A TRIBUTE TO ROGER, FROM HIS BROTHER MAX
Roger was born in Birmingham on 10 May 1978, the third of three brothers, who all went to Hallfield Preparatory School in Birmingham and then on to Malvern College. He was a big baby and his chubby legs meant he was always known at home as “Rog Podge” or, as our father, David, would call him, “RP”. The nickname stuck and, even at the age of 37, his close friends still called him “Rog Podge” and our father still called him “RP”. Roger, once able to talk, showed his lack of reverence for convention by referring to our father not as “Dad” or “Daddy” but as “David”; or, more accurately, “Dabid”. There was something comically incongruous about a three-year-old being on first name terms with his father while holding a teddy and sucking his thumb.
Roger excelled at sport at Hallfield, representing the 1st team at football, rugby and cricket. He also represented Warwickshire’s Under 11 cricket side for a season. In his final year, he won the Allday Cup – a prize awarded annually by the school but voted on by the boys for best sportsman. Winning that Cup would remain one of Roger’s proudest achievements; largely as a result of the regard in which he held all sports and the enthusiasm with which he played and watched them.
Unusually, Roger made a number of friends in the year above him at Hallfield (being so upset when they left for pastures new that he cried). That circle of friends remains close nearly 30 years later and Roger met up with them for the last time before his death in November 2015, when seven of them spent the weekend down in Chichester. He emailed his friends after that trip to say that he wanted to continue going away on such weekends until he grew very old.
In those early years it also became apparent that Roger had an interest in animals. He would bring back all sorts of creatures to my parents – hermit crabs, spiders, worms – and asking my parents what they were. Our mother’s almost pathological fear of all such creatures meant that his enquiries were not always warmly received. On his 10th birthday he was given a cat by his godfather, Douglas Payne. Roger duly named the cat “Douglas”. Never was a cat played with, kept amused and fed prawns as much as Douglas was by Roger.
He left Hallfield in the summer of 1991 and followed his brothers, John and Max, to No.9, Malvern College. He generally worked hard, enjoyed life in the House and again excelled at sport. He was a regular member of the 1st XI for cricket and also represented the school at rugby and football.
His school reports generally reveal him to have been either showing, squandering or making the most of his potential in what appears to be a continuous cycle. He did, however, have a genuine interest in Philosophy and was hoping to read the subject at university. Unfortunately, Roger was ill for one his A Levels, which distorted his grades. Largely through the efforts of the school and, in particular, his Housemaster Mr Bill Denny, Roger nevertheless gained a place to read Theology at Bristol University.
Roger enjoyed his time at Bristol and although frustrated at reading Theology rather than Philosophy, he worked hard and obtained a good 2:1. That lead Roger to a training contract with accountancy firm, Moore Stephens, and the path that eventually lead him to Africa.
Never one to miss an opportunity to travel and having already in 1998 done a comprehensive tour of Vietnam with his friend from Bristol, Dan Duffet, Roger decided to squeeze in a gap year before starting work. He travelled through Singapore, Australia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
It was perhaps the month he spent in Australia that will be most remembered by his friends, as the trip inspired Roger to write a book about his travels. There were groans from everyone when Roger announced he was writing a book as he had shown no previous literary talent (and was in fact mildly dyslexic). Nevertheless, his friends and family dutifully read the finished text and were somewhat surprised to discover that it was, in places, hysterically funny and that Roger had the ability to create a sense of drama out of even the most mundane topic.
Having discovered that he could write and as a result of him then spending what remained of his life abroad, Roger became adept at staying in touch by email and would exercise his literary skills by philosophising on various seemingly unconnected issues. Such emails would invariably be forwarded on to a wider audience. Topics covered included:
- the flaws in the UEFA European Championship Qualifying System (the original email he sent was addressed to UEFA and then circulated to friends once he had received a considered response to his comments from UEFA itself)
- the retirement of Phil Taylor (the darts player) and whether that was something that, as Phil suggested would be the case, fans should cry about. Roger did not believe that he would cry when Phil retired, much that he admired him
- dealing with a brown recluse spider (very poisonous) that he spotted in his bedroom
- dealing with a viper that had set up home in his laundry basket (a difficult environment for any animal)
- putting a camel spider and a scorpion in a container to see which would prevail (it was declared a non-contest as both animals did everything they could to avoid the other)
- being stuck in the bush with limited water, an incompetent guide, no gun and hungry hippos all around
- flying Bill Gates, Eduardo Savarin, Jessica Biel, Simon Reeve, Brooke Burns and others in his helicopter
Roger returned from his travels to start his accountancy career. He quickly realised that accountancy and, more significantly, any job on civvy street was not for him. Despite not enjoying it, he worked hard to pass all his exams and qualify as an accountant and there were a few happy moments. He was delighted to be asked to help with the audit of Middlesex Country Cricket Club and never was an offsite audit conducted more thoroughly, with Roger regularly eating his packed lunch in the stands at Lords just taking in the ground (with no cricket being played). Roger also very much enjoyed auditing a women’s prison. Roger did not want to be an accountant but was proud of his qualification and, even in the world of flying, thought that it helped him in building his career.
It is a testament to Moore Stephens that they remember his time there fondly (despite his evident lack of enjoyment). The firm went so far as to see if there was perhaps another role within the firm that might be more to Roger’s liking. Roger’s mind was, though, set and with 90 days remaining to his qualification date, he stuck 90 post-it notes on a wall in his flat and peeled one off every day when he came home from work.
Roger had done the easy part and worked out what he didn’t want to do with his life but it took him a little while longer to work out what he did want to do! To help answer that question, Roger again went travelling, returning to his beloved Australia as part of a round-the-world-trip with Dan Duffet.
Roger saw during that trip that life behind a desk was not going to work for him and that a radical departure from the normal career path was required. Roger’s inherent belief in his own logic and thought process meant that he was able to follow his instinct with more conviction than most. He thought he might like flying and thought that flying a helicopter would both be more fun than flying a fixed wing aircraft and might also provide him with better prospects of making a living out of flying – the simple logic being that there are a lot of fixed wing pilots in the world but far fewer helicopter pilots.
Roger duly took himself off to flight school in Gainesville, Florida. He quickly discovered that he was good at flying and this gave him further confidence to believe that was a genuine career opportunity. He applied himself and obtained all the ratings required to enable him to fly commercially, eventually ending up with his instructor’s licence. So impressed were his instructors with his flying that they took him on as an instructor at the flight school. This is a relatively standard way for novice pilots to build up their flying hours – an essential element in getting better paid and more interesting flying jobs.
The reason why many helicopter pilots start their career teaching is that it can be very dangerous and therefore more experienced pilots do not want to do it. Roger described in one email to his family that upon telling one student that on no account was the student to lift the protector lid and press the big red button that would immediately stop the engine, the student immediately did exactly that! It was a heavy landing but Roger, the student and the helicopter were all fine.
Roger spent two very happy years in Florida teaching people how to fly. He made friends that he would regularly go and visit after he had left America, often spending time in Denver as well as in Florida. He loved America and was looking at eventually getting a job there once he had done all he wanted to do in Africa. He particularly loved American sports and his knowledge of American Football and, in particular, College Football was extraordinary. He was a big fan of the Florida Gators, the football team of the University of Florida.
One person that he taught to fly in Florida had connections with Africa and suggested to Roger that, if he was interested, there might be a flying job going for him in Tanzania. Roger jumped at the chance, packed up his limited belongings (he liked to live like Jack Reacher) and headed to East Africa.
Roger enjoyed his time in Tanzania and particularly enjoyed playing cricket there. He found himself playing in the Tanzanian Premier League for Arusha. Weekly reports would be emailed by Roger detailing his exploits. Astonishingly, he ended one season as the League’s best bowler. This is difficult to fathom given that Roger was an opening batsman and had previously showed neither pace nor guile with the ball, but by all reports (well, by his reports) his dibbly dobblies were virtually unplayable (Ian Quickfall remembers Roger taking a 5-wicket haul for the XXII. Ed.).
Notwithstanding his love of playing cricket in Tanzania, after a couple of years there he was offered a job working for TropicAir in Kenya, the largest commercial helicopter business in Africa. Roger loved his time in Kenya. There were less opportunities to play cricket but his flying experience was what kept him happy. While with TropicAir, Roger not only flew some of the world’s most famous people around, he started doing more conservation work. He also helped the British Army with exercises they were doing in various parts of East Africa, as well as the more usual tourism work.
Roger helped Simon Reeve film his BBC TV series about the Nile and then the filming of a British Airways commercial that followed a herd of stampeding buffalo. Roger spent five happy years in Kenya but a combination of wanting new experiences, a girlfriend living in Brazil whom it was very difficult for him to see, and a desire to see more of the world lead him back to Tanzania to work for a resort and also to do more conservation work. The job allowed him four months off a year, which would have given him an opportunity to spend more time with his girlfriend in Brazil but also to travel more and see more of his family in England.
Roger started his new job in September. He had worked therefore for two months before squeezing in a trip to Machu Picchu in Peru and then four days with his girlfriend, Carolina, in Brazil. He returned from that trip to spend a few days with me, my wife Georgie and our three daughters. He loved his nieces and would play with them for a whole day without getting bored. At times it was difficult to know who was entertaining who, with Roger seemingly getting as much pleasure out of an epic game of “hunt the tiger” as the girls themselves.
Roger headed off back to Tanzania in the middle of December and spent the rest of his days flying anti-poaching missions and doing tourism work before being shot on 29th January 2016. If there are any blessings, it appears that Roger was unaware, having been shot, how severe his injuries were and was more concerned about what he considered to be a bad landing following the shooting. He commented to his passenger that he hoped the landing would not be credited as pilot error as he did not want it to appear on his safety record. He lapsed into unconsciousness shortly after escaping from the helicopter and died a number of hours later, before proper medical help could reach him, from acute blood loss and a head injury.
The story of how those who worked with Roger, including Roger’s passenger Nick Bester (who survived), risked their own lives to try and reach him after he had been shot is truly humbling and I and the rest of my family are indebted to all of them for the efforts that they made that day. Notwithstanding those efforts, it appears highly unlikely that anything could have been done to save Roger, given the terrible injuries he had already sustained.
None of what is written above really explains who Roger was. He was eccentric in many ways and, like most human beings, a description of him in a few pages risks pigeonholing him in a way that would not be wholly accurate. He could be infuriatingly stubborn and could be considerately inconsiderate but he lived for his friends and was loved by all.
The best way I can encapsulate the essence of Roger is to explain how people used to talk to me about him. Whenever I mentioned Roger’s name to someone or someone asked me how he was, there was often a very similar expression on their faces. It was a combination of a slight shaking of the head, a raising of one or both eyebrows and the suppression of a grin. It is impossible to sum up what those expressions all added up to but I think they represented a combination of bewilderment, inquisitiveness, apprehension and eagerness at what I might tell them. That look also expressed hope that whatever I could tell them might live up to their expectations. Their expectations, I think, were that whatever I told them would be either outrageous, comic, plain weird or, more often than not, a combination of all three.
Not only did people seem to adopt the same expression at the beginning of a conversation about Roger but they also adopted a different but uniform one at the end of the conversation. It would normally involve the head dropping, the eyes momentarily staring at the feet and then a recoil accompanied by a snort through the nose and a more vigorous shaking of the head. It would not be uncommon for the conversation to end with the words “Oh Roger!”.
Explaining to friends, for example, that Roger had decided, while training as an accountant, to see if he could become World Darts Champion by practising three hours a day was not met with disbelief but rather an understanding that such an undertaking was something that Roger was entirely capable of taking on. While highly unlikely to be successful, no-one was completely convinced that he might not somehow pull it off.
We are lucky that through his emails and his book Roger’s voice will continue to be heard, at least amongst his friends. But oh how he will be missed. Missed by his lovely girlfriend Carolina, with whom Roger was making plans to spend the rest of his life, missed by his brothers, sister-in-law and nieces, missed by his many friends around the world but most of all, missed by his parents, who were, like the rest of us, so proud of him and who made him who he was.
RIP RP, you made it count.