Denis Paxman

It is with regret that we announce the death of Denis Paxman, Warden of St Michael’s from 1965 to 1977. Denis had been suffering from a long illness, though we were very pleased that he and his wife Jenny felt that they could join us for the 2008 reunion.

Here we present a tribute to Denis, written for the SMCS website by Roger Judd.

Warden of St Michael’s College, Tenbury Wells, 1965-77

When I arrived as Master of the Music in January 1973 the Warden of the College was Denis Paxman, and he and his wife, Jenny, made the new-boy very welcome. I quickly discovered that we shared a love of the traditional pub and its beer – evening excursions to Bishop’s Castle, and the Three Tuns there where they brewed their own beer, soon became regular occurrences. Denis was an inveterate recording enthusiast, and had a top-of-the-range reel-to-reel tape machine. When in their sitting room one was just as likely to be regaled with a favourite Bach cantata from his complete collection, taken from BBC radio 3 broadcasts, as with one of the complete collection of Goon shows, most of which Denis seemed to know from memory, all played on their custom-built hi-fi set-up. There was also the quite regular sight of Denis, be-cassocked and with gun under arm, keeping the local pigeon population in check! Pursuing steam trains at speed up and down the Abergavenny/Ludlow railway line in his Land Rover is another happy memory of Denis.

I think that he would agree with me when I say that the centre of his life at St Michael’s was the daily office in church. The Founder would have been delighted with the liturgy at St Michael’s under Denis – he took the services impeccably, and his reading of the lessons was a model of clarity. One vital aspect of choral services is the intoning of the responses and prayers, and I seem to recall that seldom, if at all, did he cause the Master of the Music a moment’s concern.

After St Michael’s it was to Denbigh in N.Wales, closer to some of his favourite hills, that one travelled to see the Paxmans – Denis had become chaplain of Howells School – an all-girls establishment. Real ale pubs in Wales were a rarity then, but they’d usually found a few that were worth visiting. The narrow-gauge railways too were a delight and a must-see.

After a spell as Vicar of Lakenheath in Suffolk, the next move was unexpected, in that the family upped sticks and moved north of Inverness, to the town of Tain, where Denis was to be Rector of St Andrew’s. As well as being a most attractive old town, Tain is famous amongst whisky drinkers for being the home of Glenmorangie. I managed to visit both the Paxmans and the distillery in the course of an epic journey round the coast of Scotland in my camper-van, and several nights in a comfy bed in the Vicarage were more than welcome. Something that has remained with me from that visit, was being taken to see salmon leaping waterfalls on a nearby river – quite unforgetable.

Our paths didn’t cross then for some years, and when we next met up it was in Cumbria amidst glorious scenery. Lunch was taken in an old pub serving fine beer – no surprise there! – and a pleasant walk along a rather less-than-dramatic river followed. By then, Denis’s dementia was showing clear signs of progress, but it did not affect his demeanour, sense of humour, or bearing – he was still Denis.

It was a joy that, just over a year ago he, Jenny and Mungo (the inevitable dachshund!) visited our new home in Herefordshire, and that, six months later, they with Tory were able to be at the annual St Michael’s dinner.

He was a fine man, straight-forward, and possessed of total integrity. I am proud to have known him, to call him a friend, and to have worked for and with him, and I shall remember him fondly. Requiescat in Pace.

Roger Judd, April 2009

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