Bob Wysome was always touchingly modest but delighted to have been awarded a British Empire Medal a few years ago for services to music in Shropshire.
Over the years, Bob staged many popular and successful concerts and he would always say: “I feel I should share the award with the many friends, students, colleagues and all musicians who have supported me in the county for so long and especially since I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease about 14 years ago.”
And that is at the heart of it all.
Because since what was a devastating diagnosis at the time, Bob Wysome buckled down, gritted his teeth and even when the going was pretty tough, continued to play his part in county and musical life.
He said then: “I don’t want concerts to be miserable affairs, I want it to be positive. It’s very easy to martyr oneself. People were very kind and tried so well to do their best to make life easier for me.”
One more thing he has always been certain about. When his time came, he made it clear that he didn’t want a traditional funeral, just a private ceremony and then a service of thanksgiving. That is what he is getting.
I interviewed Bob several times over all those years, always a pleasure and so interesting to hear his story.
With his wife Penny, they and their musical children - Anthony, Jonathan and Hannah - the family really has made a massive contribution in our county.
Born in South Wales, Bob was soon a familiar figure on the music scene.
It all began when he became an organist and accompanist before reading music at Cardiff University where he studied composition with Alun Hoddinott and organ with Robert Joyce at lovely Llandaff Cathedral.
Bob was organist at St John the Baptist Church in Cardiff for several years then moved to Bristol, arriving in Shropshire in 1975 and was Director of Music at New College in Wellington for many years. Bob’s reputation grew and his work featured regularly on local and national radio and television, not least with a series of joint projects with Welsh National Opera.
Involvements included working with the Shropshire Youth Orchestra, Shropshire Music Service and even after his ‘retirement’ he remained a notable pianist and organist.
Since retiring from full-time teaching in 2001, Bob was especially involved with conducting, examining and accompanying.
The New College Chorale community choir formed in the 1990s, which he made his own, always held a special place in his heart – and he in theirs.
While working so widely with different orchestras over the years led to an impressive musical contacts list which saw Bob directing with many leading soloists such as Jack Brymer, Emma Johnson, Peter Donohoe, Erich Gruenberg, Alan Schiller, Robert Cohen, Michala Petri and Leeds Piano Competition winner Ricardo Castro.
He also conducted concerts featuring Sir Patrick Moore, Robert Hardy, Brian Kay, Jon Pertwee and Timothy West as well as popular open-air fireworks concerts at Attingham Park and Aqualate Park in Newport.
He achieved even happier times and said: “Music has never been a chore for me and I have thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of it, whether teaching, performing, composing or conducting.
“I had a wonderful time setting up the music department at New College and running it for nearly three decades and I taught some incredibly talented students, many of whom progressed to great heights in the music profession.
He recalled being contacted by a young man he taught at New College for many years and who became a BBC producer in South Wales, reminding him that he was teaching his A-level music group when cellist Jacqueline du Pre died.
“Apparently I insisted that they listen to her recording of Elgar’s cello concerto and he said it had such a profound effect on him that it remained his favourite piece of music.”
Another former student wrote to say that without Bob’s stimulating teaching and enthusiasm he would never have made a career in music.
Of course Bob was thrilled and he also remembered fondly tours with Shropshire Youth Orchestra, across Europe and beyond.
He told me those few years ago: “Although my musical life has been restricted because of the Parkinson’s Disease, I have much to be grateful for and want to say thank you to the many friends who have supported me over the years.”
We should also be thanking Bob Wysome, BEM, for friendship and fortitude harvested over an eventful lifetime. A quiet hero, indeed!
* Bob’s Service of Thankgiving is on Friday, January 24, at 2pm at Shrewsbury Abbey.