Sir Anthony Hart died suddenly last week aged 73 after suffering a heart attack. Not only was he a respected high court judge in Northern Ireland, he was a strong but gentle Christian believer, and a regular worshipper in St Mark’s, Dundela, where he served in many roles. He was also Chancellor of the Diocese of Down and Dromore, and assessor at the most recent Diocesan Synod on 20 June.
Bishop of Clogher the Rev John McDowell shared this eulogy given at the funeral service of Sir Anthony Hart in St Mark’s, Dundela on Wednesday 17 July 2019.
A Master in Israel has died.
I know that to almost everyone sitting here today Tony Hart (I think in latter years it was only his mother and possibly Mary in moments of exasperation who ever called him Anthony) was best known for his legal career. Maybe because of that, it is important for those of us who got to know him in another context, to say that faith and devotion were at the quiet centre of his life; the spring of water which ran through all of his personality and his work. I know that the rector will have more to say about that as will I a little later in this address.
Fortunately Wikipedia has released us from the need to turn a eulogy into a chronicle, which was the sort of thing Tony hated anyway. I know that because he told me once after I’d given one.
But of course Tony was most definitely not a citizen of just anywhere. He had deep roots. He was the son of a country vet and it showed. Showed in his willingness to be available when he was needed especially to the lame animals known as bishops who sought his counsel at all hours of the day and night. He grew up in an old rectory which his father had bought from the Representative Body not long after the war and he always appeared to me to have the look (if not the cool hauteur) of a country squire. Or indeed even of a squarson, that peculiarly Anglican mix of country gentleman and parson.
But as we all know it’s the dim younger son who goes into the Church and Tony could never be described as dim. Although I can’t quite envisage him emerging out of the undergrowth around Monea with an old twelve bore broken over his forearm after a spot of rough shooting, he could be quite tweedy (in a tidy sort of way) particularly in the Autumn time. He looked and was perfectly at home doing a bit of hedging and ditching at the house in Fermanagh and he and Mary kept up that substantial dwelling for years with great love an affection, first in looking after Tony’s mother and then as their own “get away”.
Fermanagh is a very particular place in which to grow up, when the wax of a personality is still soft and will take a deep impression. It is a traditional place and I don’t know if that or some other factors had an influence on Tony’s somewhat timeless view of life. The very fact that we are using a funeral service today which has been very little changed since the middle of the 16th century is no accident. Tony did not subscribe to what an old boy of this parish–CS Lewis– used to call “Chronological Snobbery”– the uncritical acceptance that whatever has gone before is outdated and discredited”. In fact his judgement was quite the opposite… if a convention or a tradition or a liturgy had lasted for a long time then there must be great virtue in it.
He was open to new ideas of course and in church life when I was rector here and he was on the Select Vestry and also a Trustee I can’t recall a single instance when he even muttered under his breath about some innovation being suggested. But I think the service he felt most at home with and which resonated with his world view and experience of life was the old monastic office of Compline, the last service of the day. It helped that it was used regularly in Portora to mark the return of the weekly boarders on a Sunday night. I’m sure they were delighted.
It begins rather fearsomely with a passage from the First Epistle Catholic of St Peter. “Brethren, be sober, be vigilant because your adversary the Devil, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour, whom resist, stedfast in the faith”. You could see how something as realistic and unsentimental as that would speak to someone who spent a fair bit of his life listening to the weary maze of everyday tragedies which are the staple of the criminal courts and latterly in the heartrending and very far from everyday pain of those who were so brave as to be able to tell their stories to the Institutional Abuse Tribunal Inquiry.
And yet Compline also includes some of the most beautiful prayers in the prayer book and ends on a pretty confident and resounding “Let us bless the Lord; thanks be to God”. And for all his gruelling hard work and responsibility and public service, that’s the spirit of Tony Hart summed up right there…Let us bless the Lord; thanks be to God”.
Tony had beautiful manners, the product too of that rather old fashioned upbringing and also of his time in Portora when it was a much smaller school operating in a much more relaxed educational era. He was a Christian gentleman in that sense which Cardinal Newman wrote about so movingly.
“He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant and merciful towards the absurd [I appreciate that that might not be at the forefront in the minds of any barristers present who appeared before Tony inadequately prepared. Although that too was simply part of his veneration for the rule of law and its conscientious operation as the bedrock of justice].
“…he is seldom prominent in conversation and never wearisome. He makes light of favours when he does them, and seems to be receiving when he is conferring…He is never mean or little in his disputes and never takes unfair advantage…he is too clear headed to be unjust”.
All of it true of Tony Hart as those of you have worked along side him and had the opportunity to observe him closely can testify.
I have absolutely no doubt that it was his faith and his upbringing, in what was then a rather out of the way place, that were the foundations of his character and (that word which it is impossible not to use when you think of Tony) his integrity. Tony’s integrity; that is, a wholly integrated personality, all the working parts meshing together in sincerity and candour and fun.
In every aspect of his work and life he had a tremendous sense of duty and sacrifice but never of the sort that makes a stone of the heart. And he knew that, in everything, whatever it may have been, if you wanted to practice the art you had first to learn the craft. You had to work at it…the law and the faith and marriage and fatherhood and friendship. And if I had to give a sort of Scriptural summary of his life it would be simply those few words of Jesus from John’s Gospel…“If ye love me, keep my commandments”; very apt for a man of the law. The great heart always keeping the clever head all right.
Perhaps you’re expecting that I will say a great deal about Tony’s legal career not to mention his incredible scholarly work in legal history, particularly the history of the NI Courts. I will probably say less than is strictly seemly and for two reasons. The first is that most of you know much more about it than I do. And of course the media and the tributes have already covered so much of the ground. But for another reason too.
I once asked Tony what he had studied at Trinity and his answer was “Rowing, and a little bit of law”. We all know that the second part of that sentence is rather misleading. There was no–one more diligent and wholehearted in his application to any case or any cause that he defended, prosecuted or tried. His work on the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry was a prodigy of organisational skill, forensic ability and, indispensably, of human sympathy which I think in some ways (small and not so small) helped towards healing the manifestly inhuman treatment that was so painfully recounted in that Inquiry room day by day. When Tony Hart was asked to chair that Inquiry, those of us who are believers knew that a Higher Providence had taken a hand and that those damaged lives were for now at least in safe hands.
But in this wholly inadequate tribute I do not want to leave Tony’s life there. I want instead to talk just a little bit about the two places where you could be guaranteed to see Tony smiling like a school boy who has just found the keys of the tuck shop. On the jetty and in his home.
Rowing was his passion (and there are people here like Robert Northridge and Derek Holland and Iain Kennedy who could go into much more knowledgeable detail and at much greater length than I can about Tony’s love of the sport. The problem is, that if you let them they would. Rowing was Tony’s passion and he supported the Portora boats and in the past few years the Enniskillen Royal Grammar School rowers by his presence, by his enthusiasm and ( as always with Tony) with his substance. The look of pride on his face when he had an eight named after him was deeply moving. It was as though he had been given all the riches of Araby. And it wasn’t just that this Boat Club, which he had been involved at every level, had climbed to become the best school boat club in the United Kingdom and Ireland, bar none, that chuffed him so much, important and all that it was. It was also that it was providing an opportunity for literally hundreds of young people from every part of the community in Fermanagh with an opportunity to learn the craft, and to know the camaraderie of that least individualistic of sports. And as with everything Tony supported all was done without the left hand knowing what the right was doing. If ever the words of Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man applied to a human soul they applied to Tony; he “did good by stealth and blushed to find it fame”.
If you wanted to see Tony in his natural habitat and in the fullness of his natural personality then all you had to do was to watch him at the Erne Head as a Portora or an ERGS boat pulled away from a Coleraine Inst eight.
And to be honest I think he also liked the clobber. That rather extravagant rowing gear that you seem officially licensed to wear once you are over about forty years of age and the old centre of gravity has subsided a bit. And indeed if your principal vocation requires you to spend most of your days dressed in subfusc and looking serious while wearing a fair approximation of the hind quarters of a Texel ewe on your head– then what greater joy could there be than to stand on a riverbank, in a white rowing jacket with gold trim and the Fermanagh wind blowing through what remains of your raven locks.
There is a sort of tragic completeness that it was after watching the ERGS crews once again victorious at Henley Regatta, and after entertaining them with his usual generosity and fun that Tony fell so seriously ill. Much too soon, but with the laughter and the love of friends still ringing in his ears. Those of us who have served with Tony on the Governors and on the Trustees of both Portora and ERGS will testify to the dedication and expertise he brought to both schools but I don’t think that that forgiving man would ever forgive me if I didn’t say that (probably) the two letters after his name of which he was most proud were at least as much OP as QC. On Speech Day or on big occasions there was no one who sang the school hymn (Abide with me) with more pride or roared the school motto with more conviction. Floreat Portora.
But of course the most important aspect of Tony’s life was Mary and the family–Patrick,Catherine, Fiona and David. Mary and Tony. As they say when God made them he matched them and possibly only the mystery of God’s mind could have made that match. Tony a rather reserved Fermanagh boy. And Mary the outgoing girl from the county Cork. This far north we tend not to hear much either from or about County Cork. And by and large that is a good thing. Down there in Munster you can buy a map of Ireland with county Cork clearly marked and the rest of Ireland simply labelled “Not Cork”. Well Fermanagh is definitely not Cork yet in that wonderful alchemy which we call romantic love they met, they mingled and they became (almost) as two minds with but a single thought, as Tony and Mary. Who here could ever think of one without the other?
And I know that Tony would definitely never forgive me if I didn’t both say that Mary was the very love of his life, the very best of home makers and a wonderful companion through every phase of their lives. The best Close Protection Officer he ever had. A very large number of us in this packed church will have enjoyed Mary and Tony’s hospitality over the years. Nothing ostentatious but wholesome food and mischievous fun, with the odd exclamation of mock surprise from Mary at one of Tony’s more flippant throwaways “Anthony Hart”!
Being a judge in the days of the Troubles was not exactly a day at the beach. I know that the close protection officers became effectively part of the family and were treated as such. It was always reassuring for Mary and the family to hear the key in the latch at the end of the day. And not only because they knew that Tony was safely home. But also because they knew that whatever may have been troubling them or what ever domestic or school matter needed sorted out–that now it would be all right because Tony was home.
If they’re doing their job properly clergyman and woman are in and out of people’s houses in all sorts of circumstances all of the time and they develop a kind of forest animal’s instinct for the atmosphere in a home. Even the most emotionally inert parson would have known pretty soon that the Hart family and the home which Mary and Tony had created (but in the nature of the case a great deal of the donkey work was bound to fall to Mary) was a place of happiness and fun.
Tony sitting pronouncing from the arm chair and being treated by the family as a sort of cross between the Dalai Lama and a pair of old slippers; being mercilessly teased by the others; but without a doubt the hero of the living room. You could see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices and (for me) it was only one of the greatest privileges of my life to have been welcomed into that house so often as one of the family. Mary, he loved you so much. For Tony, you shamed every woman for grace.
Of course Tony wasn’t perfect– he had that man thing which can never admit that he wasn’t able to find the way in a car. Apparently on family holidays he never got lost but was always “exploring the countryside”.
And of course Patrick, Catherine, Fiona and David.
Somewhere in his Table Talk Martin Luther says “I have four children and my prayer for them every day is that none of them will become a lawyer”. He was of course talking about canon lawyers at whose hands he had suffered so much. But you will know much better than me that each of you was guided and encouraged to make your up your own mind and to shape your life in your own way. There was always your Dad’s guiding hand and his touch on the tiller and above all there was the example of a deep and happy marriage, than which nothing is more likely to help those around it to find their own happiness and fulfilment. And you have told me that you had that in abundance.
The word that has cropped up often and stuck out like a sore thumb in what you have said and written to me is the word “hero”. Dad was my hero. That is a big word. A hero…someone who faces life with courage, dedication, ingenuity and strength. And that is what your dad was to all of you. Despite what could so easily have been the crushing demands of public life,Tony always made time to do the ordinary things–family outings to the cinema or to the park. Giving time always when it was needed. Showing by example that giving someone you love a bouquet of flowers can bring quite immense and disproportionate joy. He was your hero and you loved him with your whole heart, just as he loved you.
In drawing this address to a conclusion David has asked if I would read a short poem which he wrote during his third semester at university when, as we all have experienced in similar circumstances, he was feeling a bit low. It was David who wrote it but I think I can safely say it expresses the heart of the whole family.
A Quiet Hero
He might not even know it
But if he did he’d not admit it
Storms rage all around him
He’ll not fall, not him
Not the hero
In quiet and unassuming way
From a task this man does not shy away
Brave, courageous, fair and inspiring
Qualities held by so few
He uses them to protect you
You’d think he was a normal, kind man
So much more is held within this man
Self righteous he is not
Unloved he is most definitely not
He’s a quiet hero
He’s my hero.
Dedicated to my father, there was none better.
When death came it did not come by inches (but death coming by inches can unpick the goodness in the best of people) but with one immense and destructive blow. There was no justice in it. But it is our prayer that on the day of God’s justice, when he draws his sheep close to him with his right hand, Tony Hart will hear and know those words as addressed to him “Well done my good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of the Lord” A Master in Israel.
All these words I have offered from my unworthy heart in the Name of the eternal God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.