Like many people I was saddened by the news of Prince Philip’s death, just a few weeks from his 100th birthday. Of course I knew he was in poor health, so perhaps the news should not have been a surprise, but I still had to reread the email carefully to make sure it was correct. Prince Philip was part of a generation that was tough!
I suspect Philip himself would have been the first to admit to faults. He was notoriously outspoken; in these times of heightened sensitivities about giving offence to others, he did sometimes seem as though he was from another age. I suspect he was strong-willed and enjoyed leadership. This is not necessarily a problem; we need leaders, but it does not always make for easy working relationships or good publicity. There again, my guess is the World War 2 naval officer prioritised leadership over public relations.
What I am most struck by is Prince Philip’s sense of duty. Well into his 90s, he braved pouring rain and cold to carry out his functions, at some cost to his own health. He gave up his career in the navy to support his wife in her role as Queen. He always seemed to be there when the Queen needed his advice. But he was also aware that he did have power and influence in his own right and it seems to me that he tried to use that for the common good. Perhaps his greatest legacy to young people is the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, to encourage qualities of leadership and self-belief in them. He was the first president of the World Wildlife Foundation; a keen shooter, he was also aware of the importance of conservation and care for the environment long before this became fashionable.
Today (Friday), at 4.00pm, a small group of us assembled at Billingsley Church, to toll a bell and then say prayers for Prince Philip and those who particularly feel loss; his own family. This Sunday evening, in a change to what is planned, our evening service in Billingsley Church at 6.00pm will focus on the man and his life, giving us time to reflect on the themes of duty and service. At times such as these, I am reminded of John Donne’s words on hearing a funeral bell toll, his recognition of our shared humanity; “Ask not for whom the bell tolls… it tolls my friend for thee”.