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Obituary: John Rayner (1929 – 2014)

John Rayner (1929 – 2014)

Marina Ingham writes:

There was a fairly good attendance at John’s funeral at the Ruislip crematorium on the 12th June, his own birthday: they were mainly friends and members of the Harrow Humanist group, as well as the Conway Hall Ethical Society, and his own family (his niece Julia and husband, and her two daughters). The celebrant described the life of John from his boyhood in the house where he grew up with his parents and brother, and where he died suddenly at the age of 85; his education from the age of 7 when he and his older brother were sent to a boarding school in Croydon, run by a charitable organisation, for children of bereaved or widowed mothers.

John was only 6 when his father died. The celebrant mentioned John’s career as a metal engineer, then his change of career when he became an accountant. John was celebrated for his talent for writing stories, as well as his love of music and drama, and many interests in various charitable organisations where he served as a trustee and treasurer. For instance the Ruislip Forests and Population Control.

John’s marriage lasted ten years. He then returned to live in Wembley with his mother, whom he continued to look after, taking her on numerous vacations in this country and abroad. John took to me when he read my edited version of his profile from the notes he had given me when he first applied to become a trustee on the General Committee. He was subsequently elected and remained a trustee for many years, often contributing in the absence of a treasurer. At the time I was the secretary of the Ethical Society with a heavy work load and a good but demanding General Committee of 14 members. John understood the pressure I was under and decided to help. Filing was my bete noire, and this is where John was most welcome. However his own devotion was such that I had to remind him on many occasions when he was over-controlling that it was ME who WAS the secretary… We had disagreements and arguments but made it up on Friday after work over a beer in the pub at Lambs Conduit Passage.

I retired in 2006 but my friendship with John continued. Our meetings usually consisted of afternoon teas, get-together when we gossiped about Conway Hall and criticised Albert Einstein. We also had walks in Regents Park, Hampstead Heath, visits to various English Heritage houses when John always looked first for the cafeteria. And I will never forget the great fun he and I had producing the Yuletide pantomimes when staff and trustees were transformed into actors. John was a humanist and a rationalist. One day when travelling in the underground he came across a foreign woman who could not find her way, so he escorted her the whole way to her destination. I will miss John. A kind person, honest, and devoted, but also vulnerable for being on some occasions too singleminded.

I was not the only one to notice John’s deterioration in his health over the last two years, and lately he had admitted to me of feeling very tired a lot of the time. I did encourage him many times to arrange for a thorough health assessment or a full doctor’s examination. Sadly, he did, but too late. I last saw John when he came to my flat for our regular afternoon tea session just before I left for Switzerland to be with my family.

Ethical Record, July 2014 21

Peter Vlachos writes:

I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the death of John Rayner. Shocked, because it had been barely a month earlier that we had shared a drink at the local pub around the corner from Conway Hall when he had been his usual spritely self.

I first met John some 15 or so years ago when he joined the General Committee of the Ethical Society and I was manager of the Conway Hall. John was an active trustee right from the start. With his knowledge of the accounting field, he contributed a great deal in helping to prepare the annual accounts for the Society and to their upgrading to modern standards. John also helped in many other aspects such as staff recruitment and building maintenance. He was very much involved in the major improvements to the Conway Hall around this time. He threw himself whole-heartedly into the planning and execution of the Conway Hall’s 75th anniversary in 2004, the evidence of which was captured in a prominent article and photograph in the local newspaper.

John was always concerned with detail. Rarely would an annual general meeting go by, whether the Ethical Society’s or the National Secular Society’s, of which he was also a member, when John’s keen eye would not have picked some minor oversight in the accounts, whether a misplaced comma or a small figure carried forward incorrectly. Indeed, we had practically come to expect John’s input such that the meeting would seem somehow incomplete without it.

There was also a jovial and creative side to John. For many years he was our resident playwright at Conway Hall, producing the script and directing the pantomime at the annual yuletide festivities. His writing style conveyed a sharp wit and a good sense of humour, often at the cheerful expense of those of us performing!

John was an ardent conversationalist and would be happy to discuss all sorts of topics. We could be discussing his recollections of east London in the 1960s at one minute, and the latest opera at Covent Garden the next. He had a great interest in military history and had toured the Balkans where his father had been active during the First World War.

Though his hearing had grown weak in his later years, he would still enjoy several trips to the theatre every year. In fact, John was very much the social organiser for these outings, compiling the  performance schedules and liaising with us all to arrange the tickets. Our merry band would enjoy a stroll along the river on the way to Shakespeare’s Globe, the lunch before the performance and the tea and chat afterwards being as much a part of the day as the performance itself.

John had a wide range of interests, one being in the field of light physics. A selfproclaimed amateur of the field, he nonetheless carried out his research with a great deal of thoroughness, challenging accepted assumptions along the way. Earlier this year he had asked me if I could help him to publish his papers online so as to encourage further scientific debate. These are available at

I will deeply miss John Rayner. He was a hardworking, decent and honest man. It was a privilege to have known him and to be his friend.

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