Our friend, Richard Lovatt, passed away peacefully in a private room at Leicester Royal Infirmary on Saturday, 14th July 2007. His funeral service was held at the Holy Trinity Church, Barrow-on Soar, Leicestershire on Thursday, 26th July 2007 and after the church service, mourners joined Richard as he made a final journey by train on the Great Central Railway.
I first met Richard in 1969 when he and his father, Bruce, were invited to attend a Main Line Preservation Group committee meeting held in the boardroom of Richard Willis's old factory in Melton Road, Leicester - the meeting went on for far too long and as I had missed the last bus home - Richard kindly offered to give me a lift to the southern outskirts of Leicester, from where I intended to 'thumb a lift'.
Richard was 18 years old and had only recently passed his driving test - his car was an old Ford 100E and, although I can't remember how I eventually got home that night, I will always remember how we talked excitedly about our shared dream of a proper railway preserved explicitly as a 'stamping ground' for the main line steam engines.
Richard had been educated at Uppingham and had served in the school cadet force as well as performing with 'The Spider's Web' - probably the school's first 'rock band' - in fact he maintained his passion for rock and blues music throughout his life and amassed a huge collection of recordings by artists ranging from John Mayall to Debbie Harry. Apart from railways, Richard's other passions were politics and county cricket. He was an active 'Young Conservative' and an enthusiastic supporter of Leicestershire at Grace Road.
After leaving school Richard studied accountancy and joined his father's firm of Mills Lovatt & Co at 13 New Street, Leicester. This also became the registered office of Main Line Steam Trust when it was formed in 1971 and at the age of 20, he joined his father as one of the Trust's first directors.
Despite coming from widely different backgrounds, Richard and I worked extremely well together and soon became close friends. We spent a great deal of time in each other's homes working on 'Main Line' magazine as well as many other schemes to promote the idea of saving a section of the former Great Central main line (such as the early 'Buffet-Suppers' at Marylebone Station) and we also enjoyed days out in my old Morgan visiting air shows, traction engine rallies and motor sport events. In 1974, I convinced Richard that he, too, should become a Morgan owner and we found a suitable example for him in Salisbury which he bought instantly - he loved that car and, especially, he enjoyed the friendship and camaraderie provided by members of the Morgan Sports Car Club.
We continued to work together on railway projects such as the '75th Anniversary Committee' which was devised as a means of using the anniversary of the railway's opening to persuade British Railways to permit the operation of a train service - a strategy that proved successful! Then during the mid 1970s we worked with Bill Ford and Simon Davies to launch and administer the share issue that effectively 'saved the railway' with the formation of what was then known as Great Central Railway Company (1976) Limited - Richard became the company's first Financial Director.
At the same time as the new Great Central Railway was getting under way, Richard had become more deeply involved with the Morgan Sports Car Club, both at local and national level and eventually became the club's Treasurer. Richard was largely responsible for the development of the Morgan Sports Car Club into a commercial limited company and had helped to organise numerous prestigious events around the country. In this, he worked closely with his friends, Christine and Roger Healey, as well as other prominent club members and officials including the late Peter Morgan - who was then running the Morgan Motor Company.
Richard was well known in the car club for enjoying the social side as well as for his hard work on the accounts - indeed, one member recalls that he invariably had 'a glass of Chablis in one hand and a calculator in the other'! When the club celebrated its fortieth anniversary at the Flying Horse at Kegworth in 1991, a huge cake was placed on the luggage rack of Richard's Morgan so that Peter Morgan could pose alongside it for the press. Richard represented the car club at national meetings of the RAC and the Federation of Historic Vehicle Clubs and, as a result, became a well known figure in classic car circles. Richard was a true Morgan enthusiast - driving his car to work and to events (often with the hood down) in all weathers.
Richard became an active member of the Leicester De Montfort Round Table (number 500) and held the office of Chairman from 1989 to 1990 - this brought him into closer contact with many contemporary professionals and businessmen - including Paul Richards, who worked with him as Vice Chairman and became a trusted friend.
In order to accommodate all of these interests and activities - as well as sharing the workload of the family's accountancy practice, Richard had resigned as a director of Great Central Railway in 1984 but still kept in touch and was subsequently persuaded to rejoin the board three years later. After a major re-organisation of the railway's board and management in 1989, Richard and I, again, found ourselves working closely together - this time he had the role of Company Secretary & Accountant and he proved to be a valuable colleague and ally as the railway adopted new policies and expanded with the extension to Leicester and the development of double track.
After the death of his father in 1992, Richard struggled to find the time necessary to keep up with the workload from his business and the rapidly expanding demands of the car club and the railway. The pressure was partially relieved by the brief establishment of the GCR's 'Leicester Office' and the temporary employment of Michael Draper but it soon became evident that the railway needed Richard in a full time capacity - so at the end of 1994, he sold his business and joined the GCR as a salaried employee in charge of accounts.
Richard was blessed with considerable wisdom but was always humble and respectful towards others; he valued his loyal friends and disliked anything that exposed them to unnecessary conflict - not surprisingly, therefore, in 1998 after major board changes at the Morgan Sports Car Club, he chose to resign and devoted himself almost entirely to the Great Central Railway.
At the railway, Richard derived considerable satisfaction from the development of his staff (especially Emma Axton and Jay Diamond who worked as his assistants) and he absorbed many additional duties including the development of the railway's on train catering service with James MacIntosh and serving as a director of Great Central Railway (Link) Ltd. The railway's management and organisation underwent significant change in 2005 and this provided me with an oportunity to retire from my position as the company's Chief Executive - sadly this also ended a close working partnership that Richard and I had shared for the best part of 35 years. Richard soldiered on after the changes and, despite a significantly increased workload, he gave it everything that he could. During the final stages of his illness, he was cared for by his close friends - especially Bill Ford and Debbie - and, with their help, he managed to continue working from home when he became too ill to travel.
The ongoing success and development of the Great Central Railway will be his lasting memorial and we all will remember him.
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© Graham & Jane Oliver 2007