Mourners honour ‘perfect gentleman’

Memorial service for Air Marshal Sir Reginald Harland
Memorial service for Air Marshal Sir Reginald Harland
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Tributes have been paid to a ‘perfect gentleman’ who died last month after several weeks of ill health.

A throng of mourners gathered in St Mary’s Church, Bury St Edmunds, on Friday to celebrate and remember the life of Air Marshal Sir Reginald Harland, a Bury resident for more than 30 years and an avid Bury Free Press letter writer.

Standard bearers honoured the 93-year-old’s life, which spanned a near-40 year RAF career, and representatives from some of the many organisations he was involved in, including the Bury Society of which he was president, offered heartfelt eulogies.

Sir Reggie, who retired as Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Support Command in 1977 and was a qualified pilot, was highly praised for his ‘exceptional leadership’ skills and his involvement in a project which saw the Harrier Jump Jet brought into service, which he delivered ‘on budget and on time’.

He fathered five children with his late wife Doreen, two of whom died before either parent.

Michael Harland said it was ‘heartwarming’ to see so many people gathered in memory of his father, ‘a man of great intellect and vision’.

Sir Reggie’s daughter, Sarah Helliwell, offered personal insight into the man whose overseas postings brought her so many ‘new adventures’ and who, despite many commitments, ‘still found time to advise and assist’ her.

She said: “He died as he lived, on his own terms.”

“He taught me to grab life with both hands and not waste a moment of it,” she added.

Former St Edmundsbury councillor Mike Ames and Bury Society chairman Alan Jary also spoke at the service.

When Mr Ames stood as an Independent for the Abbeygate Ward in 1991, Sir Reggie signed his nomination papers. They were neighbours for around 25 years.

He said: “He was a very interesting man. I admired him for his depth of knowledge, his analytical mind and, in some ways, he became my mentor.”

He added: “He was a man totally devoted to life and to his children and his childrens’ children. A proud family man, a caring neighbour and a wise friend. The perfect gentleman. And his legacy? I would describe it as one of total commitment to his family and to his wider community.”

Mr Jary described Sir Reggie as ‘a forward thinker,’ ‘a great scribe’ and ‘a remarkable man’.

Despite standing as a Social Democratic Party candidate for Bury in 1983 and 1987, Sir Reggie was not elected as MP. This, Mr Jary said, was ‘probably to the gain of the town,’ in which he was always so active and to which Mrs Helliwell said he ‘had a real deep affection’.