Omnia Issue 8 - Autum/Winter 2020

Page 112



Issue 08 Autumn/Winter 2020



(OC 1945 – 1950) Born 1932, died 2019. John Barrons arrived at Caterham from a very well-established family at the heart of civic and professional life in Northampton, where his father edited the Chronicle and Echo. As a boarder at Caterham two of the defining features of his life became evident: his love of words and the English language, and his commitment to sport – almost any sport, but especially hockey and cricket. His generation very largely did not go to university, so after school he spent a year in the US on the Louisville Times in Kentucky, partly a decision by his father to send him off for a change of scene following the death from Polio of his older brother Peter. John’s generation did, however, have to do military National Service. In his case this was as an officer with the Northamptonshire Regiment, fortuitously just after the Korean War, but still in plenty of time to serve at the height of the Cold War, stationed in Wuppertal in West Germany. He was always understated about this, in fact he was always understated about everything, but his military service lasted well into the 1960s as a Reserve officer – and his commitment to the Northants made him one of the very

last attendees of the officers’ reunions of a Regiment amalgamated into history in 1960. After National Service he embarked on the career in newspapers that would define his working life. His early rise in management came first in Nuneaton as Managing Editor then to the Chronicle and Echo back in Northampton, as the youngest editor in the country. He married Caroline in September 1957, producing three boys between 1959 and 1966. The family moved to Edinburgh in 1962, where he was Managing Editor of the Edinburgh Evening News in the bitter winter of 1963, and then quickly back south to Westminster Press in London in May 1964 – initially as General Manager and eventually as Managing Director of this nationwide group. He became an oracle on all aspects of newsprint, and not just because of the extensive fishing trips to Scandinavia that came with this. He also served as President of the Newspaper Society, perhaps his greatest public role, and earned his place in Who’s Who. No matter how busy his working life, there was always time for sport. In the winter this meant hockey every Saturday for Rickmansworth Sports Club, starting at the highest level and easing gently over possibly too many years into veteran sides where imagination was as important as actual movement. And when not at work or on the sports field he was usually to be found in the garden, advancing over time from basic slash and burn to a profound knowledge of how a garden works. In the 1970s there were annual trips to Scotland where John began his special relationship with a particular salmon pool on the River Tilt, which he stalked with a fly relentlessly and apparently fruitlessly year on year, until much to his astonishment, and maybe even disappointment, he caught a proper salmon the proper way –this was typical of him. He thereby more than earned his place in the Fly-Fishers Club.

In later life his devotion to every single sporting event Sky Sports could throw at him 24 hrs a day was exceptional, but his membership of the Marylebone Cricket Club gave him the greatest pleasure. For him a day in the Pavilion at a Lord’s Test, moving in early with speed and gentle aggression to bag a good seat and to accompany excellent cricket with bacon at the start, cake at the end, and a decent lunch in the middle, was a brilliant use of time. John also occasionally revealed his life-long following of jazz music, including finding live venues in places like New York. This love of jazz was best confined to his head, as any attempt to exhibit it through the medium of dance was quite surprising to the uninitiated. Moving with his second wife, Lauren, from Hampstead to Belfast some 25 years ago was a big move in every respect, marking his final fulltime role in newspaper management – with the Ulster Newsletter. In retirement he found a great interest in Irish Wolfhounds, generally in a pair and always enormous. In Belfast he also found a new vocational interest in helping youngsters to read in school, along with a regular following of the City’s theatre and cinema. Less evident until his death was that more time meant time to write more poetry, a serious and typically gentle approach never intended for publication, yet still enough to fill a drawer for posterity. In fact, John really never really topped working. He was rightly proud that at the senior age of 78 he was asked to join the Board of Praxis, giving him almost a decade of real satisfaction in serving an excellent cause, able to apply all his business and financial acumen once more. Even just a week before he died, with everything getting hard, he was not interested in giving this up. A long life, well and usefully led, which touched very many people and always for the better. Who could ask for more? ■ Written by his son, Richard Barrons

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