The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973


The President did not need to wear a mask

An obituary devoted to the Rev. A.R. Eyles which was published in the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection journal, AV Times (February 1970 edition):

Few men in the 79th year of their lives would conceivably take on the responsibilities of presidency of as controversial an organisation as an anti-vivisection society, let alone one that had treacherously been stabbed in the back and left to die of its wounds by a large percentage of its erstwhile foremost figures.

But, on January 18, 1968, the Rev. A.R. Eyles took on his shoulders such a burden of responsibility. He had been President of BUAV Rotherham Branch for 18 years, was also president of Liverpool Branch and, two years before his retirement from the full time duties of a Church of England minister, he had been elected to the Union's Executive Committee.


He had been Chairman of the committee under three BUAV Presidents, only one of whom had died in office. In fact, he had for years been the unassuming and hard-tried backbone of the executive.

The burden that faced him when the BUAV was reeling from the blows it had sustained from the abortive amalgamation attempt and its aftermath was perhaps the heaviest ever that faced a newly-elected Union leader. But he bore it with courage, devotion, the soundest of commonsense and good humour.

When he died, on Boxing Day last, the BUAV was stronger in resolution, in better fettle and financially more secure than for many years before he took on this final task.

After the bitter years of dissension that preceded the final, irrevocable breakdown of amalgamation hopes between the National Anti-Vivisection Society and the British Union, there was an overall need for a wise, strong and patient man at the top. On the resignation of the last President, there was no doubt in the minds of those who stood fast as to whom they should call upon to fill the vacancy.

The good sense that the Executive Committee then showed was applauded by the whole Union which showed not only its firm approval when the announcement was made in the Anti-Vivisectionist, but their loyalty and affection when Mr. Eyles chaired the annual general meeting for the first time as President that year.

The new President expressed himself in his typical no-nonsense John Blunt way in his first Presidential Message to the BUAV in the Anti-Vivisectionist. His theme was Liberty.

Members were free, he told them, and only two months after the BUAV had had to give up hopes of amalgamation over, among other considerations, the vexed issue of future policy, "to support a measure for restriction if they wish. They are not to be told by any other society that they must do this, that or the other. No member need feel ashamed of the truly great past of the BUAV."

During his term of office, no officer or member of the Union had cause other than to feel proud of the "present" of the BUAV, for he fulfilled in every way the hopeful expectations of those who, with one voice, elected him to his high position.

How did his new office effect him? Honestly, the answer can only be not at all - except to make him even busier, perhaps more frequently the target of malevolent dissidents and members of the lunatic fringe of which, like every other society of this kind, the Union has its fair share.

In spite of his age and sometimes while in poor health he continued as he had done for the past 20-odd years to officiate at BUAV Rotherham Branch meetings, to continue every month, when sometimes it was obvious that he was feeling ill, to chair the Executive Committee meeting - a task that meant that he had to rise soon after 5 a.m. to reach London at lunchtime, and which did not see him back at home in Rotherham until nearly midnight.


Additionally, in his role as President, he had more calls on his time than ever before - and at the same time, from his retirement onward, he continued to conduct Church services in his area.

Because of the nature of the work of this society, and of his long service directed toward the ending of vivisection, the Rev. Eyles image as a clergyman is perhaps a little obscured in the eyes of the BUAV. Perhaps this has been brought about largely because he always appeared to be rather untypical of the calling - to the present writer anyway. Again this may be simply because he was as a man what any animal welfare worker would like to see as a clergyman.


He was outspokenly disgusted at the way in which so many of his fellow clergymen seemed to seek to avoid any controversial aspect of cruelty to animals. On one occasion, he said that the response to the BUAV's questionnaire to the entire clergy of this country had been disgraceful. (Out of several hundred who had been approached, only a handful had even the courtesy to reply.)

A modest man where some show of pride would have been excusable, it is clear that the Rev. Eyles must have been a brilliant scholar. He obtained his BA at the age of 21 and, in fact, had to wait two years before he was old enough to take up appointment as deacon - a time he spent teaching Classics at a"crammer" in Brighton.

If he possessed the virtue of not talking overmuch about himself, he made up doubly by not over-criticising others. Under extreme provocation he could and would find with commendable economy of words of exactly the right temperature a well-tailored reply.

It is a rarity indeed to be able to remember not only with warmth of personal regard, but with a respect born out of admiration, a man who showed so much consideration and understanding, who was without rancour, who possessed humility and yet a strong spark of originality, and who was wise and witty without making a show of academic or ecclesiastical pedantry.

A quiet man who succeeded others who were far more flamboyant, the Rev. Eyles might only too easily go down in the annals of the British Union as a somewhat retiring but perennially youthful personality. His inner strength - which is perhaps the only strength that really amounts to anything - allowed him to reveal a calm and composed face to the world.

He was perhaps a man without a mask, but one who had acquired what could disarmingly appear to be a dead pan. His persistent activity, both on behalf of the BUAV and in his service of his God, proves that he must have had an abundance of love for all his fellow beings, human, inhuman and animal.


There will never be another quite like him, but if there are half a dozen men and women left in this BUAV who have, each to themselves, a like measure of one of each of his magnificent attributes, this Union will not tire, lose its sense of purpose, its aim, fortitude or honest good intent.

We may have lost a remarkable President: those who have served in any way with him can only have gained something of the qualities which he so clearly possessed.

When he accepted the Presidency, he wrote the following exhortation in conclusion of his first address to the BUAV Membership. There are no more fitting words to end this inadequate attempt to pay tribute to the man, whose individual strength and confidence helped to hold this Union together in the two harshest years of its history.

"Let us keep the old flag flying and meet the future with abundant confidence and determination. Mid stress and toil, help us to steadfast stand."


Reproduced with thanks.

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