Patricia McCall

The following speech was made by Ms Patricia McCall, the Headteacher  of Campie Primary School at Robbie’s funeral service on November 29, 2001.

Good morning, everyone. As headteacher of Robbie’s school I would like to speak this morning, on behalf of the school, to share with you the Robbie that we knew at Campie. And also, because we were Robbie’s wider world beyond his family, to reflect upon his achievements, from the view point of the colleagues of his working life.

Robbie came to Campie Nursery on 26 August 1998, aged 4. Nursery staff remember him as a “happy, confident and able little boy”. He loved to play with trains, (We all know that about Robbie) to work in the garden, to take part in imaginary games and to chat – a recurring theme, the chatting!

In Primary 1 Robbie settled quickly and well. His P1 report records that he “grasped essential concepts with ease and was always keen to learn”. It was, of course, in P1 that Robbie became ill for the first time and there is, in this report, the first record of his determination to carry on with his life, putting it first and his illness second. In P2 Robbie went on, despite many necessary absences, to gain Level A in Reading, Writing and Maths – those of you familiar with the mysteries of the 5-14 curriculum will appreciate that this achievement put him well ahead of the national average. Robbie’s P2 report records him as “extremely hard working, conscientious and keen to learn;” as having “strong friendships within the class;” and as being “sensitive and caring to his classmates.” His P2 teacher remembers him as determined and self reliant. A steely glint would enter Robbie’s eye if he saw an adult approaching to offer unnecessary help – and the adult, if she had any sense, usually backed off sharpish. Robbie is also remembered from P2 as “mischievous, funny, energetic, confident in his learning ability and loyal to his friends.” His P3 teacher takes up these themes when she records.

“It was a joy and a privilege to be Robbie’s teacher. He obviously knew exactly what was going on, but he tackled life with a determination and zest that put the rest of us to shame. He never sought attention, exactly the opposite. He would not allow concessions to be made because of his illness. Even on what I knew to be bad days when I could see the yawns and the tiredness, when I asked if he wanted to stop e.g. at gym or to take a rest, I was met with a very firm “No thank you!”.

Robbie loved coming to school and was especially keen on maths. Drawing and colouring were not his thing, but he did enjoy active, i.e. messy, art activities. One last joyous memory of him is of a yellow chalked face appearing from a whole class event to say “This is great fun!”. “The children adored him and on Monday everyone had a happy memory to share.”

Cathy Clarke and I also spoke with Robbie’s class on Monday and as well as sharing memories the children tried to sum him up. “A kind boy” one said, “A funny boy” said another, “A really good friend” said a third and then the final accolade from a last “A cool dude” …. You can’t say fairer than that.

I would like now to try to capture the essence of Robbie’s life and I think there are three things that I would like to say. The first is very obvious. Robbie’s life was too short and for all of us this is hard to bear. There is loss and it is against the natural order of things. Robbie will not be able to fulfill his potential, to found a family and to become respected in whatever field he would have chosen to enter. And this is part of our grief for him – for Robbie himself – that he has not been given the chance to do these things.

But – and this is the second thing I would like to say – although Robbie’s life has been a short one, it has also been a full one and a whole one. Indeed I am able to stand here today and talk about Robbie not just as a child – the ordinary school boy I have described – but also as a person who has managed to live a short life- in which we can see all the elements of a life entire.

The character of some young people emerges slowly and gradually from the mists of childhood and it is quite late on before you can get a true fix on who they are and who they will be. But with others, because of their strength of character and personality, you can discern the adult they will be from a much younger age. Robbie was one such child. Maybe because he was ill we saw him more clearly, but it was not just that. Robbie’s character was of such sterling worth that the structure of who he was was clearly visible. And so it is possible to look at his life and to see a person and achievements in the same sort of way that one would with an adult.

Robbie built the great human relationships – he was a good son, a good brother, a good friend and a good colleague. He took on a life’s work – in his case growing up and learning at school – and he put everything he had into it and this was to the great benefit of the community he served and to the colleagues with whom he worked. And, in himself, Robbie personified some of the greatest of human qualities – kindness, commitment, good sense, fun, lightness of spirit and courage of the stalwart, matter of fact, day-in-day-out, I’ve-got-a-job-to-do-and-I’m-going-to-get-onwith-it kind – the kind I personally most admire. All this in seven years. Had he lived seventy he would have done more; but I say to you, with complete conviction, that he would not have done differently.

The third thing I would like to say is that Robbie’s life has been a happy and a blessed one. He suffered one great misfortune but this has been balanced by much good fortune and much happiness. Robbie loved his life and the things in that life. He loved his school; he loved his classmates (“I love them all, I trust them all” he once told Linda Cameron from the Sick Kids); he loved his work; and he loved the chat, the play and the companionship of school life. He has been fortunate in his school community – children, other parents and school staff. Together the Campie community has been able to give Robbie the educational experience he and his parents wanted – supportive and caring but ordinary and fuss-free. Robbie was fortunate also in the care he received from the Sick Kids whose expert staff managed his illness and were able to extend the life he was so thoroughly enjoying living.

But the true blessing of his life was the family whom he loved and relied upon utterly, and about whom he chatted happily, always, from his earliest days with us.

He talked endlessly about Duncan, his beloved brother. (He loved you so much, Duncan, and you were such a good brother back to him). And of course his mum and dad.

Isabella and Derek, may I say something to you, from the vantage point of those in the school who saw the results of your parenting of Robbie … … Being a parent is a messy business through which we all muddle, trying to be good-enough parents. There are few clear vistas down which we can look and see our work; but you may surely do that today. Robbie was who he was, did what he did and came through as he did because of you. You kept him safe, secure and happy throughout, and, whatever happened, you made things all right for him. You may look back to when you first held Robbie as a new born and know that you have fulfilled the task you began then. Today we honour you for the way in which you have done that.

And, of course, in Robbie’s life there was one final blessing. He lived long enough to meet and to hold his little sister, Mhairi, and for there to be a time, recorded in photographs and memory when all five Hodges were together. What a joy. What a help. What a blessing – thanks to the incredible physical strength which kept Robbie going so long and thanks also, of course, to Isabella’s impeccable timing!

After today, we at Campie will start to move on and we will take Robbie with us in memory. Because of the person he was, I think Robbie will stay with us in some deep ways and his touch on our lives will be a permanent one. As we search our own ways on through the world, Robbie will recur and re-echo for us at key points -as happens when we have known someone of true distinction. And when we remember him he will light our way and lighten our hearts.

In simpler ways we will remember him in school through the work we will do with the children in his class; when we create a memorial to him in the new school courtyard; and when we celebrate his life each year with his class as they grow up through the school. And when we do this we will be remembering the child the other children remember. We will remember him learning, laughing, playing, dancing, teasing and helping. Maybe the class will have a picnic each year or maybe we’ll go on the odd train ride. I don’t know yet. But I do know that when we remember him and talk about him, it will be with love and happiness, as befits the memory of a loving, loveable, happy child.

Robbie Hodge, a pupil at Campie School from 26 August 1998 until 24th November 2001. Robbie Hodge – a lovely child – a lovely, lovely, lovely child.