Remembering David Tristram
5th June 1928 - 22nd Feb 2020
The eulogy read by Rev Tim Ward
at his funeral service in Binsted Church,
in Walberton Parish near Arundel,
on 6th March 2020.
Those of you here will have known David as father, grandfather, uncle, friend, neighbour, and some will also have known him as botanist, chemist, brewer, nurseryman, church warden, and quiet champion of many good causes.
David was born in 1928, the youngest son of Guy and Ruth Tristram. Tragically, of five boys born, David was the only one of Guy and Ruth’s children to live a full and independent life, three of his brothers having died by the time he was only 15 and the fourth severely disabled by encephalitis.
David’s passion for botany and love of plants was inspired by a deep-rooted family enthusiasm for the natural world and in particular by his parents’ love of gardening and wildflowers. David’s mother Ruth, like her own mother before, was a well respected botanical illustrator, and his father Guy had an interest in plant breeding, naming a hellebore which he raised while stationed in Stoke-on-Trent: ‘Potter’s Wheel’ and naming a rose for his wife Ruth. Later, after Ruth’s death, Guy also named a rose for his second wife ‘Toby Tristram’ of which there is an example at The Old Rectory. His Uncle Jack Cardew encouraged David’s interest in botany in the 1940s by taking him on botanising motorbike tours to Scotland to find uncommon wild flowers and photograph them with plate-glass film cameras.
The war was to deprive David of the only brother with whom he had a real fraternal relationship. He and Christopher, three years older than David, were sent to stay with a family friend in the USA during the war years to keep them safe. Sadly ‘uncle Toby’, as their guardian was known, died not long after their arrival and the boys were deposited on an island on the Puget Sound for a Summer where, despite a natural homesickness, they had great adventures before each being fostered into separate families. David always spoke very warmly of his years living with the Mills family in Portland, Oregon with whom he kept in touch throughout his life. Guy and Ruth sought to bring the boys home in 1943 and hoped to secure passage for them both to travel together. Places were hard to come by, however, so priority was given to his brother Christopher who was approaching 18 and could be enlisted into the army. Tragically the ship in which Christopher was travelling was torpedoed and he never made it home. Christopher had been learning to play the flute as a boy and David later took up Christopher’s flute and went on to develop a musical hobby which gave him pleasure for many decades.
David finally returned to England himself a little later where he resumed his English education at Radley College, from where he later went up to Merton College, Oxford to study Chemistry. As well as a love of plants, from boyhood David had a great love of messing about in boats, a hobby begun on the millpond in his parents’ Sussex home and that he and Christopher had been able to pursue during their castaway Summer in the States. At Merton David’s boating skills stood him in good stead as he became ‘stroke’ for the legendary rowing eight of ‘51 which won Head of the River for the only time in the college’s entire history to date.
It was at Oxford that David and Rosemary met through David’s friend and fellow botany enthusiast - Rosemary’s cousin Guy Harris. Some women might have been put off by a courtship of long motorbike rides in pursuit of random wildflowers and pottering about in boats on the Broads but happily Rosemary was made of sterner stuff. They were married in 1953 at Woodham, Surrey and moved to Dublin for 20 years where David worked as a manager for Guinness. In Ballybrack village David and Rosemary created a warm and loving home and a truly glorious garden for themselves and their three children. An endlessly practical and inventive man, David conjured up no end of wonders from simple materials and infected all of his children with his outdoor spirit; Ruth, Mike and Fran have very fond memories of their idyllic Irish childhood.
In 1971 David and Rosemary decided to return to England because of the Troubles. They looked for a place where they could make a new home for the family. David’s deep Sussex family roots naturally drew them to the area, and eventually they found their way to Binsted where they settled at the Old Rectory with Rosemary’s parents next door at Stable cottage. In 1973 David bought the 6 acre Homestead nursery which later became Walberton nursery and is the seed from which Tristram Plants grew to its present form. Their early days at Binsted fell at a difficult time economically but David and Rosemary resourcefully rose to every challenge, finding ever more inventive ways to tighten belts and make something from nothing. David was a sound businessman, but not a ruthless one and he earned great respect and affection from employees and colleagues alike for his kind and generous spirit.
From their arrival in Binsted, David and Rosemary and Rosemary’s parents, Hubert and Emily, immersed themselves in community life. David took over the role of Church Warden from his father-in-law Hubert and, together with Rosemary, started the now much celebrated Binsted Strawberry Fair primarily in order to keep this church building viable. Their efforts and energies were rewarded many times over by deep friendships they made in this community.
All of you will at one time have been familiar with David’s horticultural take on fashion - rarely seen without his signature green wellies and blue bobble hat! He never really retired from plant breeding and went on pursuing it right until his final days. His plants won accolades and awards including Royal Horticultural Society gold medal winners, but he was not one to shout this from the rooftops; his plant breeding was born out of creative passion and interest far more than by any real desire for plaudits.
One of his most recent great successes was the upward-looking pink hellebore which he called Rosemary; there is a beautiful photo of Rosemary herself standing by a wonderful display of Hellebore Rosemary in full bloom at RHS Wisley and there are many also planted on her grave at Sompting. These will soon be doubled in number as David will join her there today.
Rosemary truly was the love of David’s life and there has not been a day since her death that he has not missed her … and that profound loss also recalled for him latterly the sadness of losing his brothers and parents so early in his life. David was never maudlin, however, and despite so much experience of loss he always lived his life with an impressive spirit of gratitude. Only days before he died, when already very weak and barely able to speak he said these words: “I’m the luckiest person the world has ever produced”. What a wonderful example to us all