In remembrance of Ernest Suffern, 24 December 1927 to 4 December 2016
Tuesday, January 10, 2017 at 07:43AM
Justin Dodd

Psalm 23, like most of the psalms, is not just sacred scripture. It is a song. So the words, poetic and beautiful as they may be, were actually written to be sung. This is certainly a recognised custom for Jewish families as they sing it at the third Shabbat meal on Saturday afternoon. And of course, we have that very famous metrical version of the psalm to set the tune called Crimmond – singing “The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want."

The reason I go on about singing is because Ernest Suffern was, among his many other qualities, a passionate singer. He was very familiar with Psalm 23 and indeed Crimmond. It seems that his singing career began at an early age when he was chosen to be one of the Ovaltineys. This was a children’s club established by the brand Ovaltine to promote the drink in the United Kingdom. I am told on good authority that Ernest was part of the group of children who helped to sing the jingle for the radio show. And it went something like this: 

We are the Ovaltineys
Happy girls and boys,
Make your request we'll not refuse you
We are here just to amuse you.
Would you like a song or story
Will you share our joys?

“Make your request we’ll not refuse you…Will you share our joys?” reflects something of the character of this wonderful man. In an insert for the parish magazine entitled “And the song goes on!” the then Vicar’s wife, Valerie Reddington, writes about his courage and strength whilst undergoing treatment for lymphatic cancer. “In spite of his condition,” she remarks “Ernest was determined to honour a singing engagement he had set up with his group to make money for the church hall project. Those of us who went to this delightful evening 'Alma and friends' will remember the moment when it was Ernest’s turn to sing, and how he joked about his breathlessness.” He and Valerie were kindred spirits when it came to music-hall entertainment and the variety show.

It seems fitting that we should remember Ernest as one who tried to live his life as song of joy for others. In this way the light and love of God shone through him very brightly. ”Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” could well describe his approach to life and the basis of his faith.

So I think he would have identified approvingly with the image of Jesus the shepherd sung to us in Psalm 23. The Lord who tenderly but stoically nurtures and protects his flock, with them unceasingly night and day in all of kinds weather and all types of threat. It is especially poignant because, as we have already heard, there where many dark valleys for Ernest and Edna to endure. The loss of their son Colin Paul was possibly one of the darkest.

But Ernest would want to point towards the mountain tops, “my cup runneth over” he would be singing with gusto. In our conversations he would talk of his many great joys. His long and satisfying service in the British Council. His pride in his son Neil and his beloved grandchildren. And how he was the luckiest man in the world when he met the beautiful Edna, the love of his life and his wife of 63 years. They have been inseparable and will remain inseparable by a love that is stronger than death.

On Christmas Eve this year Ernest would have been 90 years old. It is a significant birthday that will now be celebrated with the whole host of heaven in glory. For those of us who remain on this side of eternity, we will remember a man of genteel manners, humour, generosity and determination – a person of the type of character that is fast becoming a lost generation. Whenever we hear a melody that lifts the spirit and brings a smile to the face we will the share in that joy he sang about as an Ovaltiney - ”Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” Amen.

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