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                     A tribute to                             

Gervas (Charles Robert) Clay

16 April 1907 - 18 April 2009

engagement photograph of gervas, august 1936

Gervas's engagement photograph, August 1936

A world-class hurdler while up at Oxford, Gervas joind the colonial Government of Northern Rhodesia in 1930.  He retired from that in 1960 to become the Director of the Rhodes-Livngstone Museum. In 1964, after 34 years in Africa, he retired back to Somerset.

Following the death of his adored wife Betty in April 2004, Gervas moved into Elliscombe House Nursing Home in the summer of 2005. 

Towards the end of 2007, about six months after his well-attended 100th birthday party, he was diagnosed with mild "senile dementia".

On the Wednesday following Easter 2009, he apparently consumed an entire box of Belgian chocolates !

The following day, Thursday 16th April, his 102nd birthday, seven of us called in to see Dad in his room, at tea-time, bearing a decorated cake, with candles.

We serenaded him - sang all the right songs - and had a good "party" for an hour and a half - and he slept soundly all through it, despite attempts to rouse him !

He slept through that Thursday; he slept through Friday; he slept through most of Saturday, and was certified dead on Saturday afternoon about five o'clock, never having woken up.

His doctor gave the cause of death as "old age" - this is now permitted -
"if there is no identifiable disease or injury that contributed to the death, 

if the patient is over 80 and
if the doctor has personally cared for the patient for a long period, and seen a gradual decline."

But WE know better !

Death by chocolate !     WHAT a way to go !

A merciful release - for us all, particularly for him.

We had a private family cremation at Yeovil at 3 p.m. on Monday 11th May 2009, and this was followed by a "public" thanksgiving service and commital at North Cheriton at 3 p.m. on  Friday, 15th May attended by over 50 family and friends.  He had been retired for 45 years, and had out-lived most of his contemporaries.

As with his mother, there was no-one left to call him by his name without a prefix.


So when I come to die
Throw no fresh flowers to me;
I have loved them in my life,
Bury them not that be.

But take some old dead flowers
Whose fragrance has gone on,
That they and I may cross together
The unknown Rubicon.


                 12 July, 1932.


He often reminded me of this poem over his last few years.  We complied; his coffin bore a bouquet of dead flowers.

Gervas was born on 16th April 1907 at the home of his parens, Gerard Arden Clay and Ella Violet nee Thornewill, who had ben married the previous March.  He was their first-born, and was followed a year (and two days) later by his brother Ralph.

Gervas was educated at Furzie Close (now Edinburgh House School, in New Milton), then at Lancing, followd by New College, Oxford, where he was an accomplished track athlete, particularly a hurdler, and a leading light in the Achilles Club.

After a post-graduate year reading "Jurisprudence" specified by the Northern Rhodesia Government's Provincial Administration, Gervas went out to Northern Rhodesia in 1930, emplyed by HMOCS - His Majesty's Overseas Civil Service.  

About every week, he wrote a letter home, that you can read >here<  In 1933 he sailed back to England on leave, and then went back out by air - a very rare choice then.  In 1936, he was due home-leave again, and his parents sailed out to the Cape for a holiday, and to sail back to England with him.  It was on this voyage that the 29-year-old bachelor met his 19-year-old bride-to-be, Betty, and after their wedding on 24th September, he took her back with him to "Darkest Africa", and thereafter she took over the letter-writing, that you can read >here

Gervas was posted often, by the Government's Provincial Administration, first in the North-Western Province, then to Barotseland, then again to the North-Western Province, before moving to "the line of rail" - Lusaka, Kitwe, Ndola, Broken Hill and Livingstone, before his final posting as Her Majesty's Resident Commissioner in Barotseland.  It was here, in 1960,  that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, stayed with him (and his wife Betty) for her four-day official visit.  Betty had met her before, in Livingstone in 1947.

After three years in Barotseland, Gervas retired from the Government's Provincial Administration, to became Director of the Rhodes-Livingstone Museum in Livingstone, now the National Museum of Zambia, on a three-year Contract. 

Before moving to Barotseland, Gervas was for six years Provincial Commissioner of the Southern Province, based in Livingstone.  During this time, he had been a great supporter of the Museum, such that, when he moved, the Museum Trustees wrote to thank him - and this letter he used as a "reference" when he applied for the post - they could hardly turn him down !

Gervas retired completely in 1964 and he and Betty returned to England, where they settled near Taunton in Somerset.  Their daughter Gill, now 27, came with them; their eldest son Robin, 25, was already working in London.  Their second son Nigel, 21, following his father's footsteps, was now working for the NR Government, in their Game & Tsetse Department  Their youngest son Crispin, 19, having left school, also came with them, before going to St. David's College, Lampeter. in Wales.

Gervas's book, "Your friend, Lewanika" was published in 1965 by Chatto.  This was a biography of the Paramount Chief of the Barotse, who placed his country under the protection of "The Great White Queen, Victoria".

Gervas was a keen philatelist, and a leading light in The Rhodesian Study Circle.  He had also collected an impressive selection of early books about Central Africa, as well as all sorts of other documents, and these he gave in 1934 to The Borthwick Institute in York.

After retirement, Gervas went through the Gilwell training program, and was appointed Scout County Commissioner for Somerset.

A keen bridge player, he was also very interested in Family History.   When he was 84, he telephoned me to say, "My research into the Family shows that every son has outlived his father.  Today I am older than my father was when he died - and I'm setting you a moving target!"

No, I DON'T want to live to his age.  For the last twenty-odd years, his stock answer to "Hello, Dad - how are you?" had been "Surviving."

A keen shot all his life, Gervas gave up shooting at the end of the season before his 87th birthday,  He found it embarrasing when the younger guns came across to help him climb over fences...

A more comprehensive CV was read at the Thanksgiving Service - have a look under the "R.I.P. & C.V."  Tab on the left of your screen.

From Lancing College School Report for Summer Term, 1926:-
Latin - His success [in the Exam] is evidence that the Age of Miracles is still with us; I wish I could claim the credit for myself, but I cannot regard it as the result of anything but Divine intervention.

19860924 gcrc aged 79

Gervas aged 79, on his 50th Wedding Anniversary in 1986

If you should have any "anecdotes" about Gervas, we would be most pleased to receive them, either through the GUESTBOOK page or the GIVE FEEDBACK page.

For  genealogists, various of our Family Trees are on the InterNet - have look on the LINKS page. 

The photographs on this WebSite are scanned from ScrapBooks, and are 550 pixels wide; I have high-resolution versions - and an awful lot more besides!

If you want it, just ask.

Generally, the first characters of the picture title is the date in yearmonthday format, e.g. 19591225 is ChristmasDay 1959.

Feel free to copy anything you want, but an attribution would be courteous.  Copyright remains ours (c) 2017.

if you see copyrighted material that shouldn't be here, please let me know and I'll remove it.

Robin Clay

Gervas's eldest son.

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