Ben Izard

It is with great sadness that we report that the Squire of Spring Grove Morris, Ben Izard, died on Sunday January 18th.
Ben had been feeling unwell over the last few months and had been recently diagnosed with lymphoma. Last week he had been eagerly awaiting the start of treatment, but the cancer proved to be more widespread than anticipated.

Ben’s involvement with The Morris started back in 2008 when he saw an advert for dancers in his local library.  Ben had always wanted to be a Morris Man, the time was right, and he joined us for the October 2008 practice season.  Looking back over the Log Books shows how Ben became the heart of Spring Grove Morris; his passing has left a hole in our side and in our lives. 

Ben’s first dance out was on St Georges Day 2009, a nervous time for anyone, “It felt really good to be able to call out a double side for dances and to include a couple of virgins on their first dance out, congratulations Ben and Simon.”  The year progressed and by Woodies Beer Festival “…a brave Ben who is becoming more confident with each gig” and by Yateley’s Day of Dance in September he was quite at ease.  “Well done Simon and Ben who seemed to thoroughly enjoy their first day of dance”.

Another practice season and 2010 sees Ben earning his baldrics on St Georges Day at the George and Dragon “It was the Squire's pleasure and privilege to present Baldrics to Ben Izard who has proved competence in the required number of dances.”  Ben embraced the whole of the Morris and supported Thames Valley Morris on their Boxing Day tours, Ben’s favourite dance was a Lichfield dance The Vandals of Hammerwich, here is the report of TVM’s Boxing Day that Ben wrote:  
“On a bright icy morning I joined Thames Valley Morris in dancing around Claygate village. Thames Valley were very welcoming and ensured I danced at least one dance outside each venue. I was delighted that ‘Vandals’ which I both suggested and danced, was given the loudest cheer of the day! It was great to see Andrea perform ‘Bonny Green Garters’ outside The Foley and Christine joined us at The Fox and Hounds and supported us for the rest of the tour, with Claire joining the throng at The Griffin. It was really good fun and I would recommend everyone to come next year if we are invited.”

In 2011 at the George and Dragon Ben dances in “… as the rain lifted Ben danced into the side with a fine display of Headington - Shepherds' Hey to Tony's fiddle.” 
 and Ben learns to call the Lichfield dances, at Seething Wells “Ben called Vandals brilliantly”.  In the summer at Thaxted Ring Meeting, in full kit, Ben danced in front of the great and good of the Morris world performing Young Collins – Bidford with the best teams in the country.  2012 was also the year of the London Olympics.  Ben signed up as a dancer, passed the audition and spent the year receiving accolades.  From Long Ditton Fair “The best applause was reserved for Ben, who arrived in time from his Olympic Open Ceremony rehearsal to lead our closing dance, Vandals.”, and at The Castle, Ottershaw with TVM “The highlight of the evening was without doubt the presentation of a gold medal to Ben in recognition of his sterling work at the opening ceremony of the Olympics.” 

We learnt about how good Toni and Ben cooked at Costa’s Greek Circle Dance party “Ben's salmon and watercress quiche and Lesley's spinach and chick peas were fabulous”, that Ben could express in words what the team felt, at Exeter “Ben offered a fine toast to Steve for organising such a successful weekend” and that it was always wise to be aware of Ben’s stick, at the Central Ward Social Club “Ben made friends with the rosette of Christmas Style strings of lights from the low ceiling”

In 2014 Ben wrote more reports and his enthusiasm and love of the Morris shines through, at Long Ditton Village Fair “It was a one of those magical sessions where the dancing was tight and everything seemed to go right. After being stepped down by the squire, we sat in the garden and made merry for a pint or two more, enjoying the company and the setting. (Ben)” and at Woodies Beer Festival “The whole afternoon was full of copious laughter and good cheer.” (Ben).   At the end of the year Ben was elected Squire of Spring Grove, of which he was extremely proud, just before his symptoms started. Despite this, he was determined to plan the year’s events, and in particular for Spring Grove’s Midsummer Morris, which will go ahead as he planned. 

We all miss him very much, and his spirit will remain with us, especially when we dance Vandals and other Lichfield dances that he loved to call.  Our thoughts are with his wife Toni, their daughters and family at this very sad time.

At Ben's Funeral Colin Messer, who preceded Ben as Squire of Spring Grove Morris spoke of his his with the side.

Kingston Morris and The Spring Grove Morris Men advertise in September for new starters, and in the first week of October 2008 there stood Ben.  A big guy, solid from the tips of his fingers to his toes, standing there with a shy smile that became a big grin.  In that practice his steps were uncertain, but wielding a big stick with aplomb - Ben earned a place in the side.

Ah yes that stick.  Well he didn’t break anyone’s fingers, unlike some in the side, and he was gentle with the ladies, but it was always a brave decision to stand opposite Ben in a stick throwing dance when there just isn’t time to duck.

Ben progressed, gaining in confidence, earning first his baldrics, then dancing in with the solo jig Sheppard’s Hey from Headington.  It wasn’t just by dancing that Ben gained in stature, it was by always being there to help.  When we had difficulty sourcing new sticks, ¬Ben knew what to do.  A conservation group he had worked with were happy for him to harvest coppiced trees.  Between Ben’s harvesting and John Curwood’s finishing we’ve had a plentiful supply of good, straight, long lasting sticks.  And when our Robert was unwell and his garden had become massively overgrown, Ben and Id Kensit cleared truck loads to give Robert back a manageable garden.

Ben shaped the year by introducing us to community events such as Long Ditton fair and those crazy people at Seething Wells.  Watching Ben engage with people, and especially children and teenagers, was a delight as his easy manner and honesty charmed them; and he seemed to be able to find all the good pubs, which is a fine skill for a Morris Man to have.

Three years ago Ben agreed to be Deputy Squire for Spring Grove.  His wise council helped me navigate the year, and it was an obvious choice that the men would want Ben to lead them.  Ben was elected Squire unanimously, but just as he set about planning the year’s activities - so he started sitting out at practice instead of dancing.  We saw less of him, and Ben’s last event with us was the Christmas Ale at the Spring Grove.  Ben continued to meet with Phil Mundy our bagman and completed the plans for this year’s Midsummer Morris just in time; plans we will ensure are enacted as Ben wished.

Ben was transformative for Kingston and Spring Grove Morris, helping to secure our future by putting us back in the community, and making sure that heart is at the centre of what we do.  His legacy will live on.

Colin Messer
05 Feb 2015