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In loving memory of Christopher Smithies who died on 30th December 2016.
Christopher was born in London, in 1954. He moved with his parents to Southampton while still a small child. He had two younger sisters, Clare and Julia. His father was a barrister and later a circuit judge.
Christopher went to a local primary school till the age of ten, where his great friend was Russell Baker. He then transferred to Oakmount, a day prep school, prior to being awarded a music scholarship to Downside. He met another life long friend, David Hammond, at Oakmount.
Christopher's love of music was evident from an early age. He remembered lying on the floor next to his grandparents gramophone, listening to old 78 records, and writing letters to his grandparents asking after its welfare. He was given a violin at the age of eight, but was very disappointed when the first group violin lesson at school only covered how to hold the instrument and did not include playing anything. His father helped him to master "Twinkle twinkle little star" and after the next lesson his parents were advised that he would benefit from private lessons. He loved his first teacher, Edgar Mountcher, who was a great inspiration and guide.
Christopher's experience of Downside school was mixed. He hated team sports and being away from home, but made some lasting friendships, not least with the Bevan family. One of the Bevans, Joseph, went on to marry Christopher's sister Clare. He also developed what was to be a life long interest in Philosophy, under the influence of Dom Illtyd Trethowan. A side interest was the Archaeology society, whose meetings usefully clashed with sporting activities. In the days before health and safety, there were opportunities to use explosives to shift large boulders concealing industrial archaeological remains, and Christopher also took part in a survey of church bells. He told me he would have liked to learn to ring, but when he saw a book of ringing method diagrams, he thought it would be much too difficult to learn.
Christopher was awarded an exhibition to Merton College to read Philosophy and Theology. His three years at Oxford were among the happiest in his life, both intellectually and socially. He made many good friends, including Charles Stiller, Michael Wale, Peter Davies, Orlando Villalobos-Baillie, and Jane Finigan. Orlando and Jane married soon after finals. I am not sure whether Christopher noticed Jane's twin sister Joan at the wedding, but she noticed him.
Christopher was set on a career in academic philosophy, and was accordingly very disappointed with his 2:1 degree. Uncertain what to do, he left Oxford, read for the Bar and hated it (although enjoyed and contributed to the Bar Theatrical Society). One of his friends from that time was Clarissa Dickson-Wright, one of the "two fat ladies".
Joan engineered a meeting with Christopher with the help of her sister. Joan was a medical student at Charing Cross at the time. They married in February 1978, while Joan was working as a House Surgeon in Croydon.
After leaving his Bar studies, Christopher had a number of temporary secretarial jobs, having taught himself shorthand and typing. He and Joan moved to Somerset where Joan started her training in Psychiatry and Christopher worked as teacher of religious studies at Downside.
One of Chris's friends during his short teaching career was Mark Daniels, the head physics technician, who was building a computer. Christopher loved gadgets and machines all his life, and was fascinated by computers. He taught himself to code, bought his first computer and rewrote its operating system so that it took ten per cent less of the computer's memory, leaving more for the end user. He made a useful amount of money selling his rewrite, and left teaching to take up a successful freelance career as a computer software engineer.
Christopher and Joan bought their first house, a tiny end terrace 18th century weavers cottage, in Frome. As well as David, Joan's son, they had two more children there, Declan and Rebekah. They made many good friends in Frome but moved to Southampton in 1983 for Joan to take up a higher training post. They sold their cottage in Frome to Jeremy Newman, who was working in a similar field to Christopher. He and Jeremy worked together in a company that Jeremy set up and Christopher commuted back to Frome for many years, working for Peripheral Vision and then Penop, on signature verification.
Austin was born to Christopher and Joan in 1984, and two years later the family moved to East Dorset, where Joan was appointed as a consultant psychiatrist. The years up until 1999 were happy ones. Christopher continued his work with Penop, and enjoyed playing in orchestras and string quartets in his spare time. He also pursued his love affair with Bristol cars. He owned a Bristol 411 and then a 603, and made many good friends in the Bristol Owners Club, and took the family on many enjoyable, if at times hair-raising, road trips including a memorable one to Morocco.
Towards the end of the century problems at Penop led to Christopher and Jeremy parting company from it to pursue business interests of their own. These were not as successful as Christopher had hoped and the early years of the 21st century were marked for him by severe depression. Three things helped him to slowly climb out of the pit. One was the Bristol Owners Club, and particularly the good friendship of the Chairman Geoffrey Herdman and his wife Hilary. Encouraged by Geoffrey, Christopher created a modern BOC website which gave him back a sense of purpose. The second thing was music, and his great friends in the Grainger string quartet. The third thing was Joan deciding to take up the hobby of bellringing. Seeing that his left handed and somewhat dyspraxic wife was able to master plain hunt, he realised that bell ringing was not the unattainable skill he had thought it was in his teenage years. The Sacred Heart Catholic church in Bournemouth has a ring of six bells, and that is where Christopher and Joan learnt to ring and made many good friends, including Patrick Matthews, the tower captain and his wife Kim. Patrick coincidentally was a fellow alumnus of the Downside Archaeological society. Christopher expanded his ringing repertoire by going to practises in other towers, making many ringing friends. He was always very encouraging towards learners, and very appreciative of help with his own learning. He particularly loved ringing with the Alphabet band. Two members of that band, Mike and Angie Jasper, organised a wonderful trip to Rome a few months before he died, which has left Joan with some lasting happy memories.
With his returning optimism and confidence, he and Jeremy were able to develop their business ideas and to attract investment in their company New Model Identity. It was a bitter irony therefore, when in 2012 he was diagnosed with an oropharyngeal carcinoma. He was successfully treated for this, but in 2014 had a massive haemorrhage and was found to have another, unrelated, cancer of the kidney. He received treatment for this which appeared to be successful, but then developed a third cancer, this time of the tongue, and was told in March 2016 that he had only six to twelve months to live. Chris coped with pain, increasing swallowing difficulty and breathlessness from lung secondaries with great courage and fortitude. He kept going right up until the end, playing his viola with Gill Tolliday two days before he died. He was sustained by his strong Catholic faith and the love of his family and friends. He is survived by his wife Joan, his stepson David whom he has always loved as his own, his sons Declan and Austin and his daughter Rebekah. He was immensely proud of all his four children and six grandchildren, and delighted that Declan was able to pursue the successful career in academic philosophy that he would himself have loved.
His wife Joan will miss his love, intelligence, wit and music more than she can say. She is gratified and consoled by the many wonderful letters and messages she has had from his wide circle of family and friends.
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