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Roger Washbourn OBE: Key role in organising golden jubilee of Norfolk Wildlife Trust

PUBLISHED: 08:20 13 January 2014 | UPDATED: 08:20 13 January 2014

Roger Washbourn OBE, who has died aged 102

Roger Washbourn OBE, who has died aged 102

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One of the organisers of the golden jubilee celebrations of Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Roger Washbourn, has died peacefully, aged 102, in Norwich.

He stepped into the breach to arrange three months of high profile events, which culminated with the opening by the Queen of the Broadland conservation centre at Ranworth in November 1976.

Mr Washbourn, who was one of the trust’s five honorary vice-presidents, was chairman of the editorial board of a celebratory book, Nature in Norfolk – A Heritage in Trust, in the jubilee year. A leather-bound copy was presented to the Duke of Edinburgh during the official visit.

Born on April 6, 1911, he went to Marlborough and then Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating with a BA in natural sciences in 1933. In his final year, he went to Finland to study the tundra and met Margaret Hoppe. They married four years later.

His introduction to Norfolk including duck shooting at Blakeney with fellow student, Peter Scott, and playing hockey against Norwich School.

He was a lecturer at Birmingham University and later undertook a research project into Lake Huleh in the northern Jordan Valley, which was published in the science journal, Nature. Then he became assistant keeper at the Natural History Museum, London, on a salary of £290 a year, rising by £10 in the second year. There he published descriptions of three insect species new to science.

With war looming, he enlisted in the Royal Engineers as a sapper in 26th Searchlight Battalion. Rapidly promoted, he was in charge of six units, deployed around Richmond. In December 1940, he was made major in charge of 300 men and 24 searchlights in Tottenham, during what became the Blitz. Later, the French-speaking officer joined the Army’s Education Corps, serving on mainland Europe before being demobilised as a lieutenant colonel.

In 1946, he joined the British Council and as regional director was posted to Antwerp, where had served in the army. A highlight was arranging the visit of Suffolk composer, Benjamin Britten to give the first foreign performance of his opera, Peter Grimes

After a quarter of a century with the British Council, including posts in Stockholm and Helsinki, he returned to Bristol and then finally London, where he had been controller of the books, art and sciences division. He was made an OBE on retirement in 1972 and later the avid birdwatcher moved to Norfolk, initially living at Old Costessey.

He became editor of the Tern, the newsletter of the then Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust, and then its part-time administrator. When the former secretary Monty Montgomery became ill and retired in 1975, he co-ordinated the trust’s year of celebrations, which started with a service of thanksgiving at Norwich Cathedral. As the then chairman, Ian Mackintosh, noted: “The organisation of the Jubilee was itself a full-time job. We were lucky to have Roger Washbourn join our staff for nine months to handle this.”

The trust’s book, which included a preface by Sir Peter Scott, was launched in September 1976 at a reception for 400 naturalists from across the country at the Castle. A copy was presented to the Lord Mayor of Norwich, Raymond Frostick. Other notable events had included the jubilee dinner at the University of East Anglia.

Sir Timothy Colman had retired as the trust’s president after 17 years when the appointment as one of the three honorary vice-presidents, including Mr Washbourn, was announced in December 1979. He recalled a visit to Cley when Mr Washbourn, then almost a centenarian, was determined to stride for a march around the reserve.

“He was a very good friend of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and a dedicated and immensely reliable person,” he said.

After his wife’s death in 1979, he took up trout fishing, joining Richard Barry’s syndicate on the Wensum at Great Witchingham.

Between 1979 and 2002, he fished most of Norfolk’s rivers including the Wissey and Bure. He had also fished for salmon throughout his life, from Scotland to the Arctic Circle.

He was chairman of the Norfolk Association for the Disabled and secretary to the committee, which started the visitor centre at Norwich Cathedral.

After taking up bridge, he became one of the country’s oldest silver surfers and even featured on the BBC’s One Click programme as the oldest student at the age of 100.

He wanted to use the internet to stay in touch with his family around the world.

He leaves four children, Celia, Penelope, Giles and Susan, eight grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

In 1984, he married Nest Brooks and they lived in Bracondale until her death in 2004.

A funeral service will be held at St John’s Church, Timberhill, on Monday, January 27, at 1pm.

Michael Pollitt

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