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Bristol Post
Bristol Post
Tristan Cork

Roy Hackett funeral: Tears, laughter and tributes as the legend of Bristol is laid to rest

There were tears, laughter, love, grief and passion among many, many tributes at the funeral of Bristol civil rights leader Roy Hackett today, but it was his great-grandson Cameron who received the biggest, longest and most heartfelt standing ovation.

The young lad overcame his nerves to pay tribute to his great-granddad, and while he arrived wearing one of Roy’s trademark trilby hats, he left with another - the more floppy black hat awarded to the recipient of an honorary degree from the University of Bristol, which Cameron and his family poignantly received posthumously on behalf of the great man.

It was a fitting moment in a funeral full of fitting moments of emotion, love and mourning, as Bristol, and particularly the city’s Black community of St Pauls and Easton who Roy had served for so many years, said farewell.

Read more: Tributes to Bristol Bus Boycott campaigner Roy Hackett - 'A life lived with bravery'

The day began with the funeral cortege of the community activist stopping the traffic in St Werburghs, where he lived, then in St Pauls, and finally around the Bearpit and Bristol Bus Station.

It was joined by a vintage green double decker bus and a fire engine, as a tribute to Roy’s work with the Bristol Bus Boycott, that prompted the civil rights legislation of the 1960s and 1970s. The cortege passed and paused by the Bristol Bus Station where Roy and his comrades in the Commonwealth Co-ordinated Committee changed the ‘colour bar’ practised by the bus company, and changed the history of Britain.

From there it was a sharp right turn back towards St Pauls and to the Elim Church. Roy began his life in Jamaica and made his final journey to Jamaica Street in Bristol, a poignancy pointed out by Sherrie Eugene-Hart, in a eulogy that told the remarkable story of Roy’s life. It was a long eulogy, that beautifully captured his life - but still was only a summary of what former Lord Mayor Cleo Lake described as a ‘life lived with bravery and determination’.

Before Sherrie’s eulogy, family members had spoken of their love for the patriarch of their clan, and of their thanks to him for being ‘their hero’. When it was young Cameron’s turn to speak, he was initially overwhelmed. Shouts of encouragement from the congregation, and the support of his dad gave him the strength to speak up, and his heartfelt tribute to the man who - in his late 80s and early 90s - would still be playing ball with his great-grandson, brought a moist-eyed standing ovation from every single person packed into the Elim Church.

The service began with a list of the dignitaries attending: the Assistant Chief Constable, many representatives from Avon Fire and Rescue Service, the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Bristol, the Shadow Leader of the House - Bristol West MP Thangam Debonnaire - the High Sheriff of Bristol, representatives from Bristol University and the Jamaican High Commission. Days before Britain holds its first State Funeral for almost 60 years, this felt suitably important. If Bristol was its own nation, this would be, rightly, a Bristol State Funeral.

The Mayor of Bristol spoke of how Roy Hackett had opened the door for others to walk through, and referenced his recent trip to Vancouver and the deputy mayor Asher Craig’s trip to Hannover as examples of how the work of Roy had opened the door for generations of black people to walk through.

Then, Professor Judith Squires, the deputy vice-chancellor and provost of the University of Bristol was called onto the stage by Rebecca Scott MBE, to bestow an honorary degree, a doctorate, onto Roy posthumously.

She explained that the ceremony to award Roy the honorary degree had been delayed by Covid and, tragically, now it would have to be presented to his family. Three members of his family signed the documenting accepting the degree, including young Cameron, who took the university’s academic tudor hat and tried it on for size. It fitted him well.

This explained why Roy's coffin, painted in the Jamaican flag, had been inscribed with the words: "Dr Lurel Roy Hackett MBE", the new title that also adorned the front of the order of service, a remarkable document designed as if it were a Jamaican passport.

As it happened: Bristol streets come to a standstill for funeral of Roy Hackett

There was a poem from Lawrence Hoo, and then more tributes from Bishop Raymond Veira, Alex Raikes, the High Sheriff of Bristol and the High Commissioner of Jamaica, read by the Jamaican High Commissioner’s representative in Bristol, broadcaster Primrose Granville.

But perhaps the most poignant came from Barbara Dettering, one of the last of that great Windrush generation in St Pauls. Flanked by other members of the Bristol West Indian Parents & Friends Association that Roy helped to start so many years ago, Barbara spoke of how she would miss her great friend of 60 years. “He used to phone me up,” she said. “Every couple of days. He’d say ‘I haven’t heard from you, are you ok?’ and that was Roy, always thinking of others,” she said.

In her eulogy, Sherrie Eugene-Hart spoke of how there were those who knew Roy from his community work - a life spent on committees, organising, leading and doing, and there were those who knew Roy personally, as family or close friends, and then there were those who 'just knew him from down the pub'.

And for those for whom Roy Hackett was a great community leader and change-maker for Bristol and Britain, the insights provided by family and close friends to this humble man made his funeral service even more poignant.

They spoke of how he wouldn’t tell his family of the latest campaign, and they’d only find out if the phone rang with someone saying ‘quick, turn on the telly, Roy’s on the news again!’ Barbara Dettering spoke of how quickly Roy walked down the street - with purpose she said, as if he was in a hurry.

Others spoke of how he always looked out for the younger ones in the community, both through a career as a social worker and through taking the time to know everyone around him.

To the final sounds of the Bill Withers song Lean on Me, Roy was carried for his final journey to the South Bristol Crematorium. A big vintage green bus waited outside to take those without their own transport, before finally, returning back to the Gloucestershire County Cricket Ground for the wake.

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