Richard A. Philcox (1922-2013)

Richard A. Philcox

Perhaps membership of Sussex Record Society might conjure up the image of an austere, academic, introverted bibliophile – but if so, Richard Philcox should never have joined its ranks. He was cheerful, sociable, a lover of the outdoors, the countryside and animals; it came as no surprise to find that he was a vet and ran a practice in Lewes for most of his career. This provided him with a fund of stories combining another of his interests, racing, and his professional role at the Plumpton course. He had a deep love of place – and especially of Sussex, whose history and topography remained a life-long passion.

It was natural that he should start by joining the Sussex Archaeological Society, which he served long and vigorously, prepared to fight its battles in the difficult years of the 1970s. He remained active for the Society into the last year of his life giving valuable help in the Library.

He joined the Record Society in 1975 and was elected to the Council in 1982. Whilst always modest about his knowledge of the “academic” side of history, it was obvious that he had a deep knowledge of every aspect of Sussex. And very quickly we came to value his practical answers to the problems of the day-to-day running of the Society and organising its members. The most pressing problem was geographical – with the Society split between several bases. The administrative address and the book-stock were at Barbican House, Lewes; the secretary was at the West Sussex Record Office, Chichester, and the treasurers were elsewhere. It seemed as if the deus ex machina had appeared when Richard mentioned, in 1986, that he would be retiring shortly and would be willing to help out. Help out he did – and within months we found that he had made it possible to keep the Lewes operation running.

Travelling to Barbican House once or twice a week he would process the post, bank the money, and invoice, parcel and post the orders – all with unfailing speed and efficiency. It may sound pretty mundane and perhaps a chore – but it certainly never came across like that. I shall always remember – and still miss – Richard’s regular telephone calls to update me with the vagaries of members and their subscriptions, and the recalcitrance of book orderers. It was always entertaining – and he always solved the problems effortlessly.

His help became even more practical when we tried to tackle the problem of the mounting stock of the Society’s unsold volumes. A large percentage of this stock soon found its way into the cellar of Richard’s house at Kingston. It seemed to provide a simple and easy solution and we came to take it for granted for nearly 20 years. It was only after some gentle nudging by Jackie that I actually experienced the cellar. Within its recesses one could not stand upright – in fact could barely crouch – and had to crawl or wriggle among the various stacks of books and drag out the latest orders. Richard continued cheerfully to make these explorations until he reached his 80s – and it was typical that he somehow let us imagine that it was all quite easy!

Even after we managed new storage arrangements, he still maintained the weekly tasks at Barbican House until well into his 80s when he eventually handed over a smoothly running operation to Ian Hilder.

It was typical of Richard that he accomplished so much for the Society with such quiet efficiency that few people were aware of how much our operations depended on him. He did not see any need for a title for his job – though after a decade he reluctantly accepted the designation of Assistant Secretary. Equally reluctantly in 2003 he accepted his “promotion” into the ranks of the Vice Presidents. But for those of us who worked with him, he made the business of the Society unfailingly a pleasure – and we will not forget that.

I still have the note he wrote in 2008 when he was facing a serious operation which meant he had to “step down as assistant secretary”. “I’m sorry”, he added. “I’ve dropped someone into taking over rather abruptly. It’s most disappointing to have to resign like this – I’ve enjoyed helping in the running of the Society for the past several years – I’m not sure how many.” Only Richard could make such a self-deprecatory farewell.

Peter Wilkinson