Let me start towards the end of Rati’s all too short earthly life, though obviously none of us knew that, at the time.
Not much more than a year ago, in fact it was a Saturday evening in June 2007, the Francis family (all 4 of us) were guests of the then Lyon Upper Sixth and their parents at the Rajpoot Indian restaurant in Sherborne. As you can imagine a very good time was had by all.
Indeed, thanks to Rob Masterson’s mother, Debbie I have a lovely and permanent reminder of the occasion on the wall of my study – a collage of photographs of happy, smiling faces and around the border the autographs and comments of all the boys.
One of the photographs that was taken shortly before the meal outside the Half Moon Inn next door there seem to be a lot of empty beer glasses on the table. The boys were understandably anxious that they might expire of thirst before food and further refreshment arrived at the Rajpoot.
Amongst the merry throng is Rati, sitting on a bench between the sizeable presences of Sebastian Bacon and Rob Masterson.
Another photo shows the scene inside the restaurant during the meal. Curiously, there is little evidence of food but much evidence of beer and more empty glasses. In this picture Rati is seated between Harry Rose and Will Clark but with his face turned towards Sebastian who is clearly holding forth (how unusual) at the end of the table.
Two lovely photographs amongst others, to be treasured now, even more than I realised at the time. And also with the other signatures and kind remarks of his friends around my collage ‘Thanks so much for everything, Rati’.
As my wife Sue is fond of saying “It’s just as well that we go through life not knowing what is around the corner.
Fast forward a mere 9 months to the end of March this year and the dreaded news that Rati had drowned off the coast of New Zealand during his gap year travels.
Our hearts go out to his family and above all, to Rati’s mother Josephine and his older siblings Jesse and Rumbi. It is hard indeed to comprehend the extent of their loss and I’m sure that it still seems unreal that this tragedy has happened and, that I am standing here now to add my tribute to Rati with those already delivered so movingly in this service by Sebastian and Harry.
It is realty very touching to reflect on how much of Rati’s all-too short life. His 20th birthday was last Wednesday and he spent 12 of those years in Sherborne – 7 years at the Prep School and 5 in Lyon House at Sherborne School.
Rati spend his earliest years in Zimbabwe and attended a crèche and then a primary school in Harare. Very sadly his father died when Rati was 5 years old and so, as his mother has informed me, he had to learn to be unusually self-reliant at a very young age.
Joshephine has a fond memory of the time when Rati was aged just 3 and was at the airport in Harare to say goodbye to her and Rumbi before they went to England on a 3-week visit. Apparently he told them not to worry because he was going to take care of himself as long as he had bread and could make Lindsey some tea!
At the age of 7 Rati joined Rumbi at Sherborne Preparatory School and when he finished at the Prep he received a glowing report from his headmaster, Peter Tait; I quote ‘Ratidzo has always been an exceedingly diligent and hardworking pupil. He also performs well in other areas of school life. He plays the saxophone and is a School Prefect, as a School Librarian and an Assistant Editor of the School magazine’. His art teacher wrote last term that she was simply amazed at his work, his attitude and enthusiasm; a comment echoed by many of his teachers with regard to his approach to education and learning.
And turning to sport: ‘Rati has been a key member of the 1st XV over the past 2 seasons and was selected this year for the Wessex Prep Schools XV. He has been a very good vice-captain of our School team and is a player with a good deal of potential. In other sports he is also a very good competitor. He has been a 1st XI cricketer and shows a lot of promise as a medium fast bowler, whilst he played left back in the 1st XI hockey.’
In summary ‘Ratidzo is a delightful young man who has not had the easiest of roads through life, having lost his father some years ago and having boarded since a very early age. He is a very impressive young man and I am sure he will go from strength to strength at Sherborne School in light of such a glowing testimonial.
As you can imagine I was delighted to take Rati into Lyon House in September 2002 and it was my privilege to be his Housemaster for the following 4 years.
You will be pleased to know that I have resisted the temptation to read you the contents, verbatim of all 12 end-of-term reports that I wrote about Rati even though they are full of (mostly) very favourable observations about his performance and behaviour.
However, I should like to quote from one or two including part of the very first one:
‘In his quiet and undemonstrative way, Ratidzo has had a very worthwhile first term at Sherborne. That he is both respected by, as well as popular with his contemporaries became clear early on when they voted him as Captain of the Dayroom for this term. He has done a very good job in this position, always willing to help and also setting a good example to others’
‘Although he is unfailing modest about it there is no doubt that Rati is a talented sportsman – a mainstay of the successful School Mini-Colts B rugby team and a most useful performer for Lyon in the indoor soccer and hockey competitions’.
A year later, at the end of Rati’s 1st term in our 4th Form, I was writing about his excellent progress in French and Spanish (already emerging as his 2 best subjects and the languages he would have studied at university) and also referring to how well Rati had done (in such a competitive year group for rugby) to first, get into and then hold his place in the U-15 team which achieves such outstanding results in school matches and which got all the way to Twickenham to play in the national final Of the “Daily Mail” competition.
My subsequent reports showed Rati’s progress academically through his GCSE years and then into Sixth Form and also referred to his continuining development as a Sportsman, for example as a key member of the 2nd XV Rugby team.
By the time I came to write my final end of term report on Rati in the summer of 2006, I was able to congratulate him on a very pleasing set of academic reports. And then go on to say “It has been a great pleasure to be Ratidzo’s housemaster for these past four years. Not only has he never (well, hardly ever!) been any trouble but he has always been exceptionally well-mannered and co-operative genuinely popular with his peers Ratidzo sets a very good example both academically and in other respects. He is set fair for a very fulfilling final year at Sherborne and I shall continue to observe his progress with considerable interest”
As I mentioned at the start of this tribute, my family and I have very fond (and now poignant) memories of the last time that we were all together with Rati’s Lyon House contemporaries and quite a few of their parents at that meal in the Rajpoot last summer. As had been the custom at June house suppers in Lyon for many years, when the housemaster gave a speech explaining the many and varied contributions of the about-to-be-leavers over the previous five years.
I was called upon to give a similar speech at the Rajpoot dinner about the young men who had been my charges for four of their five years at Lyon.
When, proceeding alphabetically the time came for me to say a few words about Rati it was very hard for me to again pay sincere compliments to his most attractive personality, genuine popularity with his peers and invariable consideration towards others, though I do seem to recall (and, as the Lyon boys know all to well, I never could resist a school masterly pun) so I hope Harry (Rowe) won’t mind me repeating this – I mentioned that rumours had reached me much earlier in the year about some late night antics on the part of Rati and Harry that had raised a few eyebrows! Enough said on that score – and Harry has certainitly redeemed himself today with his and Sebastian’s fine tribute of their own to Rati.
It is all so very hard to believe isn’t it?
By rights, Rati should by now have been back from wonderful travels in New Zealand and about to go to Newcastle University to study French and Spanish.
Tragically, unbelievably even, that is not the case and we are gathered here today to honour Rati and to give thanks for an earthly life well lined but much too brief.
The depth of our loss is summed up admirably in the words composed by Simon Eliot on the inside cover of the order of service and in the many other heart felt tributes by Lyon boys and others towards the back of the order of service.
In recent weeks Rati’s mother Josephine and sister Rumbi have been kind enough to send me many photographs of Rati at various stages of his life and you will be able to see some of these as a slide presentation on a screen in the Big School Room during the refreshments after the service and I do hope that you will all be able to stay for that.
In addition to these photographs Josephine also enclosed in the most recent package a most beautiful condolence card sent to the family by a young lady who had recently got to know Rati whilst he was working to earn money for his gap year travelling.
Josephine thought I might like to include some of her words in my eulogy.
“There are a number of things I want to say to you all” wrote Elisa, “from the very bottom of my heart. I want to offer my deepest condolences and all the support and love in the world. I cannot begin to imagine how you are feeling. Rati’s death is not just the loss of a life but the passing of a truly inspirational and amazing person. In the few weeks before he went away Rati and I became extremely close. I can truly say that he is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. Your brother had the ability to make anyone happy, even when they were at their lowest. He made work fun and I’d look forward to seeing his smiling face every time I arrived at Ask.
I may have only known him for a short amount of time but I have memories of Ratidzo that will stay with me forever”.
Beautiful and true words from Elisa and sentiment that we all share, for we all have our own memories of Rati.
But how can we keep those memories truly alive and do real justice to Rati’s life?
One very worthwhile thing we can all do is to contribute generously to the educational foundation that is being set up in Rati’s memory.
As you are all aware, Rati was buried on a family plot near Lusaka in Zambia at a place where one of his aunt’s is headmistress of a school the FEBA School for 60 children aged 3 to 12 and as it stated in the order of service the retiring collection will be given to this school and Lyon House has now adopted this project as its particular charity link.
So do please give as generously as you can to the retiring collection and when you go to the Big School Room after the service there will also be the opportunity to purchase charity wrist bands, with Rat’s name and dates embossed, if you would like to further support the fund raising for the FEBA School in that way.
How fitting, I am sure you will agree, that Rati, who was so brilliant with children (and Rumbi has told me how much he adored her twin boys Noah and Kuda); that Rati who spent over half his too short life at school in Sherborne, should have his memory fallowed and honoured through organising support for the FEBA School and its children.
May your light be shining in heaven as brightly as it shone on earth where your grace, gentleness and goodness were examples to us all
Rest in peace