Bertie

As many of you will have heard Bertie passed away in hospital on Tuesday 3 September 2019,
after several months of serious illness. 

We are all very sad to lose him - in better times he was an inspiration to us all with his
enthusiasm, his hashes and his impish sense of humour. We had all hoped, against the odds,
that he might recover soon from his ailments.


However the last few years were difficult for Bertie. He had persistent pain and was house bound
over the last few months.

His funeral took place on Saturday 21
st September at 11.30 at the Funerarium Coorevits, 
Brusselsesteenweg 560, 3090 Overijse. Some words from Peter Briggs are below.

Many of us were there to pay our last respects to our dear friend and hasher of long date,
Bertie Johnston.

Ian pp. Hon. Sec. et al. 

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Bertram Johnston R.I.P. 21.09.2019
Last week we lost a very good friend, someone who was unerringly friendly, out-going, cheerful, open, inquisitive and (until his recent illness) amazingly active. But Bertie wouldn’t have wanted this to be a sad event, rather an occasion to recall the good times (and perhaps to explain the occasional bad ones) and an occasion to create a lasting impression of a multi-faceted life lived to the full.

Many people will have known Bertie principally in the context of his multiple sporting activities – which were indeed a cornerstone of his life - but he was a lot more than a sportsman: also a businessman; a political analyst; an avid reader of science articles and a family man devoted to his two sons. Let’s look back at his life and see how these different threads have interwoven and formed his character .

Logically we should start with that love of sport, which was so much a feature of his life:
From his early childhood on the Isle of Bute he developed a love of the Scottish countryside (more of which later) and as a young man he was involved as a climbing instructor for the Outward Bound courses – both in the Lake District and Scotland. He spent his military service in the RAF and was a frequent player in their rugby team, but when he came to Belgium he developed a keen interest in sailing and was frequently out at the weekends sailing with friends. He was also a good squash player (as I discovered to my cost when I challenged him to a match many years ago) and a very elegant skier. We spent many holidays together with our two families in Austria, the combined four children at ski-school together and we adults in various classes according to our ability – Bertie joining my class just to keep me company though he hardly needed any lessons, but that was the nature of the man. Later on he skied regularly with a group from the British School runners – and that brings us round to running, one of his great passions and, together with the walking in Scotland, probably the activity for which most of us remember him.

It all started in the early 80’s when the late Dave McCreaney got together some keen parents and teachers at the British School and formed a running group to set off into the woods in the evenings. Later the group expanded to non-parents and they met three or four times a week – evenings and weekends to run together under David’s guidance and have a few beers at the BSB bar afterwards. The group participated actively in many local races and also half-marathons around Europe, with Dave organising the travel (and making sure there was plenty of beer afterwards!). Bertie became one of the regulars and was a good runner – he had the build for it – and in fact on our regular 11k run behind the BSB there is a hill named after him – Dave McC said, “Bertie goes up that hill like a little ferret”, so “Ferret Hill” it was christened.

Then there was the Hash House Harriers, which he joined also in the 80’s and became a key member, running most Saturdays and joining in on most of the walking trips – especially when we went to Scotland where Bertie could be seen as always striding up the mountains with his hands clasped behind his back – I pointed out that this wasn’t the safest of positions in case of a fall, but the cheerful reply of “I’ve got good balance, I don’t fall” proved to be true – at least until an incident occurred when he was much older. He also walked each year with a group of friends from the UK (his ‘intellectual friends’ – apparently because the level of conversation was on a higher plane than with our group).
The remarkable thing was that Bertie continued running and walking for so many years, even celebrating his 80th birthday by walking the ‘West Highland Way’ with a group of friends. They walked along the rocky shore of Loch Lomond  in the pouring rain, Bertie leaping from rock to rock like a mountain goat leaving the others way behind and slipping on the rocks, by the time they arrived at the hotel he was dry and refreshed, and offering a drink with a newly acquired thick Scots accent. So it was for the rest of the week, Bertie pointing to the near vertical western slopes of Glencoe, telling how he ran up them in his youth. 

In the end it was an unfortunate fall during an ADEPS Sunday walk – not on a mountain but near an urban area, on a cold day with ice underfoot which put an end to his running, and perhaps aggravated some of the health problems that he had been suffering from for a while.

Bertie has left a lasting legacy for the Hash: our system of notation for the weather during the run. The ‘Berties’ started following his observation that whatever the weather during the week, or even hours before or after a hash, it was far more likely to be dry on a Saturday afternoon between 3-4 pm when the hash takes place.
It was decided (by Rory, I think) that we would test this theory and record the results.

Smiley ‘Berties’ were allocated - ranging from one (for no rain) to three for brilliant dry, sunny/crisp weather depending on the time of the year.
The same frowning scale is used for light drizzle through to downpour.
His observation has proved overwhelmingly accurate, so the system has stuck.

The first hash for which it was No 1610 (Christian and Gisele) on 3 Sept 2011, though I'm sure that wasn't the first time.

So this system will remain with us for posterity (or at least as long as some of us are still running/walking (more and more walking nowadays!)
..................................................................................................

Let’s leave this ‘sporting life’ and look back at some historical milestones.

Bertie came to Belgium in the early 1960’s with Coopers & Lybrand, the accountants, but as you can well imagine, chartered accountancy wasn’t really his thing, so after a few years he set up his own business importing bathroom fixtures & fittings from the UK, notably from the well-known brand – Armitage Shanks. At first everything went well and Bertie’s selling skills enabled him to secure some good contracts with some of the leading Belgium retailers & DIY stores. But then a combination of factors conspired to upset matters in the late 70’s: high inflation and rapidly increasing prices in the UK; software from an outside supplier that failed to work; a fire at the warehouse - & suddenly the firm was in trouble. Bertie & I spent many a long evening pouring over balance sheets & cash flow forecasts (no excel spreadsheets!), but to no avail. The firm went into receivership & then various disasters unfolded as they lost the family home & as often happens, financial problems lead to domestic problems and he and his wife separated.

BUT, our man was not the sort of person to be kept down for long (although the stress of this period lead to the start of his health problems – in the form of stomach ulcers ). One of his many friends knew John Martin, the CEO of the eponymous brewery and within a few months Bertie was installed as Export Manager, a position that fitted him like a glove. It allowed him to deploy all his best traits: selling skills, personal empathy, enthusiasm and negotiating ability – all to good effect as he soon had Martin’s Pale Ale distributed both in France and the UK.
The lifestyle of a marketing man in the brewery industry is perhaps not the healthiest on earth, but Bertie managed to keep up with the drinking habits of the business. (Not that the running fraternity were lagging behind in the beer consumption ratings!) Despite his small size he held his beer well & I never saw him worse for wear.

After taking his retirement from John Martins at the age of 65, Bertie didn’t really stop working completely, that wasn’t his style, but continued as a tour guide for the brewery that brewed Martins’ beers. This enabled him to deploy his excellent linguistic skills – he was virtually tri-lingual, speaking excellent French and Dutch as well as his native English – well maybe I should have said quadrilingual as his English turned to Scots when he was in that country or talking to another Scotsman/woman. As he was very articulate and liked meeting people, this was the ideal ‘retirement job’ for him (I forgot to mention – he was also once active in amateur dramatics, so talking in front of a crowd came naturally to him). A collateral (but not insignificant) advantage for his running friends was the availability of the brewery’s entertainment room and bar for the Hash après’s and some very enjoyable birthday parties that Bertie very generously hosted on some of his more significant birthdays.

Apart from the brewery visits, how else did Bertie fill his retirement? There was his love of music, especially classical music and modern rock – everything from Baroque to Benjamin Britten and from Roy Orbison to Radio Head. He was a particular fan of Queen and Dire straits – what great taste! But not so keen on jazz (but nobody’s perfect!). And then there were politics and science – both of which fascinated him – and on which he read avidly. These two interests provided some of the material for another of Bertie’s regular activities – the Friday cycling group coffee sessions. The cycling group grew out of the regular visits that Ian Hamilton (one of the Hash running group) made to Bertie’s house (and in fact Ian continued to be a regular helper right up to the end). At Ian’s suggestion, a couple of us joined him on the Friday visits, then it was suggested that we cycle on another day as well, and now there’s a core group of about 8 who cycle together twice a week under Ian’s coordination.

Anyway, the Friday mornings at Bertie’s became an institution – a forum for enthusiastic discussions of politics, science, current affairs, investments, the economy, and sport (notably, in Bertie’s case the recent achievements of his favourite football team, Aston Villa) . UK politics were often the main focus point of these get-togethers and on that score Bertie was in a class of his own. He followed closely all the developments via TV, Radio and the online Guardian, so you had to be pretty sure of your facts if you got into an argument (sorry, discussion) with him. He was especially good at spotting up-and-coming politicians and would often trot out some obscure name that few of us had ever heard of, saying “Watch this person, he/she is going to be important one of these days”, and he was often right! But our friend didn’t stop there in making his opinions known, he was a frequent writer of letters to number 10 Downing Street (usually receiving a polite acknowledgement) and to UK newspapers – ‘disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ had become ‘disgusted of Tombeek’. So often as we cycled towards number 54A Abstraat, we would be asking each other what might be the topic introduced by Bertie this morning: the latest UK political cock-ups; the economic forecast for the euro-zone; who would be the new leader of the Lib-Dems?, black holes?. All these were grist to the mill and subjects for lively debate – and sometimes very noisy debate on the mornings Bertie had forgotten to put in his hearing aid!

The last year or so of his life was difficult, as he struggled to recover from his fall and then suffered two bouts of pneumonia which put him back in hospital, and each time it seemed more difficult to recover. He had to cancel the Friday morning visits, which was a big blow to someone so sociable and articulate. But he bore his illnesses stoically and throughout remained cheerful and optimistic. I would like to finish with this short poem, which I think reflects Bertie’s character very well. It was written by WE Henley at the end of the 19th century and is called ‘Invictus’.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud;
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbow’d.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.”

Goodbye old friend, rest in peace, we won’t forget you!

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“Many of Bertie’s friends (and particularly those who can’t be at the funeral) have asked
if they could make a donation to charity or send some flowers. We have discussed this
with Gavin and agreed the following: Barbara has ordered two bouquets to be delivered –
one from the Hash and one from Cyclists, Walkers. We have opened a special bank account
(details below) and anyone who would like to make a donation is invited to make a
transfer to this account. After paying for the flowers the surplus will be sent to the
Belgian charity “Foundation against Cancer”.

The account is:
Briggs/Sanderson
BE25 9501 9160 9182


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He was just always there. A wiry little guy of quite extraordinary fitness and a robust Scottish brogue.
Well beyond his seventies he would be gamely trotting around the hash like a man half his age; swilling
down post prandial beers with the best. 

But what I liked about him was his unique ability to keep up with the times. I remember him saying to
me “Do ye not think Cameron is spending his election-winning capital a wee bit too fast?” Prescient indeed.
And that ability to stay abreast extended to sport, especially rugby. “Is it no’ grand to see Scotland getting
itself a decent full back in the shape of Hogg. Ah like tae see a full back who knows how tae run
aggressively as well as kick and tackle!” (He got a little broader talking to a fellow Scot). But what really
knocked my socks off was when he went up to Gabriella at a Groenendaal aprés and said “What do you
think about Taylor Swift’s collaboration with Kendrick Lamarr? Catchy enough, I’ll give you, but will it get
to number one, do you think? I’m not sure these hip-hop guys entirely suit her.”

We had both lived on the island of Bute in the Firth of Clyde, he a native me a navy brat. We worked out he
probably walked past me in about 1948 as I watched Uncle Phill’s seaside Punch and Judy show.
He a late teenager: me a pre-schooler. I like to think that his kindness and preternatural curiosity - surely
the engine of his longevity - meant he would have observed me and the other enraptured kids more
benignly than the average adolescent. 

There was a brewery out in Dilbeck where he escorted visitors . He had his 80th  birthday party there I recall.
It was a truly splendid occasion. And he, perhaps typically, made a rousing speech without notes.
He finished with the cry - “And I hope you’ll all come to my 90th”. How we stood up and cheered!

Sadly it is not to be. 

Hugh Dow

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Really sorry!

A lovely man

Richard Wainwright


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So sorry to hear this - Bertie was such a great guy, full of life, wonderful company and always
interested to hear our news. I always enjoyed meeting up with him on the hash over the last
20 years that I have known him. He will be missed by us all.

My condolences to his family and all his friends.

Henry Prankerd

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Really sad to hear this. He was one of a kind and will be sadly missed.

Condolences to all his family and friends.

Clare Lowe


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Deeply saddened by the news of Bertie's passing. He will be remembered by the so many ways in which
he lit up people's lives. His warmth and kindness, his consideration for others, his genuine interest in
how they were and how things were going for them. Above all, his enthusiasm and joie-de-vivre
touched and lifted the spirits of all those around him. 
Bertie will remain forever in our hearts. 

David Morgan

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So sorry to hear this news. 

Bertie was there when I started running, back in the 1980s, and he was a wonderfully cheerful and
enthusiastic man who will be greatly missed. I knew Gavin too as he spent a few years at BSB so my
condolences to him and the rest of the family.

I am unlikely to be able to get to the funeral but would certainly like to know details once things are sorted,
especially if there are any donations that can be made to a particular cause.

Rest in peace Bertie and now you can sleep on.

Julie Thompson

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We are so sorry to hear of Bertie’s passing. Even though we were not well known to everyone on the
today’s BH3, Bertie was one of those that stood out as being really welcoming and friendly on our
infrequent BH3 visits and an inspiration re hashing. Our condolences to his family and many friends.

May he rest in peace. 

Jan Ferguson-Karlsson and Gösta Karlsson

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David and I were so sad to hear that Bertie has died. Bertie was one of the first people we met in 1995
when we retired in Overise to be near our family in Woluwe St Pierre. 

We didn’t know anyone in Belgium, but we saw the Hash advertised in the Bulletin and rolled up at the
African Monument in Tervuren one Saturday.   

Bertie and the rest made us most welcome and we have always remembered Bertie in particular.
Always cheerful,  interesting and fun to be with.  

Our sincere condolences go to all his family and friends.   We have lost a dear friend.  

David and Alma Hosie