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The members of the Society of London Toastmasters report the sad news that our Life President Bernard Sullivan passed away in February 2017 at the age of 96. He was a member for over 60 years and his friendship and professional advice will be much missed.


3rd April 1920 - 3rd February 2017

Two of our members, Roy Theobald and John Hollingsworth presented eulogies at his funeral, which are reproduced here, for those who would like to discover more about the extraordinary life of UK’s top Toastmaster.

Eulogy, read by Roy Theobald

Bernard James Sullivan, Ben to many, was born on 3rd April 1920 in Islington, London to John and Julie Sullivan. He weighed in at12 lbs which was the start of his life to come, big baby, big character! He was a bright young boy who always did his studies and won a scholarship to the Smithfield Meat Trade Institute where he became School Captain. He was a great swimmer and won many swimming medals in the area where he lived.

When he left school he got a job in the finance office working on accounts at Smithfield Meat Market in London where he stayed until the outbreak of war.

He joined up with the Navy reserves in 1940 where he started on trawlers, his duties being minesweeping and patrol duties as Ordinary Seaman but soon becoming Leading Seaman. He then volunteered for service as a Sub-Lieutenant on the then new Landing Craft Assault, coming top in his final examination.

He, like so many others, helped with the D-Day landing…that’s another story.

After D-day he was sent to the Mediterranean at very short notice along with 900 others of all ranks to take over Tank Landing Ships from the US Navy.

He then served on Tank Landing Craft 77 as Gunnery Officer, visiting ports in Libya, Greece, Albania, Yugoslavia, France, Corsica, Malta and Crete.

To finish his war he was, at 25 appointed as the First Lieutenant of the great Naval Base in Gibraltar, serving six months in charge of hundreds of men during one of its busiest periods. Thousands of sailors were passing through daily from the Far East for demobilisation and Gibraltar was their ‘last night ashore’ with the Navy. One of his jobs was to ensure that these thousands of tipsy sailors got back to their ships! Not an easy task.

During his time in the Navy, Ben was sent down to Bracklesham Bay near Chichester to the local hotel which had been taken over for the war effort as a training school for Navy recruits.

He used to tell the story that as he arrived with his shipmate on 12th April, 1943 he had to check in at the reception desk. As he approached the desk he set eyes on this gorgeous Wren in her uniform and as he spoke to her happened to notice the time on the clock above her head, it read 11.03. As he walked out to his mate he said to him “I’ve just met the girl I’m going to marry!” This was Rosie and sure enough, true to his word, after a bit of charm and persuasion he got his wish and they married on Trafalgar Day 21st October 1944 at St Bartholomew’s-the-Great Church in Smithfield, London.

When they were first married they lived in Highbury Grove, North London where their son Terry and daughter Julie were born. In 1955 they purchased their dream home in leafy Petts Wood for £3,000 which was a lot of money for them in those days, taking almost every penny they had! Here they went on to have their second son John to complete the family.

Ben was a real romantic and on the 50th Anniversary of their meeting had a Fabergé style duck egg made depicting the hotel scene where they met and giving it to Rosie at exactly 11.03 on 12th April 1993.

His favourite idea was a wall mirror for their bedroom wall which Ben had engraved “Rosie, you are looking at the girl I love”.

In 1946 Ben joined the Bank of England, serving 34 years, mainly in Exchange Control, finishing his career with Principal rank. At the Bank he was always known as an ‘ideas’ man having had more than 300 economy suggestions adopted.

During his Navy service ashore training in Combined Operations, he agreed to act as dance MC on many occasions to keep ‘the boys’ out of trouble and this experience proved useful when in 1955 he became a Toastmaster/Dance MC. He joined The Society of London Toastmasters after being trained by Mr Robert Dean on seeing a newspaper advertisement. This opened up a whole new world for him.

He would work all day at the Bank and then go straight on to a Toastmastering job somewhere in London, sometimes leading this double life four or five times a week.

When the opportunity came to take early retirement from the Bank, he did not hesitate giving him the opportunity to take up Toastmastering full time. He always said it was the right decision as at least he could spend more time in the day with his beloved wife and went on to become the top Toastmaster in London.

He officiated at 27 Lord Mayor’s Banquets, 200 State Banquets in 9 foreign venues. He deemed it a great honour to look after our Royalty on many occasions, including the Queen and Prince Philip’s Wedding Anniversary, The Queen Mother’s 90th, 95th and 100th Birthdays and The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh’s 80th Birthday Parties. He officiated at many visits by Heads of State together with some 240 Semi-State Banquets to HM Judges, Archbishops and Bishops and serving 49 Lord Mayors.

Rosie was always there by his side booking him all his work, washing and ironing a new shirt and waistcoat and starching his collar for every job. Ben would go up to London mostly by train, especially in the Bank days, and Rosie would drive up to meet him at the end of a very tiring day. It gave them extra time together and meant she could also be involved with his life. She would come back full of pride at her husband’s achievements and also enjoyed being fussed by all the staff at the different venues.

Ben did most of his Toastmaster work in the City and in 1990 he was awarded the MBE for services to the Lord Mayors and City of London Corporation 1960–1990, receiving this award from The Queen at Buckingham Palace.

In the year 2000 all the family were thrilled to be invited to ‘Ben’s 80th surprise birthday party in the crypt of the Guildhall, laid on by the City, a truly wonderful memorable evening was had by all.

One thing Ben was very proud of was his great memory for people and places and could remember different incidents that had happened during his life and was always happy to relate them to anyone who enjoyed a good story. Many people use to say to him: “All those stories Ben, you should write a book”. And that is exactly what he did and with the help of his proofreader, who had a lot of trouble understanding his ‘cockney’ sayings and expressions, his book “Sullivan Stories” was published. It has been a big success and given many people a great deal of enjoyment.


Eulogy, read by John Hollingsworth

A passion of Bernard was boxing as his father was an amateur boxer in his youth and he used to go and watch his matches whenever he could. You can imagine his delight when in 1964 while Toastmastering at the Boxing Writers’ Dinner he was asked by them if he would like to take over the vacancy for MC at the famous National Sporting Club. He obtained the necessary Licence and went on to MC many boxing matches held at Wembley Arena and The Royal Albert Hall. He covered 58 title contests including 15 world championship bouts before retiring in 1990.

In 1983 Ben suffered a heart attack and was told he would need a quadruple heart by-pass. So in August 1984 the family waited anxiously for him to come out of the long operation. He recovered well but was told to cut out rich food, which he had plenty of in all the ‘posh’ places he ate in and to do plenty of exercise, so decided to take up walking.

While walking around on his daily exercise regime he noticed how much litter was about all over Petts Wood, so in his usual way ‘an idea’ came to mind and ‘PALs’ was formed.

‘Pensioners Against Litter’ was created with the help of his dear wife Rosie and his good friend Alan Francis. They began a club of some 40 very active old age pensioners, who daily freed the streets, pathways, recreations grounds and parking areas of litter and graffiti, whilst also getting fit.

He advised prospective similar groups in other boroughs and gave lectures to local schools saying if you can teach them young maybe they will grow up caring for the environment they live in. He received a Pride of Place Award from Bromley Council and the Queen Mother’s Birthday award from Tidy Britain Group for his work.

When he was fully recovered, he continued his Toastmaster work, appointed President of the Society of London Toastmasters twice and being made its Honorary Life President in 1999. He was also its Registrar of Protocol for many years. Bernard gave his services free to various charities, his favourite being the Royal Society for the Blind, whose New Year’s Eve Limelight Ball he ran for 30 years.

In 2007, aged 86, to his joy and amazement he was awarded an honorary Master of Arts Degree by the City University, London and the family were very proud when they watched him receive it in Southwark Cathedral along with all the young students….

Finally in 2009 aged 88, Ben decided to hang up his redcoat and gavel and donate his time and efforts to his beloved Rosie.

When Rosie’s sight sadly began to fail from macular degeneration he really stepped up to the mark. Like so may men of his generation he could not even boil an egg, but like her true hero, as Rosie would say, he took over the roll of chief cook and bottle washer…sometimes producing very strange looking meals but always looking after her with such love and care.

Once he had retired he would take her out most days for lunch in Petts Wood and when home, between busying himself around the house, he would read the daily newspaper to her so she could keep up with all the news. He never stopped caring about her and was truly Rosie’s rock, always trying to find new ways to help make her life easier.

When in 2013 Rosie started to develop the first signs of vascular dementia, which was a devastating blow to Bernard, he continued to do as much as he could, but even with the family’s help the disease progressed further and it was decided they might both benefit by moving into Sunrise Care Home in Sidcup which they did in May 2014, leaving Petts Wood after 59 very happy years. This was the right decision as it gave him time to rest and not worry so much about Rosie and where she could get the help she needed. The care and attention they have received has been second to none and the staff became friends as well as carers to them both.

They had 72 wonderfully happy married years together. He leaves behind his one true love Rosie, along with Julie, Eric, John, Mary and Andrea, four fine grandsons Ross, David, Greg and Robert and their partners, a dear sweet great grandson Ethan, and a new little one on the way in August! He was very proud of his family and loved them all!

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