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Reuters veterans bid fond farewell to Gerry Ratzin

More than 100 mourners " Reuters veterans, family members and friends " were at West Norwood Crematorium in south London on Monday for a secular funeral service for Gerry Ratzin, former correspondent, European photo service director, and staff manager, who died after a extended illness on 13 January, Bob Evans writes.

Among those present in the tightly-packed chapel were former managing director Sir Peter Job, former general manager Michael Nelson, Reuter Society chairman Stephen Somerville, and members of the Old Reuterian Cricket Club – including Tony Winning, Peter Gregson, Adam Kellett-Long, Bernard Melunsky, John Rogers, Philip Wardle and Colin MacIntyre – who, with Gerry, have been a fixture at Lords and the Oval for many years.

As Gerry and Betty’s daughter Sarah Pender revealed, he had planned much of the service himself in his final months, choosing an eclectic mixture of music and readings to reflect his own wide-ranging interests and also the happy days in New York in the early 1960s – represented by Our Love is Here to Stay sung by Frank Sinatra and Manhattan by Ella Fitzgerald – when he met, wooed and married his American wife Betty.

Mourners were greeted by Handel's Music from the Royal Fireworks – Gerry was said to have liked the idea of fireworks at his funeral, if only musical ones – and a tribute from Alan Wiseman, a friend from his first day at Cambridge, who said it was fitting that the farewell to Gerry, who had worked for Reuters for 37 years, was being held alongside the cemetery where Baron Julius de Reuter is buried. Daughter Sarah read an excerpt from Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop in which newspaper proprietor Lord Copper exhorts a naive William Boot being despatched to cover an African war to ensure he took a cleft stick for transmission of his reports.

How far this reflected the circumstances of Gerry’s own – far more successful – 1960 greenhorn posting to Africa only three years after he joined Reuters was left to listeners to ponder.

Brian Barder, a retired British diplomat whom Gerry and Betty first met in New York and with whom they remained close friends for another five decades, read from Gerry’s own account of his first – and probably greatest – scoop during that assignment on the death of UN secretary-general Dag Hammarskjoeld in a Congo plane crash. A final tribute was delivered by John Miller, like Gerry a Reuters recruit from the National Service Russian-language School and later a distinguished Daily Telegraph correspondent, who succeeded Gerry – expelled by the KGB after only six months of his first posting – in Moscow in 1959. The Miller and Ratzin families became close friends when they were neighbours in the Dulwich journalists’ enclave in the 1980s and 1990s.

A final reading – the This Blessed Plot speech by John of Gaunt from Shakespeare’s Richard II – was read by the Ratzins’ second daughter Judy who recalled Gerry’s deep attachment to the country that had given his East European Jewish refugee parents shelter and citizenship. His final music choice, the lively Boccherini Minuet that featured in the 1950s comedy film The Ladykillers, was intended by her father, she said, to lighten the mood as mourners dispersed. In that, it was successful.

Following the service, Betty and her family received guests for drinks and sandwiches at the Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Golf Club. ■