LymeOnline’s Philip Evans pays his own personal tribute to the Reverend Keith Vivian
THE word “legend” is one of the most overused in the English language. Its dictionary meaning is someone who is “very famous and admired, usually because of an ability in a particular area”.
If ever there was a man who deserved such a description it was Keith Vivian – the Reverend Keith Vivian. Not for being “famous”. Fame would not interest Keith – but no man has been more universally admired in our town.
There is no corner of our community that has not benefited from his kindly and sympathetic counselling. It also seems trite to describe this rugby-playing cleric “a man of the people” because he was so much more than that to the people of Lyme.
From the time that he and his indefatigable wife Audrey retired to Lyme in 1997, (they had already had a holiday home here since 1985), Keith Vivian immersed himself in the community of our town in so many ways that his contribution can never be measured.
Keith was born in Beacon, Cornwall, and educated at Truro School where he was captain of rugby and cricket. He went to Cambridge, where he met Audrey, and started out in life teaching at Christ’s Hospital boarding school.
He was already playing rugby for Cornwall and, on moving to London, joined Harlequins in the days when rugby was still very much an amateur game but with a few shillings stuffed into the players’ boots. His rugby career included captaining Warwickshire and playing for Sussex.
Keith and Audrey were married at Ponteland in Newcastle upon Tyne. With Keith being a junior housemaster, Christ’s became their first home.
They moved on to Rugby School where Keith secured another junior housemaster’s position, teaching maths and physics, before getting his first headmastership in Herefordshire.
Keith was ordained in Hereford Cathedral and got his first job in the church as a priest and then Rural Dean of Chew Magna in Somerset, a post he held until retirement.
There are few organisations in Lyme which did not benefit, one way or another, from Keith’s wise counsel and generosity. These included the Woodroffe School, where he was a governor; the Rotary Club both in Chelwood Bridge and Lyme Regis; the twinning association of which he was a founding member; the Monmouth Club; the University of the Third Age; and of course St Michael’s Parish Church where he continued to conduct services until a few weeks before his death.
At the age of 93, Keith’s health had been declining for some time but that did not hinder or interrupt his support of his church duties. During the interregnum between the appointment of clergy for the town, it was Keith who invariably stood in, conducting the Sunday services, civic occasions, weddings and funerals.
Keith was rushed to the Dorset County Hospital with a serious complaint for which he had previously been treated several years before. Given his age, it was thought he might not survive another serious operation.
Audrey was with him when he passed away and he was able to see his two children, Jennifer and Jonathan, and all his five grandchildren before meeting his maker. He did not wish to die alone and Audrey made sure of that.
Keith will be buried after a family-only cremation service and a thanksgiving service will be held at St Michael’s Parish Church at a time when the people can of Lyme pay their respects to one of the town’s most respected and loved citizens.
I have one distinct memory of Keith. He was conducting the funeral service for the late much-respected Ron Baker. His eulogy was being delivered by his son Geoff. It was the most irreverent but hilarious speech I had ever heard in a church and I wondered what the reaction would have been had the vicar of the time been conducting the service.
Keith may not have totally approved of the colourful language but he recognised here was a touching tribute from son to father. And, of course, Keith being an ex-rugby player of some standing, there was nothing that could shock him ever again.
Sometimes he would tease me for being a lapsed member of the St Michael’s congregation and warned me of which direction I would be heading when my time came, and on one occasion he stood in for me replying to the toast to the press at mayor-making, which he delivered with great humour when I was persona-non-grata with the town council.
We will miss that magnificent stentorian voice, so loud and powerful and so appropriate for a priest. The likes of Keith Vivian we shall never see again.
…and here’s what others have written
Members of Lyme Regis Town Council have been speaking of the Reverend Vivian’s “fabulous sense of humour”, his “generous disposition”, and how he “always had a smile”. They have also paid tribute to his commitment and support to the town, describing him as a “real Lyme legend”.
In a personal tribute, the mayor Cllr Brian Larcombe said: “Keith was an important member of Lyme’s community, as reverend of St Michael’s and the support he gave to everyone in the town.
“He had a special way with people and always had time for everyone. I will miss his quiet influence and the way he would impart a guidance or a view that was never forced, always inviting, and conveyed with gravity and humour in equal measure. He will be sorely missed.
“A very sad loss to Audrey and family, and loss to the people of Lyme.”
Lyme Regis resident Keith Jenkin, who knew the Reverend Vivian from his rugby-playing days in the 1950s, said: “I first met Keith in Lyme Regis the 1980s but I knew of him well over 30 years before that.
“He and James, my big brother, locked the Cornwall rugby scrum on a number of occasions during the early 1950s and his name was frequently mentioned at our post match Sunday morning breakfast table. He was invariably referred to as ‘a good forward’ and in our rugby-mad family, no further accolade was needed.
“I remembered the name after some 30-odd years and made myself known to him. He recalled the connection and we enjoyed a good number of nostalgic conversations over the years. You know, the sort that start with ‘Do you remember’ and go on to embrace many occasions, people, and happenings.
“He once told me that the last game of rugby he played in Cornwall was against the South African tourists, and asked ‘Did you play in that game?’ I then had great delight in telling him that, at the time, I was a member of the Humphrey Davey School Under Fifteen side and we had been given an afternoon off school to watch the game.
“Opinion that Keith was a good forward was passed in the 1950s. To my mind it remained apt until the present day.”
The Rotary Club of Lyme Regis, where Keith was a member for over 20 years, released the following statement: “Keith joined the Lyme Regis Rotary Club in 1997 and had been a valued member for over 23 years. He was formerly with the Chelwood Bridge and Leominster clubs for over 20 years and was president of both. Keith was able to bring all that experience to the great benefit of the Lyme Regis Rotary Club.
“Keith will be greatly missed by all his fellow Rotarians not only for his considerable community and charity work but for his wonderful disposition and friendship.”
John Dover, chairman of the Lyme Regis/St George’s Twinning Association, of which Keith was a life-member, commented: “I feel privileged to have known Keith during the last 20 years that we have lived in Lyme. I first met him as a trustee of the museum and then as a long-standing committee member of the Lyme Regis/St Georges’ Twinning Association.
“His constancy in offering sound and considered advice when needed was always valued by his colleagues. Although a man of few words you learned quickly to listen and take heed of what he said. He also had a cheeky wit.
“I was pleased, on behalf of and during the 20th anniversary year of the twinning association, to bestow Keith with life membership for his support and encouragement over the years.
“I counted Keith as a good friend and mentor. Together, with his good friends in Bermuda, our condolences go out to Audrey. Keith will be sorely missed.”
Commenting on his connection with the church, Philip and Anne Sankey of St Michael’s Parish Church commented: “Keith had been ordained towards the end of his time as a headmaster and had then served as Rector of a group of Somerset parishes.
“In Lyme he continued his ministry alongside the full-time clergy. He would regularly read the Gospel on a Sunday morning and take his turn at leading the service or preaching.
“Right up to the lockdown he was one of the clergy who took turns to lead the mid-week Communion on a Wednesday morning.
“He became known to generations of children at St Michael’s School taking part in the Communion Services that were held at the school. As he became well known in the town, he conducted many funerals of people who had come to know him.
“Although he became physically less mobile, his leading of services, reading of lessons and sermons continued in his strong clear voice and we benefitted from his wisdom.”