It’s a sad fact that you learn more about a person at their funeral than during their lifetime. So it was when I went to Oliver Statham’s funeral in Amersham last week.
Oliver died on 11 July aged only 74, having suffered ill health silently and bravely for much of his life. I knew him as a keen life-member of the Open Spaces Society and the Ramblers, former chairman of the Aylesbury and District Ramblers’ Group and an excellent walk-leader who made valuable and perceptive interventions at committee meetings. I had not known that he was an agricultural engineer, high-flyer in the Potato Marketing Board, an expert in all aspects of potato production and known to his friends as Ollie.
Oliver grew up wanting to be a farmer. While his friends read boys’ comics, Oliver read Farmer and Stockbreeder. He studied agriculture at Harper Adams College in Shropshire and then went to Writtle Agricultural College in Essex in the 1960s to study agricultural engineering. His old friend Dave Chick told us how Oliver organised a rag event at Writtle involving a dragon float. They took the dragon up to Scotland the following year and Oliver told the press that they were searching for the monster, He arranged things so that the monster emerged from Loch Ness in the morning mist before a fleet of paparazzi—on 1 April! It made the front page of The Scotsman.
The student engineers brought the dragon all the way back to Essex collecting and raising money en route for the Freedom from Hunger campaign.
Oliver’s first job after college was in Devon with the South Western Electricity Board where he met Anne. They were married in 1966 and lived near Exeter. In 1969 Oliver started working for the Potato Marketing Board in London and they moved to Wendover where they were soon both involved in causes for the town and its surrounding countryside.
While working for the British Potato Council (as the Potato Marketing Board was later called) he organised planting and harvesting demonstrations which were said to be the largest demonstrations in the world.
After early retirement at 59 Oliver became even more embedded in the town and he walked the local paths, keeping them clear and reporting problems. He and Anne enjoyed long-distance walking too. He was a parish councillor, a leading light in the Wendover Society, influencing the line of the green belt and the reduction in housing development in the town. He was at the forefront of the campaign against the HS2 railway which was set to trash the lovely countryside around Wendover.
Julia Drummond from the Aylesbury Ramblers recalls how Oliver could not let the Ramblers’ 75th anniversary in 2010 pass purely as a celebration. The government had just announced the route of HS2 through Wendover, and Oliver organised eight protest walks, all in one day, to highlight the destruction that the route would cause. Over 100 people took part with eight leaders and eight back-markers.
Oliver never complained and would cheerfully take on tasks which he always completed to a very high standard. He was devoted to the cause of protecting our paths and access—an effective and fearless fighter, with a lovely sense of fun.
The huge turnout at his funeral, standing room only, demonstrated the high regard in which he was held.
Oliver John Henry Statham, 5 April 1941 – 11 July 2015