go of the wheel to clap his hands in time with the chorus, and collects the front wheel nuts of the lorry- which machine a perfectly circular chunk out of bus front nearside door. Consequently, the front passenger jumps through the roof, the lorry driver does similar & the boredom is totally banished for the rest of the journey.

Early days of the WVU – Its 1st trip to Norway. On the Svellnosbreen glacier. John slipped into a crevasse – there was just one set of crampons in the entire party – “A classic early John Hall attitude to safety”- there was much consternation on the surface, cries of “John are you alright?” … and then muffled swearing from the depths – reveals that his greatest concern is that his much-prized clockwork cine camera had been jolted into action & was now running in the bottom of his rucksack & wasting expensive film.

On a serious note:

From within the Scouting Movement, John’s contributions are clearly evident and have been totally outstanding. For over 5 decades in the form of a “mentor,” John introduced thousands of young people through the Scouting movement to the “Great Outdoors”. He gave them a sense of self-confidence, self-respect and respect for others and the environment.

He always put us first. He made you feel that your contribution no matter how small was important.

John adapted to change, he had that rare ability to be able to communicate with people across all generations and inspire people of all ages to achieve better and greater things. He organised, he led, he inspired, he motivated – he made positive things happen. He was totally unselfish – he was one of life’s “givers” – and he gave endlessly.

On a lighter note

To be honest, John probably would not have approved of our formal gathering here today – he would have no doubt preferred that we were all out somewhere slogging up some distant hill or canoeing on a freezing lake…

I’ve heard it said that when John went to Buckingham Palace to collect his MBE. As the Queen was introduced to John and he bowed to accept his medal… someone in the audience quietly asked “Who is that shaking hands with John Hall”

Probably like you – for sure, I will never meet another man like John Hall, and to be honest I have enough fantastic memories to last lifetimes.

And so, John from all the older generations of Scouts, many thanks for everything – knowing you has been a pleasure and a total honour.

Steve Roe