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News > Deaths & Obituaries > PRITCHETT, Henry Desmond Eric

PRITCHETT, Henry Desmond Eric

You are warmly welcomed to leave a message below, share your memories, and celebrate the life of Desmond Pritchett, who we sadly lost in 2018.
PRITCHETT, Henry Desmond Eric, (Desmond)

His friend, Jeremy Coyle, writes: 

Desmond was a very gifted man; a man of quick intelligence, witty, charming and considerate; the most congenial companion you could wish for.

He was also a successful businessman, a great lover of music, a widely read man, a connoisseur of fine wines and, perhaps first and foremost, a paterfamilias loved not only by his own children and grandchildren but by all the rest of us who looked up to him.

He shone even as a schoolboy, winning a scholarship from Tonbridge School to Oxford where he read Modern Languages and also crowned his schoolboy interest in rowing by becoming Captain of Boats at Brasenose College.

After graduating, he worked for a while in the City but his earlier National Service in the New Territories of Hong Kong had left him with an abiding love for the Far East; so it was no surprise when he accepted the offer of a job in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and settled happily in Colombo.

There, he was responsible for shipping cargoes of tea, coconuts, copra and rubber – all the commodities of Empire – while continuing to pursue his love of rowing as the Captain of Colombo Rowing Club.

In 1960, what must have been an idyllic life was interrupted by the arrival of a young woman who had come to work in the UK High Commission.

On landing in Colombo, Carol (for it was she) was greeted by the ship’s Agent who at some point asked where here home was. “Bournemouth” she said, only to be told by the Agent that he shared a house with a couple of chaps, one of whom – Desmond – was also from there. “I haven’t travelled all this distance across the world to meet someone from Bournemouth”, said Carol.

I guess we all get it wrong sometimes…

They were married a year later and continued to live in Colombo until they returned to England and set up home and business in Blackheath.

Blackheath Travel was started in 1964 and they eventually settled in a large handsome house on the edge of the heath after the family had expanded to include not just Amanda, who had been born in Sri Lanka, but also Katie and Alison.

Dear Alison, whose tragic death last year cast such a long shadow over the whole family.

But back in those years, the travel business thrived and became something of a landmark in the village, as well as receiving national recognition for its Wine Trails, until it was sold in the 1980s – at which point Desmond, with Carol, revived a long-lost local magazine, The Guide.

Here, he proved to be an accomplished editor and journalist but, more than that, he showed just how well he could write. It’s rare to come across someone outside the realm of professional authors who have, as he did, an individual prose style that was immediately recognisable, immensely readable.

I have two memories that sum up Desmond for me. One is about his father, a Doctor in Tunbridge Wells who in the days before the National Health Service could hardly bring himself to charge his patients for their treatment.

But there needed to be bread on the table and one day, at the urging of Desmond’s mother, he went out to collect at least some of what he was owed. He came back without any money but a single payment in kind from a patient who had given him a stuffed owl in a glass display dome.

Although, as we have seen, Desmond proved to be a more effective businessman than his father, that same kindness, that humanity, was in his genes; and he had it in abundance.

The other memory is of a day trip to Wimereux that he organised for many of us local parents and our children.

The sun was scarcely up as our coach left Blackheath and Desmond was walking up and down the aisle dispensing large Bloody Marys from a plastic can that must have held at least a gallon of the mix.

So we crossed the Channel to France in high spirits – 80 degree proof spirits, you might say – to find perfect weather for playing rounders on the beach, paddling in the shallows and building sand castles.

Then off to a restaurant for lunch where the children marvelled at their fathers’ skill at throwing bread rolls at each other.

For a whole long summer’s day I think we were all children together, with Desmond somehow having recreated for us the timelessness, innocence and playfulness of the nursery floor.

All of us here, I know, are left with an inexpressible sense of loss; but we have also had the great good fortune to have known this most loveable of men, a man of great accomplishments who simply didn’t know how to make an enemy, and who cheered and enriched the lives of all who knew him.

In the words of W B Yeats, he was “not one, but all mankind’s epitome.”

(FH 42-47)

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