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Hundreds pay tribute to Barry May at memorial service

Hundreds of former colleagues, friends and family celebrated the life of Barry May, the founder of The Baron, at his funeral and memorial service in west London on June 25.

Around 100 people, mostly former Reuters colleagues, crowded into the chapel at Mortlake Crematorium for May’s funeral; the Reverend Canon Wilma Roest, who led the service, said that she had not realised just how many people would attend.

But this was dwarfed by nearly 250 people attending a moving service of “Thanksgiving & Celebration” in Richmond’s 800-year-old  church of St Mary Magdalene, where the crowd was so big that extra chairs were brought in and there were not enough orders of service to go around.

The church has a plaque outside describing its history – one of several around the town that Barry wrote for the Richmond Society, which he chaired for many years. A large picture of Barry, who died on June 1, stood at the front of the congregation. (see photo)

The memorial service, designed meticulously by Barry himself, right down to the typeface on the programme, was an eclectic festival of tributes, readings and beautiful music ranging from Mozart and Handel to Luciano Pavarotti and Leonard Cohen, reflecting his encyclopaedic musical knowledge.

The congregation was made up of many ex-Reuters colleagues, from as far away as Geneva and Scotland, as well as family, led by Barry’s wife Dolly, and two sons Siva and JR, and friends from his multiple other activities, including the Richmond Society and the Royal Society of Arts.

Eulogies were read by Steve Somerville and JR May.

Somerville spoke of Barry’s dapper dress sense and droopy black moustache in his younger days, for which he was compared to Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.

He said Barry had three passions: love for his family, good journalism and love for Richmond, the area where he was born and had his home. It was here that he began in journalism as a teenager and scored an early scoop with the first published report on the nascent Rolling Stones in 1963.

Barry’s life was, “a story of the personal success and good deeds of a man who triumphed through his own qualities, not by any advantages of birth or inheritance,” Somerville said.

JR’s sometimes emotional, sometimes humorous address related many anecdotes about his father. He said Barry’s colleagues and friends were all part of their family, prompting laughter when he said they could cooperate on a biography called “Barry May: the Man, the Myth and the Moustache”.

But there were tears when he said: “My new favourite part of the day is the brief half seconds when I first wake, those few moments when you don’t know what day of the week it is, and my brain hasn’t realised yet that he is gone.”

Former Reuters colleagues Len Santorelli and Peter Gregson were among friends who did the readings. Gregson recited Barry’s favourite poem Adlestrop by Edward Thomas.

The back cover of the programme was decorated with pictures of Barry in babyhood, displaying his moustache at its droopiest, with Ronald Reagan and wearing the regalia of a liveryman of the City of London.

The service was played out with the poignant notes of George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord.