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Richard Comber (YG 1949)
18 May 2023
Old Scholars will be saddened to hear of the death of Richard Comber (YG 1949) in August 2022. Richard was at the school from 1947-49. Richard's wife, Sue, has written the following account of Richard's life:

"He was nicknamed "Hayseed", which, as a farmer's son, Richard Comber enjoyed recalling, along with tales from what he said were the happiest schooldays of his life. Richard died last year not long before his 90th birthday.

He was born to be a farmer and not only did he nurture the land but he looked out for people around him too. He was, to use the well-worn cliché, a larger than life character, highly respected for his wisdom and knowledge of traditional farming - and life.

Divorce, near bankruptcy, prostate cancer and finally a severe stroke at the age of 75 all did nothing to alter his enthuisiasm and good nature which endeared him to everyone.

Richard was born near Midhurst, West Sussex where his father was a second generation tenant farmer on Lord Cowdray's estate. It was his aunt, Barbara Comber - then a music teacher at Friends' School - who recommended Saffron Walden.

Before then he had been to seven different schools without learning a great deal but that changed at Friends' where he actually enjoyed and absorbed lessons.

Tall, blonde and handsome with a lovely ready smile he also excelled at sports, particularly running.  He loved the school and made many lifelong friends among them similar "boundary pushers".

One such scrape was sneaking into the town cinema on a Saturday afternoon, believing they were unnoticed.  Years later he learnt the teachers had noticed. "At least we knew where you were!" they told him.

His father gave him his first job, putting him on the payroll with employees who looked after dairy cows, pigs, sheep, chicken as well as crops.  The enterprise included the first grain dryer in the district and as he hated milking he took on the job of drying other farmers' grain, carrying two and a quarter hundred weight sacks of grain, on his back, up a ladder to the dryer.

On marrying, the Estate offered him his first farm, a run-down almost derelict holding.  Richard relished the challenge and brought it round with his characteristic determination, skill and capacity for hard work.

When a second farm came up nearer home he was warned the previous two tenants hadn't been able to make it pay. Another challenge! And more work putting in clay drains, pulling up overgrown hedges - there was a grant for this in the old days - and improving the soil.

A staunch member of the Tenant Farmers Association, over time he was to run a shoot syndicate and host ploughing matches, winning prizes for his crops. Goodwood Week might see him in an apron being waiter for the farmhouse bed and breakfast venture or dancing at the village "hop" even after a day in the harvest field.

Then in 2008 a severe stroke put paid to any more physical work. His right arm was paralysed and his right leg compromised.  He was told he wouldn't walk again. Four months after hospital rehab he confounded his consultant and walked out the door to the applause of other patients.

For fourteen years he stayed in control of the farm business whilst contractors farmed the land.

He never complained and remained the kind and considerate man he always was. He died at home where he lived and farmed for 53 years, looking out onto the South Downs.

He married twice. Firstly to Cecily Bannister Jones with whom he had two daughters, Julie and Joanne, all now living in America and secondly, Susan Ogden, his partner from l985, in 20l6.

Glynn Abrey (YG 1952) has the distinction of being Best Man twice."

The photo is of Richard at the late Queen's Jubilee celebration last year in his West Sussex village of Heyshott where he farmed for 53 years.
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