preached at the Requiem Mass & Funeral

Robert Bentley Langsford

1945 - 1991


Bishop R David Farrer

Vicar of St Peter's
Eastern Hill

Robert Bentley Langsford, priest, artist, teacher, linguist - renaissance man, born out of time? A man of great gifts, a man too, of human weakness. Robert's environment was frequently too narrow.

There are those who appreciated Robert & for whom he became a life-long addiction. There are those whose little worlds could not contain him - those he confused. He was loved by the highly intelligent and the simple - he was disliked by the pompous & the arrogant.

As I wrote these words, looking down on me was one of the numberless drawings he did on my lecture notes in College days 25 years ago. This one I had framed & for many years it has been on the wall above my desk - a constant reminder of the pricked bubble of pride & hypocrisy entitled 'The Liberty and Exaltation of our holy mother the Church'

Three pompous prelates of varying degree are pictured, one looking smug, one bored and one rather wicked. The last mentioned has two fingers erect behind the head of the smug prelate. The drawing is initialed with the 'B' of his then popular nick-name, Boo.

Boo Langsford came to faith in school days through his good friend Stephen Williams. Stephen took him home to meet his family. Fr Gordon Williams became a profound influence. Robert was confirmed & realised a vocation to the priesthood. He learnt well from Fr. Gordon & others & was firmly grounded in a radical conservatism. In most ways, very traditional about the faith, Robert managed to mix that with a 60s attitude to authority & a rather ambivalent attitude to the institution of the Church.

Robert was merciless on ecclesiastical pretense & hypocrisy, though that was always tempered with good humour. He had, of course, had his own brand of pomposity.

It is not my intention to preach to you as this would be offensive to Robert's memory. You must, however, allow me one indulgence for Robert was a man of faith. That faith varied between something very greatly felt & something fraught with uncertainty. A faith which gave him great courage & yet did not remove some ultimate fears. A faith that seemed to some to be expressed flippantly. But his ease with caricaturing his own faith & that of his fellow Christians showed that it was deep & essential to him.

My theological offering is from St. Augustine, one who made more obvious contribution to theological debate than Robert, & yet they had a lot in common. Let the hearer understand.

We shall rest, and we shall see,
We shall see, and we shall love
We shall love, and we shall praise
In finem sed non infinem --
In the end that is no end.

Robert was a vulnerable man in many ways. generous to a fault, a virtue that was not infrequently exploited by others. He knew what it was to be humiliated at the hands of others & he experienced the heavy hand of the rich & powerful when he was forced to leave Peninsular Grammar. He was a good teacher because his personality was attractive & he had an innate ability to explain or rather reveal the essence of a subject. More of this from Darrell Hilton who will speak soon. A number of you here who worked with him in teaching have a very high regard for Robert, I know.

One of the intriguing things about Robert was his friends & acquaintances. He numbered a very diverse group of people among his friends. Mutually incompatible people found a compatibility with him. He could generate a fierce loyalty from an extraordinary range of people. All of us here today know the sheer life & interest that Robert generated around him.

He was not a man of dull moments. There was a mutual embarrassment & yet at the same time a profound & deep love & attachment between Robert & his parents Glad & Norm. He had been rather feted & indulged as a child. Robert was also close to his sister Jan. I remember well one day in the mid-60s when I went with Robert to see his sister off on a ship to England. I remember because I was carrying her guitar case for her when the customs stopped me to look for drugs. I had no idea what was in the case. It turned out to be a guitar! One of Robert's close friends in Adelaide, John Fleming, reminded me yesterday that Glad did not approve of Robert becoming a priest - 'Why didn't you get a proper job?'

Robert was a gifted scholar who was, however, not beyond musing his time away with things that intereste him rather than the things at hand. He was never at his best first thing in the morning and as a result he was the most frequent of visitors to the Warden's study in St. Barnabas' College. As a curate, his Vicars did not always find his characteristic morning lateness to be his most endearing feature. Robert enjoyed a good schooling at St. Peter's College in Adelaide, not because he was born to privilege but because he won a scholarship there. Robert always enjoyed language & was not beyond using it as a weapon of offence as well as defence.

In 1976 Robert was a cause of considerable consternation in & around the Church. I asked him to produce a poster for a series of seminars giving both sides of the issue of the ordination of women. He produced a Barbarella-type figure in priestly garb & provocative posture - in his mind sending up male prejudice. The result was a regiment of furious women. For me, a box of hate mail, appearances on four television channels & interviews with the daily papers & a carpeting before the Archbishop - & a huge load of free publicity for my parish including a large part of the front page of 'The Age'

So much can be said & you all know your own stories & experiences of Robert. He received a lot of love & care from many people. He gave a lot of pleasure, fun & enrichment to the lives of many. He was no stained glass window saint, nor would he have ever claimed to be. He knew he had weaknesses, he knew he had not always done the right thing by people. He was penitent but did not find that easy to express.

There are many here & elsewhere he loved. We offer our sympathy most especially to Faye, Aphra and Zinya, Anni, Jan. They each know where they stood with Robert & his love for them.

Robert would want me to pay tribute to the care he received through his long illness at various times by many people, both in the hospital from the chaplains Sr Hilda & Sr Greta, and from his care team & friends at home, from Faye &, to the very last, from Anni. On behalf of Robert I thank you all, pay tribute to your constant friendship & I offer Robert's own words, something he made me promise to say at this occasion, which event I might say was planned by him in careful detail, "Tell them I died of a fatal & unfashionable disease."

Robert laughed in the face of death at times but it was an uneasy laugh because he was naturally very frightened. There is great hope - to that end. I repeat the words from St. Augustine.

photo:iris We shall rest, and we shall see,
We shall see, and we shall love
We shall love, and we shall praise
In finem sed non infinem --
In the end that is no end.

© information
Dated: 3 August 1998
Updated: 23 January 2007

(Robert loved his irises. Some of these symbols of colour & life were planted in the gardens of the church)