He ably led Rutland County Council for more than 13 years but on Monday, family and friends of Roger Begy came together to remember him as a husband, father and grandfather.
The tiny village of Greetham was brought to a standstill as hundreds of people packed into the village for the funeral of Roger, who died on February 1, after a short battle with cancer. He was 72.
The day started off with a dusting of snow glistening on the cottages but the sun shone over St Mary’s Church, when Roger’s oak coffin was carried into the church at exactly 10.30am to the sounds of Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple - no doubt chosen as it’s the song played at Leicester Tigers Rugby Club, where Roger was a season ticket holder.
The coffin, adorned with a bouquet of red and white roses, was followed by Roger’s wife Sandy, his sons Nick and Greg and their wives Michelle and Polly, and his beloved grandson Will, 11.
It was standing room only for the hour-long service and such was Roger’s popularity that a marquee was erected outside with the service streamed to those braving the chilly breeze. Familiar faces present included the Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police Simon Cole, the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner Sir Clive Loader and colleagues from the county council including Helen Briggs, chief executive officer, and acting leader Terry King.
Family friend and lay reader Diane Creasey led the service, remarking on how wonderful it was to see so many people there to pay tribute to Roger’s life. On behalf of the family, she thanked everyone who had sent “kind thoughts, prayers and messages of sympathy”.
Following the hymn, Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer, Rutland MP Sir Alan Duncan gave the first tribute, describing Roger as a “giant personality with a physical form to match”.
He suggested that the motto of Rutland Multum in Parvo - much in little - was cast with Roger in mind, with Rutland as the Parvo and Roger as the Multum.
And while Sir Alan acknowledged that the county owed a lot to Roger’s hard work, describing him at a various points as a “formidable force” and “shrewd”, he also spoke of him as a man.
When Sir Alan said: “There was something about Roger that was unashamedly shambolic”, he drew a loud laugh from those inside the church.
“Not for him the tailored suit or the carefully knotted tie: his preference was for the moth-eaten jacket, the comfy corduroys, and shoes which had spent their life unconnected with the offer of polish.”
He added: “He was always willing to champion any local issue.”
As his tribute drew to a close with the words: “Councillor Roger Begy OBE, you were a life-enhancer, who radiated good cheer, made us laugh, and in so many practical ways gave years of your life to the betterment of our community. Quite simply, you were an all-round good bloke”, it was met with a hesitant round of applause.
Dr Laurence Howard then spoke, recalling how his appointment as the Lord Lieutenant of Rutland coincided almost exactly with Roger becoming leader of the county council.
He said: “Life is for living and the difference you make, and what a difference Roger made to the lives of so many people.” But he added that he wanted to speak about the difference he had made to the lives of his friends and family present at the funeral.
Dr Howard said he had benefitted from Roger’s wisdom and support, and recalled how we would “greet everyone with a friendly chuckle”.
He added: “Roger had much to be proud of in his achievements working in business, at the county council and at the Learning and Skills Council. But nothing made him more proud than his family.”
Dr Howard finished by saying Roger had made a “huge and positive difference to all our lives”.
Jim Wilson did a reading from the bible before another hymn: The Lord’s my Shepherd.
Tributes from Roger’s sons Nick and Greg followed.
Nick said his father had left a huge legacy and that one day he hoped to follow in Roger’s footsteps by becoming a councillor. He said his dad was proud of the county and always willing to help and Nick called on people to remember Roger’s legacy and do what they could to help others.
He said his family were exploring the possibility of setting up a charity in Roger’s memory to help others.
Nick finished by saying he would raise a glass of Calvados, “which we always had when we thought mum wasn’t looking”.
Greg added: “His was simply a life of excellence.” He recalled that even while his father was ill in hospital, he greeted every piece of information, good or bad, with his “usual stoic manner” which was even remarked upon by doctors.
He added: “We need to celebrate a life well lived. If many of us lived to be 100 years, we would never cram in what my dad did. Life to him was something to be savoured and not to be wasted.
“He was happiest right here with his family.”
He also thanked the villagers of Greetham, adding: “The village made my dad happy and the village gave us a home to cherish.”
The most emotional tribute of the service came from Roger’s young grandson Will, who fondly recalled how his ‘Rara’ was always there to help him.
He said: He taught me lots of things - he used to always tell me I held my cricket bat wrong and I never believed him until Sids my Leicestershire county coach said that my Rara was right.”
Will told the audience that when he was little, Roger’s “jowls would wobble and make me laugh” and that he’d inherited a love for jigsaw puzzles from his grandfather.
He told the packed church how once, Roger had cut short a meeting so he could see his beloved grandson play cricket. His voice breaking, Will finished the tribute by saying: “My Rara was a very important man in Rutland and did lots of things to make people’s lives better. But to me he was just my Rara Roger and I miss him and I will always love him.
“Every time I look at the stars the brightest one is him shining down on me.”
Penny Burford read from Corinthians before the hymn I Vow to Thee My Country, which lay reader Diane Creasey said spoke of Roger’s love for his country, his county and his village.
Greetham’s vicar, the Rev Marcus Purnell led prayers. He also added: “What I have witnessed is a large legacy in all three of Roger’s family relatives that have spoken here today. He would have been so proud of you all.”
One of Roger’s favourite hymns from when he was studying at Oxford, Jerusalem was played before the commendation to the sounds of Elgar’s Nimrod.
The service concluded just before 11.30am with Roger’s coffin being carried out to The Magnificent Seven - his favourite film. While clearly a day of sadness, the funeral was how the family wished for it to be: a celebration of Roger’s life, filled with laughter.
And it finished how Roger would have wanted it - with his loved ones raising a glass in his name at The Wheatsheaf.
Donations will be split between Oakham Cricket Club Juniors, where Roger was a frequent visitor seeing Will play as many matches as possible and Cancer Research UK.