Philip Curtis (1922-2002)
It is difficult to do full justice to the unstinting services given to Eton Fives by Philip Curtis, who has died at the age of 80. In 1999, a dinner was held at Eton in his honour to celebrate fifty continuous years as an EFA officer. Starting as Honorary Treasurer, Philip then became Honorary Secretary, a Vice-President, President and then Chairman of the EFA Charitable Trust. The latter position was probably the most demanding in establishing the Trust in the first place, let alone overseeing the raising of substantial funds and guiding fellow Trustees and the EFA in the best use of the monies for the benefit of the game.
Perseverance was one of Philip's many qualities. His work in Eton Fives was frequently uphill and in the early '50s he was involved in protracted negotiations with Queen's Club over the possible rebuilding of the two courts which were bombed in the war. The costs of that time, however, were prohibitive. For many years he had an almost thankless task of running the Old Reptonians for mid-week evening games in London but had only few players to draw on.That Eton Fives has survived at Cambridge University since the demolition of the courts at Portugal Place is due in no small measure to Philip. Whilst he coped with bureaucracy over the proposed new courts, his efforts were equally tireless to reinstate the game at the Leys School and pave the way for the University to have use of the courts in the interim. This was coupled with his own personal donation.
Perhaps Philip's greatest contribution to the game was just being himself. Although holding high office and having won the Kinnaird Cup in 1957 (with Old Olavian J.W.Biggs) he never lost sight of the needs of the ordinary player and how schools and clubs could be helped. In and out of committee he always had a measured response to any situation and an eloquence with exactly the right turn of phrase.
One of three brothers, Philip won a bursary Repton to where he did well both academically and in sport. He was a prefect, became captain of Fives and played in the cricket and hockey teams. He was also chosen for the role of Hamlet in the school play. He won the Belt of Honour at Sandhurst and was commissioned into the Northants Yeomanry where he became a Major. At Cambridge he was awarded an honours degree in modern languages, achieved a half-blue for Eton Fives, played soccer for the Falcons and hockey for Clare. He was elected to the Hawks Club and later became a director.
Diplomacy had been suggested as a career but he joined the City firm of stockbrokers, Fielding, Newson-Smith and Company, where he became Joint Senior Partner. He was much respected for wise, impartial and trustworthy advice, but his work was very demanding and just before he retired he confessed to one of his brothers that he really didn't understand the way the Stock Market worked any more and that there was a tendency for the younger generation to back-bite and be greedy. As in so many professions the gentlemanly age was disappearing.
Tragedy was to strike twice for Philip and his family. His wife, suffered a fatal heart attack in 1981. Notwithstanding, he slowly picked up the pieces of his life and had known Marijke, who was a colleague at Fielding, Newson-Smith. They fell in love and married. However, this was followed by one of the two sons Martin, being paralysed from a rugger accident. It was a challenging time for all the family and Philip set a wonderful example in actively supporting the International Spinal Research Trust.
Philip was a Jester, a Vice-Patron of the Peter May Memorial Appeal, Past President of the Old Reptonian Pilgrims Cricket Club. Philip also found time to be Chairman of Thaxted Festival Foundation and, with Marijke's support, changed it from loss-making to profit. St Mary's Church, Little Easton, overflowing with mourners at his funeral, benefited from his and Marijke's tendance of the church flowers and garden as well as the maintenance of the church itself. Gardening at home and music were another two of his passions. He also loved motoring and took particular pleasure in running a beautifully-kept classic Alvis for over forty years.
Entertaining was done in splendid fashion, whether for a few friends or a massive buffet. Wines were always of great quality and most carefully selected. Philip had his own vineyard in Italy and a small yacht on Lake Garda. Both he and Marijke took exams in navigation and seamanship successfully.
To family and friends Philip was known as a person of many gifts. He was a most caring and loving man, a very honest one, generous and very courteous. He had the knack of getting on with all sorts and condition of men, people he worked for, people he worked with and people who worked for him. He was a meticulous person, whether it was planning a journey, in dress sense, organising a fete or a festival, or just mucking out the horse - it would be done properly. He will be much missed, but paticularly remembered by so many.
To Marijka and his sons, Jonathan and Martin, we send our sincere condolences.