Reverend Doctor Neville Suttle
Eulogy Part 1
We have just heard a reading from 1 Corinthians. A text frequently used at weddings, it must be said. However, it is also so pertinent to our coming together to acknowledge and celebrate Neville’s life; a life full of faith, hope and love, indeed.
You won’t be surprised that this eulogy is in two parts. Yes, because there is so much to say. But also, because Neville often chose to preach a sermon in two parts; never one to quite fit in to the normal order of things and always willing to try out different things. I think Neville enjoyed being a small bit of grit and being off-centre; to be slightly provocative and encouraging people to see all sorts of things differently; not going with the masses, the crowd, but creating his own path and encouraging others to explore it and make their own minds up.
On your order of service, you have a cartoon figure of Neville, half dressed as a scientist, half dressed as a priest. This cartoon, drawn so well by Tony Bramley, indicates just two of the multi-faceted aspects of our dearly beloved Neville. We shall explore some of his various roles in his life as I try to paint a picture of a unique and well-loved man.
Neville was born in Ipswich on 12th October 1938, just a year before the outbreak of World War II. He went to Northgate School, where in the year below him a certain young girl attended, who was to become his wife; his darling Tilly. As a teenager he joined the local church youth club, and this was where he started courting Tilly. However, true to form, Neville didn’t stay put for long. Reading University beckoned for his first degree; not too far for trips back on occasions. Neville and Tilly married on 23 April 1962, and hardly had a honeymoon at all unless you count a night in the hotel at Liverpool Street and then a sleeper train to Aberdeen! Neville studied for his PhD at the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen, researching copper deficiency in farm animals. After finishing his PhD he was appointed to the Moredun Research Institute in Edinburgh, where he worked until his retirement. Neville was named in 143 publications and his papers were cited 4,855 times, according to my research. Just in the last five years his research was cited 1,202 times. He co-wrote ‘The Mineral Nutrition of Livestock’ with Eric Underwood and went on to revise the last two editions on his own. The 5th edition, which Neville worked on during COVID lockdown was published in May 2022. You can buy it from Amazon for £145, well worth every penny, I am sure. One of his most intriguing recent papers, published in November 2021 was called, ‘A Comparison of the availability of copper in four whisky distillery by-products with that in copper sulphate for lambs.’ Perhaps not a title that trips off the tongue – but it does seem to be interesting research. I was imagining a lot of whisky tasting being involved, but when I looked at the abstract for the paper, I quickly realised it was about what was left after the spirits had been drawn off. What a pity! The titles of his research papers show he was involved with cattle and ruminants of many sorts including South African Boer goats (who knew there was such a thing?) and collaborated with scientists from across the world.
Neville was generous with his hospitality and many an overseas researcher stayed at their house when they came to visit the Moredun Institute.
Neville maintained his scientific curiosity and intellectual interests well beyond formal retirement, and even on a trip into the hospital for treatment he was discussing whether treatment for Hookworm in animals could be translated to inform approaches to human medicine.
During lockdown he completed writing a book and was still corresponding with scientists and checking the references on his last research paper days before his death. That was so typical of Neville. Never happy unless he was doing something – or more accurately, many things – and thankfully his brain was still fully active despite his increasing physical weakness.
It was good to see that Neville’s research was focussed on improving farm animal welfare and his support for British Farming and farming practices in the developing world was clear.
I mentioned Tilly earlier, and it seems to me that his love for Tilly and his love for his scientific interests ran parallel with each other over the exact same time period. I never got the sense that he compromised on either; being equally committed to both his research and to Tilly. Both were life-time projects, so to speak. It was wonderful that last April they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary surrounded by family.
Neville’s love for Tilly was reflected in his enthusiastic willingness to support Tilly in her many endeavours. Tilly’s involvement with the Guiding movement meant that Neville was often more than happy to help out in a wide array of tasks and activities. I understand the guides called him Saint Neville, for all he did to help them have a great time.
Neville and Tilly were very community-minded. Tilly was the main driving force behind the creation of the Broomhill Day Care Centre; its early days in this church and then setting itself up as an independent facility in its current location beside the High School. Neville pitched in and helped out in many different ways. Much the same happened with the setting up of the Oxfam shop in John Street. And then there was the Penicuik Storehouse – Neville was a major player in its creation and through the pangs of its forming, alongside the late Roger Kelly. I doubt that without the tenacious spirit of both these men the Storehouse would have come into being and survived those early years.
So, as well as Neville the Scientist and Neville the husband, Neville was also a great father and grandfather. Neville seemed endlessly available and patient, inventive of activities and games and how to make a party extra special. He was the early morning taxi-driver for swimming and so much more. Why am I not surprised at this? Neville’s energy and enthusiasm didn’t seem to ever wane, and he seemed to thrive on having many projects on the go at once.
And so at this point, we shall bring part one of this eulogy to a close, and we shall now listen to the final section of Neville’s last sermon – delivered here on the third Sunday in Advent, last December. It seems to me to be a typical ‘Neville’ sermon.
Eulogy Part 2
And so, we continue our eulogy. For a choice of a reading, the Beatitudes seemed a ‘no brainer’ to me. Neville and I had recently discussed whether a statement of belief or a statement of how we should live our lives was preferable, if we could only have the one. The Beatitudes won hands down for Neville and for me.
Neville was ordained in 1977, alongside Colin Chaplin and Steve Goldsmith, as a non-stipendiary minister, working alongside the Rector, Angus Palmer. Neville managed to get along with every Rector who had the honour of serving this community; a great achievement indeed. Neville’s scientific background gave him a lens through which he received and processed scripture. He would certainly use what in theological terms is caused a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’, testing out the text and researching its context and application. Neville took the Bible seriously, so seriously that he wasn’t willing to assume it should be read literally; most often the text yielded far more when read for the universal truths that apply in all ages. When I came to this role in October 2019, I was pleased to find Neville had read Marcus Borg, Dominic Crossan, Richard Rohr, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren and others, who have written extensively on faith from a progressive perspective. Not that Neville took all they said and just accepted it; it was still tested and processed by Neville as if he was seeking out copper compounds in a sheep’s organs!
Talking of sheep, Neville was once nursing a lamb that he brought home from the Moredun to look after over the weekend, and it became a prop in his Sermon on the Sunday morning in church.
Neville had a great ability to relate to people of all ages. It was Neville who led our all-age services at St James and at St Mungo’s and could engage the youngest members interest so well. He managed a unique blend of seriousness with humour and an ability to hold the attention of the congregation. So, it wasn’t a surprise to listen to Karen and Theresa describe how well Neville related to his grandchildren and invested time and energy in supporting them, just as he had helped them when they were growing up. Neville’s grandson Ross cited him as his role model when asked for one in a job interview. That really is high praise.
Neville, it won’t surprise you, practiced what he preached. More than once he sought out homeless people living in tents in the local woods to give them a bed in his home. Neville was frequently offering lifts into hospital, for their own appointments or to visit relatives. I know several people were only too happy to be able to offer Neville lifts when he needed them over the last six months.
Neville’s energy and indefatigable spirit meant that he took on the role of caring for Tilly as her health declined with his usual pragmatic and loving approach. His deep love for her was shown by the care he gave her, his patience and attentiveness knew no bounds. What would tire out others, Neville seemed to be able to carry out and still purse his other interests. For over 40 years Neville took daily weather recordings, with help from next-door-neighbour Jim, when Neville was away. And Neville’s front garden was always a delight, with a crowded bed of flowers from Sprint to Autumn. And today, thanks to Karen’s ministrations, the front garden is full of flowers, ready for the summer.
In the last few weeks before Neville went to Macclesfield, he and I had several longer chats. I wasn’t aware of his love of Jazz, a shared love I am pleased to say. He would think of a tune he liked and I would find it on line and play it to him. It was wonderful to see Neville relax into a kind of bliss to listen to some of his favourite music. We also talked football, of course. I was forgiven for being an Arsenal supporter, but we quickly got on to his support for Ipswich Town. It was lovely to see Neville so happy when they achieved promotion soon after Easter. I am not sure he expected to see it happen, but he lived in hope, and was rewarded with their promotion.
The flowers in church today, mainly blue and white flowers, reflect Neville’s support for Ipswich Town. It’s not often as an Arsenal supporter I could countenance blue and white, but for Neville, it’s fine.
As I draw this to a close, I know there is so much more that could have been said. So much more about what Neville did for the community of Penicuik, for scientific research, for the congregations of St James and St Mungo’s.
In talking to Theresa and Karen, they did remind me that Neville ‘took a good funeral’, and that most of his friends and neighbours told Neville they expected him to outlive them so they could be assured of a good send off by Neville. No pressure on me today then, to try and do Neville justice, although if we stayed here another hour I don’t think we could cover all that could be said.
A final two comments: one, an email from a scientist at Moredun on hearing of Neville’s death wrote; “I can’t believe it – I thought Neville was immoral!” A great typo, and so fitting for today. Second, Neville lives on, life is eternal. He lives on in the DNA he has passed on; he lives on in the memories of all those who he supported, in his family, in the church, in the community; he lives on in his research and the benefits it has brought to so many. There are fragments of Neville to be found scattered across the world, in the positive impact he made on the lives of so many, and as dust and stardust Neville’s physical being is returned to the source of all being.
Neville, your energy, your love, your very being, has rippled throughout space and time, and the effect of your life’s work will continue to ripple forever. Your personal work is done. It seems almost impossible to conceive of Neville resting in peace; rather discussing all matter of things with St Peter at the Pearly Gates, and I think, relieved to find the gates wide open to all, open to the embrace of God, the love force of our being.