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Robin Richards

4 August 1934 - 27 May 2019

“In 1960, five years after graduating from Cambridge, and travelling north from Cape Town, I had a chance meeting with the artist Terence McCaw. He urged me to accept the key of his rondavel in Teyateyaneng, and I made the detour into Basutoland. Keeping a weather eye open for an opportunity to return, I obtained, in 1962, a one-year contract (funded by Oxfam) as an Assistant in the Department of Agriculture and was stationed in Leribe. Many years later I read a graphic account in The Times of the HIV/AIDS pandemic ravaging the country. This led to a personal visit to Maseru in 2002 and introduction from the British High Commission to Gerard Mathot, the initiator and prime mover of the Paballong Project. In Gerard I recognised an inspirational and dedicated man-of-action with an intimate knowledge of the country. I became an immediate supporter.”

Robin did, indeed, wander into the British High Commission in Maseru (although in 2003 as I recall), where I was based with the British Government’s development programme for Lesotho. I was told someone was in reception, wanting to hear about HIV and AIDS in Lesotho. Rather grudgingly (my in-tray was top-heavy and tottering) I went through, to find Robin: an interested and hugely interesting person. Keen to find out not only what official support was being provided by Britain and other donors, but also if there were other, Basotho-owned activities I could tell him about. After an hour or so he left with a list of people and projects to follow up.

I found out later that he’d done his homework diligently, meeting and visiting people and places, eventually deciding that the ethos of the nascent Paballong Centre (up at Ha Senekane on the plateau outside the capital Maseru) was the most deserving of his support. He was extremely generous, and his critical and timely injection of funds went towards securing the somewhat remote site and the restoration of the buildings, while his subsequent contributions in 2008 were mainly used for building the new parents’ house. He also encouraged his friends, such as Rob Wyatt and Lynn Walmsley, as well as the Kleinworth Charitable Trust, to contribute.

In July 2008 Gerard (the inspirational man of action noted above!) was visiting the UK from Lesotho, and wanted to update Robin on developments. [By then, the Centre had become firmly established on the plateau as a reliable health facility focused on HIV and AIDS.]  The three of us had hoped to meet up in Salisbury but for various reasons this didn’t take place, although Robin and Gerard were able to catch up on the phone.

In November 2010 we had our first exploratory discussion about starting a charity in the UK to help fundraise for the Centre. We met up in Salisbury, and Robin was immediately enthusiastic about being involved in establishing a UK-based organisation that could tap into potential pots of money. The Paballong UK Trust (PUKT) initially operated as a small charity, although we were swiftly able to move forward and formally register the Trust with the Charity Commission in July 2011. Since then, the Trust has raised and disbursed over £25,000 towards specific projects at the Centre.

Diana Webster (Secretary)
Robin came into my life just a few years before my Grandfather sadly lost the ability to talk and, like my Grandfather, Robin had the kindest of voices that came with a husky element that you only get after a life of adventure, excitement and passion.

I first visited Paballong in 2004, before it was operational. At the time it was overgrown, buildings half-existed, and the concept of it all was heavily focused on the community element and potential for the Centre. I was struck by how insanely beautiful the country is. Even back then everyone involved was hugely dedicated and could see the opportunity for Lesotho that lay ahead.

I was fortunate enough to be able to head out to Paballong again at the start of 2010 when the Centre was now operational. I spent my time working in the pharmacy helping log patient information, working on the farm with planting trees, feeding pigs, moving cows and also just experiencing the beauty of the Lesotho. I spent the most incredible six weeks there meeting the people that kept it operational day-to-day, and meeting the community that so desperately needed the services the Centre provided. I sadly discovered that the Centre was struggling on an almost daily basis to keep funds coming in to support and pay for the Centre. At 19 I was naive as to how easy it would be to solve this problem but - being 19 - I pluckily carried on! My time there was eye opening for me; it was a huge experience in the unfairness of the world but yet also that undeniable resilience and determination to make it better. So on my return I began a conversation with my Aunt Diana and Paballong UK Trust was born.

Looking back on our first PUKT meeting I am still surprised yet delighted at the band of merry people that came together to support. We were a widely mixed group in age, experience and location, but the one thing everyone had in common was the desire to get involved to support. Sadly it is only now that I am fully aware of how much Robin supported it.

As the eldest and youngest we did not always see eye to eye on how best to promote PUKT and often had widely different ideas which in some cases led to disagreements. I remember one afternoon in Bilbie Cottage explaining to Robin why Twitter was important and he just did not see the value in it. But in true Robin style he supported the group and there was never a single element of personal disagreement involved.  As always we left the disagreements at the meeting and just enjoyed each other’s company and time, and I tried to soak in as much of his rich life as possible hearing his stories of travel and people.

I never thought someone as old as my Grandfather would ever become one of my closest friends. However, he truly did become one of my dearest friends and I will sorely miss him, his smile and his kind voice. PUKT won’t quite ever be the same without him.

Cara Gibson (Trustee)
I’m not sure I can add much to what has already been written but Robin was clearly an amazing man and I feel sad that I only met him a few times after becoming a trustee, and hadn’t had the chance to get to know him properly. He was obviously very loved by you all and rightly so as it seems as well as being very kind and funny (both of which I witnessed at our trustee meetings) he was also extraordinarily generous and principled, with a wealth of experience and stories under his belt. What a marvellous man and what a privilege to have met him for even the shortest of times.

Nicolette Craig (Trustee)
Robin was an active Trustee. Since 2011 he missed only three of the 26 trustee meetings – an enviable attendance record! He participated fully in these meetings, asking insightful questions, and never afraid to tackle tricky subjects. He felt extremely strongly about inequality, and was troubled by the extreme poverty faced by many in the Ha Senekane community and the multifaceted difficulties facing them. He was very generous financially, his latest contribution being match funding towards rebuilding the pharmacy at the Centre.

While principled, serious and determined in his support for Paballong, Robin was always fun to be with at our trustee meetings, and during the odd pint of beer or glass of wine that tended to accompany them. We knew he cared about his friends here too, and he was always ready with a wry comment or a sympathetic word to keep smiles on our faces.

It is very sad that Robin was never able to return to Lesotho to see what Paballong has become and to hear first-hand how much his dedication is appreciated there. On hearing of his death, our friends at Paballong expressed deep grief and sincerest thanks for Robin’s friendship and support. Gerard specifically asked that their appreciation be mentioned at any memorial event.

Stephen Turner (Chair)

Phomola ka khotso [rest in peace], Robin.

We found a picture for you by Terence McCaw, of the hills you would have known and loved near Teyateyaneng.