Read by Rosemary
Chris was an only child, who grew up in Birmingham with his mother Betty. Tragedy struck early on when his father Colin died when Chris was only 3 years old.
Chris’ intelligence was evident from an early age and he went on to attend King Edwards School achieving a scholarship to Pembroke College, Oxford to study history. Chris often spoke of those years with great fondness.
Chris met Scarlett in the Hare and Hounds in East Sheen, she had asked her brother who he was – this man who always cycled from Hammersmith, with his canvas bag thrown jauntily over his shoulder. They became friends instantly – that was 34 years ago. They faced many challenges – especially the loss of their first child, Miles. Scarlett describes Chris as the person who always wanted the best for her – he was her steadfast rock. Chris loved being part of a family – he endured (in good humour) many unfathomable children’s films. However, his favourite film remained Les Blank’s “Garlic is as good as 10 mothers” and indeed he is wearing a Les Blank T shirt right now. He often wore this shirt on stage when playing bass guitar in various bands, including Scarlett’s brother’s band.
Chris’ flawless attention to detail in intellectual matters was unfortunately not mirrored in his approach to practical endeavours! Technology was a constant battle, Scarlett would often hear him bellowing from the lounge “This bloody thing doesn’t work now!” Only to find him trying to change the TV channels with the phone! He would then curse the makers and wonder in the logic of every remote, telephone and mobile manufactured to be slim and black!
Chris came late to driving and his family have many tales of fear to tell! A few choice examples all involve reversing. He hit the house three times, the garage always bore the brunt of the attack and has numerous dents to show as battle scars. He even knocked down a wall at the local shops and on one infamous occasion drove straight into a petrol pump! The pick-up was completely impractical, but he really loved it!
His excuse for buying that truck was the allotment that he loved. Chris spent countless Sundays there and if he wasn’t down the allotment then he was working tirelessly trying to transform his garden into his own unique vision!
Chris loved the outdoors; many family holidays were spent caravanning in the countryside and Chris always had a map and a plan! However, a short walk would often turn into a route-march and a level walk into a 1 in 5 hill gradient! They would all follow him wondering where they might end up! They once walked for miles to find a waterfall that was clearly labelled on his map only to be very disappointed by a slight trickle of water in a downstream direction! The family photo of this moment still sits proudly on their wall!
Chris was a fantastic and enthusiastic cook – the kids always looked forward to coming home to his cooking. He passed on his culinary knowledge to his children and so they are planning to do him justice this Christmas. The kitchen is also where he talked with Ash and Greg long into the night about politics, philosophy and football while sharing a drink or two. Though the food was exceptional so was the ensuing mess! This was a common thread throughout his life, shown best through the apparent chaos of his study. No one was allowed to tidy it – though Fran valiantly tried on various occasions! Chris would allow her to make an indent up to a point but ultimately would thwart all attempts made at instigating a new system! This last couple of weeks it has been necessary to venture through the threshold of his study to retrieve various items. With every step they have expected to hear “Don’t touch anything – it’s all in perfect order!”
His study became the family lending library. It covers a great deal of topics but in no recognisable order! Everything from Aristotle to Georges Simenon. However, no dewy system was in place to help locate the books! It was an important part of his life and he never stopped adding to his ‘library’. Every book is a memento of a place, a person and a thought.
Chris was well travelled and every holiday was an opportunity to visit more off the beaten track churches – especially those with obscure relics inside! Fran remembers on their trip to Rome together a 5am start for a 7 hour tour of the Roman Forum with historical maps and orations to boot! Chris loved the Poiters-Charentes region of France and enjoyed a holiday with Fran there this year where they visited no less than a dozen religious buildings in less than a week! Chris’ last holiday in May with Scarlett was to Sardinia – lovely food, wine and people – a lovely last holiday to remember.
These are just a few of their fondest memories. They have been overwhelmed by the phenomenal out-pouring of love from everyone who knew Chris – shown through the cards they have received, the flowers that have been delivered and even the fact that Jesus College, Oxford are flying their flag at half-mast today. Though they are left with a lingering feeling that Chris would be horrified by all this attention, it has meant a great deal to his family. It is obvious to see that not only did he mean everything to his family – he also touched the lives of many other people, both those he knew briefly and those he knew well.
Scarlett, Frances, Ashley and Gregory
Read by Rosemary
I would like to share with all of you here today some of my fond memories of time spent with Chris.
On my visits to England Scarlett always made sure every single day was special and one of the many highlights was some time set aside to spend with Chris. What a lucky person I was to have my own personal travel guide on our trips to historical sites with him all the while dispensing all sorts of wisdom and anecdotes along the way – always informative, interesting and often very amusing.
On my trip last year I discovered that we had an additional guide that being Brian Blessed on the Sat.Nav – both Chris and I thought he was very funny – even more so when Chris informed me how Scarlett found him very annoying – and yes – that thought mischievously made us laugh at that too!
Because of Chris I have held manuscripts (in gloved hands!) signed by early kings of England, read some of the earliest known police records and seen beautifully decorated books from his workplace at Gloucester Cathedral dating back hundreds of years earlier than the discovery of Australia. There were many more moments like this and one final example was at Oxford University – Jesus College – Chris knowing my love of books took me to see the Deans’ library – what can I say just one of my many ‘wow’ moments with my guide.
Of course we had many adventures along the way – those who knew him well would have said that he was neither a good or bad driver but there were plenty of ‘oops’ and ‘don’t tell Scarlett’ moments so let me just say he was a bit accident prone. I am aware of spare parts stored in the garage for the truck for just these moments.
My last trip with Chris was to Gloucester Cathedral along the way we dropped off his truck to be serviced and headed off in an unfamiliar loan car. After an excellent time at the Cathedral we went back to the car which was parked immediately outside and as soon we were inside ‘all hell broke loose’ the security alarm went berserk and the noise deafening – it was so loud and so bad – we fleetingly thought of sneaking off hoping it would run out of steam – eventually though Chris located the garage number and was instructed on how to remove the security alarm – peace was restored – It was another ‘don’t tell Scarlett moment’.
Chris was a loving husband, father and son and to me a dear brother-in-law.
I close with this verse for Scarlett, Fran, Ash, Greg and other family members which I hope Chris would approve of which reads:-
Miss me a little – but not too long
And not with your head bowed low
Remember the love we once shared
Miss me but let me go
When you are lonely and sick of heart
Go to the friends we know
And bury your sorrows in doing good deeds
Miss me but let me go
With love from extended family and friends in Australia………. Love Cherry xxx
Cherry Taylor (sister-in-law who lives in Australia)
Read by either Nick or Rosemary
How can we best honour the memory of Christopher (Chris) Jeens, who has been tragically taken from us at such a young age?
We should remember Chris as the giant that he was, not just a tall man but a high achiever (though he would never thank me for saying this), an Oxford Scholar in History, a learned man with a love of learning, a skilled cook, a grower of prize-winning vegetables, a devoted husband and father of three wonderful children, proud of his Midlands roots and an exemplary archivist, dedicated to public service.
We should honour Chris and begin to fill the enormous gap in our lives created by this tragic early loss through practising the values that guided his life: integrity, honesty, professionalism and self-sufficiency, (remembering that he lost his own father when still quite young).
In case this makes Chris sound like an over-serious and sombre person, we shouldn’t forget his quirky sense of humour. Having enjoyed the Les Blank film “Garlic is as good as 10 mothers”, he bought the T–shirt and wore it for many years. Chris also enjoyed the irreverent songs of Mike Absalom, rejoicing in the line from the saga of the hapless John the Bog “like the early martyrs he was usually stoned.”
Chris was no friend of rank and title for its own sake, having risen through merit to a senior position within Warwickshire County Council. We should be grateful to have had the honour to call Chris a friend
Read by Miles
Chris and I have known each other since we were at Pembroke College together in Oxford in the early seventies.
Those three years were among the most intensely lived years of my life, and Chris featured heavily in them.
Unfortunately, I have to come clean and say that much of the time I spent hanging out with Chris did involve getting stoned. On nothing more debilitating or dangerous than marijuana – or dope as it was universally referred to back then – but stoned, nonetheless. So these recollections may not be entirely reliable.
I first met Chris on discovering a small door in the corner of my first year room in Pembroke that I had hitherto assumed was a cupboard. This door opened onto an equivalent corner of Chris’s room, but somewhere near the ceiling. This was a room with a permanent tobacco fug, a strong indication that exotic goings on were likely to occur in it. And a first glance at its occupant only strengthened the likelihood.
Chris was at that time a dead ringer for Freewheelin’ Franklin Freek, of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, a West Coast underground comic which did much to delight us in those days. And this points up an important distinction. Chris was not a Hippie, he was a Freak. Freaks were not particularly about peace and love, they were more about subversion.
To understand freakdom, here is proto-freak Frank Zappa on the topic: ‘”On a personal level Freaking out is a process whereby an individual casts off outmoded and restricted standards of thinking, dress and social etiquette in order to express CREATIVELY his relationship to his environment and the social structure as a whole”
In later years Chris creatively expressed his relationship to his environment and the social structure as a whole by spending a great deal of time on his allotment. I don’t mean to suggest he copped out here – think of the allotment as a refuge from the insanity and stupidity of humanity, as a utopian vision of how we might choose to live. Imagine a world in which everyone spent as much time on their allotment as Chris did. Does that not seem like a utopia to you?
Anyway, back in our college days, getting stoned together still seemed like a radical and new thing to do. Perhaps it always will to an eighteen year old. And where I was most likely to end up stoned was in Chris’ room.
I wish I could tell you some of the fascinating discussions, the devastating insights, that came from those evenings. But all I recall are occasions such as the time one of us had hurried back from Sunshine Records with Pink Floyd’s new album, which was called Dark Side Of The Moon. We called over friends, skinned up, put it on and listened in silence. At the end of side one, still silent, we listened to side two. And at the end, Keith Harrison, who was only in the room because he had come to ask me a question about maths, broke the silence by saying “Exactly 45 minutes long.”
A key point that, as far as I am aware, no subsequent reviewer has ever noticed.
For the record, I’m not sure Chris really warmed to the album. But the point I am struggling to make here is that Chris’ room, and Chris himself, was a focal point for a central part of my university social life. It was in that room that I began to understand that politics was something that I should engage with, even though I remain to this day a total lightweight when I compare myself to the likes of Chris and his good friend Mike Pixton, also sadly gone. Yes, the detail of those nights may be gone, but the consequence remains. Those years were the start of the examining of all of the privilege that I had acquired yet not earned, an examination that continues to this day. Now I come to think of it, Chris may be the very first person who helped me onto that journey. If so, I can’t think of a better guide.
When I left university, I distinctly recall thinking “What is the greatest challenge I can give myself now?” and answering the question with “Starting a family”. Was that copping out? Are Scarlett, Frances, Ashley and Greg a consequence of Chris copping out? I don’t know about Chris, but the family I started has proved to be the greatest challenge of my life and has, I am sure, helped me to become a better person, which is surely the point of challenging ourselves.
Just because Chris was a family man with an allotment, don’t underestimate the extent to which he challenged outmoded and restricted standards of thinking when he made those choices. The personal is political, as we used to say back then. Or, as Duke Ellington said, It Ain’t What You Do, It’s The Way That You Do It. Bother, I have no idea of Chris’s thoughts on Duke Ellington, and now I will never know.
That’s a real bummer. Again, as we used to say.
Thanks, Chris. As Nick says, we will remember you by doing our best to embody your principles.
Working Together at Warwickshire County Council
Read by Rosemary
After a major restructure in 1998, Chris became Head of Heritage and Culture. HCS management team meetings were notorious. They never ran to time – Chris didn’t wear a watch, and often there wasn’t a clock in the room. Debate was heated but good-natured, and didn’t always follow the agenda. It was not unknown for the whole meeting to collapse in tears of laughter. I remember on one occasion the management team meeting was adjourned to allow observation of the Transit of Venus!
Heritage and Cultural services flourished during the period when Chris was at the helm, with many enduring achievements – the modernising and extension of the County Record Office, the establishment of Roman Alcester, a series of digital initiatives including Warwickshire Images, Windows on Warwickshire, putting the Sites and Monuments Record and Archive catalogues online, establishing a cross-heritage education service and introducing records management within the County Council. The list goes on.
Chris was greatly respected by the teams he oversaw as Head of Heritage and Culture. The county archaeological team found that Chris, who had more than dabbled in archaeology in his earlier life, had a natural sympathy for, and an unusual understanding of their area of responsibility. For all staff, it was good to know that the team at the top was made up of people who really cared for the ‘stuff’ – (his term) – archives, artefacts, specimens, – the business of a heritage service.
Heritage is not, of course, the sole purview of Councils – it relies hugely on the support and effort of voluntary groups. Chris founded the Friends of Warwickshire County Record Office during his time as County Archivist, a group which continues to thrive and support the county’s archival heritage. He also made good links with many and various heritage groups across the county, and rightly earned their respect. He served the people of Warwickshire, and their heritage, well.
As a manager Chris was, let’s say, unconventional, perhaps quixotic. He cared deeply about his staff, as well as about the ‘stuff’ entrusted to our care – and so could be relied upon to understand and support any case where heritage of significance was at stake. He deployed his well-honed sense of humour to good effect, easing many tricky situations. His sceptical attitude to some, even many, of the corporate initiatives and processes emanating from the centre was shared by many colleagues. He managed potentially difficult situations with sensitivity and ease. Helen and Chris had been friendly colleagues for some time before restructuring made him her manager, and they remained good friends through that period and ever since. Caroline succeeded Chris as County Archivist and recalls that he never put a foot wrong in gauging when to offer support and guidance and when to let her get on with it. They all continued to meet regularly for entertaining lunches from time to time under the banner ‘Past Caring’.
For many, a typical memory of Chris is that of him leaning back in his chair in his office, hands locked behind his head, surrounded by piles of paper on every available horizontal surface. Many archivists are meticulously well-organised managers of paper but they broke the mould with this one! His hair would normally be dishevelled as a result of frenzied thinking and debate about the latest crisis. He was invariably a great listener, quick to grasp the essence of what you wanted to tell him, summarise it and then begin the process of analysis and decision-making. Oh and by the way, he could always find the very piece of paper you needed amongst the apparently random piles! His thinking was always characterised by sharp intellect, wry humour and tactical acumen. Many former colleagues emphasize how much they learned from watching him in action, and Edwina describes him quite simply as the “most intelligent, kindest and nicest man I have ever met”. Her recollection of Chris as the “man who offered to come and help me re-type up my CV at midnight when we went through the “Warwick re-organisation bloodbath” when my computer broke even though he hadn’t finished his own” says it all.
We have lost a consummate professional, and heritage is the poorer, but above all it is the loss of a dear and valued friend that we mourn today.
Bill Allan, Caroline Sampson, Edwina Cordwell and Helen Maclagan
Archivist at Gloucester Cathedral
Read by one of the Canons
Canon Neil Heaviside and Canon Celia Thomson
Friendship in Warwick
Read by Rosemary
Chris and Scarlett became our friends when we moved into Warwick and we must have had Chris’ company nearly every week over the last 20 years.
In that time Chris and Mark’s interest in history, research, football and putting the world to rights meant a strong friendship grew. We all became part of the local pub’s crib team in Warwick and Chris would stop over for games and put himself out to attend meetings, even though they did nothing for his ‘grumpy old man’ side.
Chris even organised the ‘crib team on tour’ a few times as we ventured into the continent including Paris and the memorable Portugal trip. Memorable for the scenery, food, beaches….yes, but most memorable for the car hire incident. We had just landed and Chris had booked two cars and paid the excess on collection. Our car was parked in a row with a little man sat in a security hut next to our car.
Chris had to back out of the lot. He did so but found himself facing the wrong way. We were stood to one side and watched as Chris drove the car back into the space. Well that was the plan, but you can imagine the look on the face of the man in the hut as Chris drove straight at him and hit the corner of the hut with a bang! In the middle of the car bonnet there was now a big hole! After we had finished rolling about the floor with laughter, Chris, who did not bat an eyelid said ‘at least we are insured’ and off we drove as the little man inspected the damage to his hut!
After Jan won tickets to a garden show, Chris re-ignited his interest in gardening and after a few more trips the decision was made to take on an allotment. I think this brought out Chris’ archaeologist side as we would spend hours picking through clay, removing couch grass and bindweed. There was soon a small collection of pottery, little plastic figures and toy cars!
In the end ‘Cold Comfort Allotment’ as it was known flourished and on the weekends you would always find Chris up to his ears in mud….now and then there would be a cry from the vegetable patch as Chris would need rescuing from between the beds! We started showing at the local veg show, more because Chris thought it was important to support these events or they would disappear, but Chris was astonished when he started winning first place rosettes for his efforts. Even with these accolades it was more about eating the stuff we grew and for him the stranger the better from heritage varieties to Italian monster squash he tried them all, though not always with success. Last year the mice were very impressed with the chickpea experiment!
Chris our dear friend, we will miss you in so many ways and life will not be the same without your Friday phone call.
Jan Hutson and Mark Grimes
Read by Rosemary
We seem to have heard of all the multiple personalities of Chris! What everyone knows is that Chris was a thoroughly decent and wonderful man.
I will miss his wit, his humour and the love and friendship that we shared. The children will miss their special links with their Dad – Fran, their shared love of all things historical – Ash, their mutual support of Tottenham Hotspur – Greg, their shared love of literature.
Most of all – we, and everyone here – will just miss him not being here with us. Chris made all our lives more lovely. However, when we think of Chris we will smile, which must be the best legacy that anyone can leave behind.
Goodbye Chris. Our dear, lovely and irreplaceable friend.
Chris Jeens 21/11/54 – 13/08/15 Obituary
Chris Jeens passed away on 13th August 2015 following a short illness.
Chris grew up as an only child in Birmingham, raised by his mother after his father died. Following his attendance at King Edwards School, Chris earned a scholarship to study history at Pembroke College. Chris enjoyed his time spent in Oxford and remained friends with a lot of the people he met during this time. After he graduated in 1972, Chris worked for a brief time at the Church Missionary Society. He went on to study a Masters in Archive Administration at UCL.
His first job in his chosen field was as borough archivist of Hammersmith and Fulham. He undertook many projects in this capacity including the erection of many ‘blue plaques’. In 1990 Chris took the job of County Archivist for Warwickshire. Following a major reconstruction of Warwickshire County Council in 1998, Chris became head of Heritage and Culture. In this capacity Chris oversaw a number of enduring accomplishments including; the modernising and extension of the County Record office, the establishment of Roman Alcester and a series of digital initiatives encompassing Warwickshire Images, Windows on Warwickshire and establishing a cross-heritage education service. These are just a few examples of the impact Chris achieved in his role. His former colleagues remember him fondly, with his unorthodox approach taken to management meetings still discussed today. One of his greatest achievements in this role was the continued survival of the Friends of Warwickshire County Record Office group, which he founded. This group is able to support the counties archival heritage, an area which was very important to Chris.
Chris took early retirement from Warwickshire County Council in 2008. Chris continued to work as an archivist by undertaking two part-time jobs, working for Gloucester Cathedral and Jesus College Oxford. He began working at Gloucester Cathedral in 2009 and he was able to make an enormous contribution to the life of the cathedral, both professionally and personally. When he first started his primary responsibilities were to transform the neglected library and to tackle the archive of unsorted and un-catalogued archival material. The success he managed, with the support of a team of volunteers, has radically changed the library from the chaos it was into an area open for public visitation. More recently Chris was heavily involved in the Cathedral’s Heritage Lottery Fund – ‘Project Pilgrim’ bid, with his background as an archivist proving to be crucial to ensuring the project was grounded in intellectual integrity. He also worked at Jesus College, Oxford one day a week, looking after their archives.
Following his death, the outpouring of grief from colleagues throughout his working life has shown how his professionalism, intelligence and integrity were highly valued everywhere he worked and the personal nature of these condolences illustrate how above all it is his character which will be missed.
Outside of work Chris would always keep himself busy. He would spend lots of his time gardening, whether he was tending to his garden at home or growing vegetables at his allotment. He was also a very accomplished cook, always willing to experiment in the kitchen. His other interests include travelling across the world, visiting historical sites and being a member of the Cape Road, Warwick crib team for many years. His most passionate interest was his love of literature with his study reflecting his passion. All who knew him for his dry wit and intellect will remember Chris Jeens fondly, but he will also be remembered for his good nature. He would always help others before himself and was very adept at reading situations and offering sage advice.
Chris leaves behind him his wife Scarlett, his daughter Frances and his two sons Ashley and Gregory, all of who miss him greatly.