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RIP – Robbie Asaph SSF

Brother Robbie Asaph SSF died suddenly on Saturday 24 October 1998. He was aged forty-four years and was in the sixth year of his profession as a Religious. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
The text of a sermon preached by Brother Benedict SSF at Saint Kentigern’s Church, Denniston, Glasgow, at the requiem mass:

Robbie was not the sort of person you would have thought could have settled into such a harsh locality as Barrowfield but he was there for three and a half years. There was a certain eccentric streak to Robbie, such as his penchant for wearing shorts at all times! Even on the coldest days he would venture out in those ‘long-shorts’ that hovered just above his knees, much to the amazement of local folk and not-a-little teasing.

Shortly after his arrival, he was keen to set up a local scout troop for local kids who were bored with just hanging around the streets and getting into all sorts of mischief – kids who use f-swear words in their sentences like we would use commas! He succeeded in getting them into traditional scout uniforms – whilst he himself would be in full Baden-Powell outfit (shorts n’all of course!) and off he would march them down the street in crocodile line to the scout hut. It took courage, I can tell you. Everything Robbie did was well-intentioned – if not always well-advised! I remember the occasion he invited the parents to a Passing Out parade. The East End of Glasgow has divides along the same lines as Belfast and some of the kids came from ‘Orange’ backgrounds; and others were ‘Tims’ whose families had IRA sympathies and a picture of the Pope hanging on their sitting room walls – and their was a potentially difficult situation when the Catholic mothers saw the Union Flag unfurled by Robbie and their sons kissing the flag and swearing undying allegiance to both Queen and country! I slid down a little lower on my seat. Well-intentioned? Foolish? Naive? Who knows – but the scout troop still continues and there have been trips away and educational visits which have given our kids a wider vision of life. All credit to him.

Yes, there was something eccentric about Robbie – no more so perhaps than any one of us here today – but some people only looked as far as that; it is all they saw and therefore wrote him off. That’s a pity, because there were other facets to this particular jewel.

Robbie had a dry wit – and an ability to laugh at himself. He had a big heart and a concerned nature, especially for kids and the elderly. He had many winning ways and a lovely child-like smile.
Robbie was a diabetic who ate, in fact, the most deplorably unhealthy diet; loving cream cakes, ice-cream and jam tarts. And he had angina. He was proudly Welsh.

He inherited a love for railways from his father and worked for British Rail training young men and women who were not high academic achievers but who were employed and paid by BR under a government training scheme. He came to SSF with a wealth of knowledge about railways – about trains and times and tickets – and complaint procedures! His passion was trains; he kept models of railways in his room, had an impressive array of peaked railmens’ caps hanging on his wall and was even loathe to throw away used train tickets. You could say he was a train fanatic. A perfect day off for Robbie was to plan a destination and then to see how many trains he could get on and off on route. On a recent holiday to Poland, his itinerary covered five foolscap pages, travelling on l36 trains in a two-week period.

One condolence card we received said: Robbie will be happy in heaven for Isaiah tells us of God that “His train fills the Temple”! Robbie had difficult phases during his last couple of years in Barrowfield. He could ‘lay down the Law’ on issues he felt strongly about or where he believed an injustice was being done – and as a consequence he had one or two tiffs – but he weathered the storms and there was always room for reconciliation. There was never any malice or ill-intent in whatever he did. One of the local lads who came regularly to the house, and a real toughie, sent a touching card: ‘I am sorry for all the bad things I may have said to you, but I know you can hear me in Heaven, so forgive me, my friend.’ That speaks volumes.

Robbie had a care for the underprivileged and was a member of the Diocesan Social Responsibility Committee who valued the fact; they said ‘he understood at first hand the biting effects of poverty and all its problems in the community.’ He kept up a flow of correspondence with a prisoner on death-row in the USA and was active in writing letters to officials pleading for his life. Robbie was a loyal friend and many of you here will testify to that. He was well-liked by and served well both the Episcopal and the Presbyterian churches in the East End.

But for Robbie, being in SSF was very important – it was family. Recently he was life-professed at a service attended by Roman Catholic Sisters, Presbyterian Ministers and Anglican worthies, by young and elderly folk, by representatives of various groups to which he belonged – a mixed congregation who had come to support Robbie and give thanks for his contribution to their lives.
And on Robbie’s part, he was proud to be part of the SSF – and to be our brother. I last saw Robbie in August. He was enjoying his theological studies. He was in fact still wearing shorts! but I saw a change – he was a man relaxed and so at ease with himself; he open and warm. I am sure that life profession helped him to feel accepted and wanted and valued and loved for who he really was – warts and all. There was a blossoming and it was lovely to see. Death has now plucked a flower not yet fully opened but full of potential. And we could only glimpse what might have been.

But death is never the end, never has the victory. I am sure that Robbie is now in that place where there is no more pain – neither angina nor diabetes – where every tear is wiped away, with God in whose love and light this particular flower will come to full maturity. Goodbye and God bless you, Robbie our brother. f