Keith Martin Pilcher


1937 - 2011

Eulogy to Keith, Witley Church, Surrey, 5th January 2012

Tibby has asked me to thank you for coming today, some of you great distances, to support her and in memory of Keith.

Tibby and Keith had been friends from childhood going back to a family friendship in Godalming. The photograph on the reverse of the Service Sheet is a treasured possession and has pride of place in their sitting room.

Tibby has described Keith as her soulmate and I know that many others have realised this over many years. Tibby’s loss is great and our sympathies for her must be uppermost in our minds today. They married in 1973, 24th October, to be precise, when Keith became a supportive step father to her children Lala and Matthew. This may have been a bumpy ride to begin with, but they both grew to respect Keith and be extremely fond of him.

Keith was born on 20th December 1937 and so he was just 74 at his untimely death on 21st December.

I had known Keith for some 50 years. He was, in some ways, a shy and private man and, in preparing for today, I was fascinated to learn even more about his wide variety of interests and passions. As all of us who knew him we know that, whatever he did, he did with single minded focus and, especially in his sport of target rifle shooting a singular determination. He was independent minded and could be impatient and, some would say, difficult. He did not suffer fools gladly, but he also had a softer and compassionate side.

I hope that, in my remarks, I enable reflections for each of us in the way, or ways, in which we knew Keith and how he impacted on our lives.

Both his father, aunt and grandfather were dentists and Keith became so and the family had lived in Godalming since the 19th century. Keith’s grandfather was Mayor on several occasions; his father was also well known in the town engaging in local affairs.

Keith’s mother had a great influence on Keith as she introduced him to his life long interest in nature, especially ornithology and botany. His knowledge of birds was considerable and he would travel in pursuit of his interest right up to a few weeks before his death. One of his regular places was close by my home where water birds are prevalent. On a number of occasions he collected me and took me with him which increased my own interest in the variety of birds on my small farm – he was very tolerant of me as I had much to learn about the considerable patience of the true bird watcher.

Another pursuit was his love of foxhunting. Eschewing the more dangerous art of horse riding he followed the Chiddingfold and Leconfield Hunt on foot, bicycle and car and later followed Robin Fulton’s hunt. For those who did not know him Robin was also a famous target rifle shot, a good friend of Keith and who had hunted hounds since the War with his own Fulton Harriers and gradually joining up with other hunts in the north-west Surrey area.

As with many sons of doctors, dentists and vets, Keith was schooled at Epsom College. He did his filial duty in passing with scholarship his exams to Guys’ Dental School.

At school he was of a somewhat lighter build than we grew used to in due course. I understand that sport was not a major consideration. However, he played rugby, a key sport at Epsom and, indeed, played for a few years afterwards until he realised the value of his hands to his chosen career and so left that behind him and took up golf. His father played golf off scratch and for many years Keith played off a good club level of about 12, but target shooting became his main interest.

In later life Keith took up enamelling as a hobby. Like all else he did, he engaged in this with enthusiasm and I am the proud owner of one of his pieces. I understand he won prizes with this hobby and, of course, it was close to Tibby’s own keen interest in art and glass engraving.

Many of Keith’s friends may have known him as fond of his beer, but he both appreciated and was knowledgeable of good wine. More than one hostess (presumably only those who knew him well) was slightly taken aback when a gift of wine and or port was delivered before the dinner date with strict instructions on how, when and where to decant it! Keith also loved proper food particularly proper puddings especially with custard.

I gather that he might have been a little garrulous at school as it was the Cadet Force RSM, Harvey Raker, who became a key mentor. Keith enjoyed the Cadet Force and rose to the rank of sergeant, but I believe that the availability of target shooting was the main attraction.

I think we all realise that Keith’s main interests in life were his dentistry and his target shooting and he made his mark in both. I am sure that a number of us, here, were his patients and felt we could not be in better hands. However, speaking personally, my enduring memory was that he would use the occasions of having my mouth open and full of gadgets so that any attempted reply was inaudible that he would regale as to how the world should be run and, in my case, how shooting should be organised.

However, his patients had great faith in him and he was especially good with children. He remained with the NHS and was frustrated as this became more difficult, but ensuring that no one felt they had to become his private patients.

Typically, he would want to see young children every 3 months as their teeth formed and grew. I have a fairly determined younger daughter and I recall how, when she was told that she could move to half-yearly consultations there was an ominous silence – “but I want to come” she said and an argument ensued which was only settled by agreeing to every 4 months.

He had little patience with the way the sport of shooting was run and his idea of a perfect Committee was that of one. He was very proud of his club, the slightly misleadingly named (for historic reasons) North London Rifle Club as it is the premier private club at Bisley. At Committee Keith had the ability to get to the nub of any problem and his remarks were always listened to. He was proud to become and the club was proud to have him as its President since 2009.

Keith was one of the most outstanding marksmen of his generation. Although he had already made his mark before 1963, the making of him was being a successful member of the last true Great Britain Touring Team to Africa from Kenya to South Africa in 1963, before it became pull-apart with nationalist politics such that tours, since, have been, basically, to one country at a time.

He also made lasting friendships among the leading shots of the time, especially of some a generation above him. He was one of the pink gin club who enjoyed each other’s company and toured together – the qualification being to have a ready supply of pink gin in the boot of their cars at Bisley.

Altogether he also toured with British Teams to Canada, the USA, the West Indies, New Zealand, Australia and, with six of us from the British Commonwealth Rifle Club, to Papua/New Guinea, Singapore and Hong Kong - a memorable trip for all of us as I recall that the team was run, very successfully, as a democracy with six captains.

To recall all Keith’s successes and anecdotal stories would take a long time, but his highlight was his consistent success in HM The Queen’s Prize over 25 years which he won in 1963 using the adapted military rifle of the time and in 1973 using the bespoke target rifle type we use today – the only person to have won with both rifle types. He qualified for the Queen’s hundred year after year

between 1958 and 1985 (18 times in all) with the, possibly, unique record of missing out on achieving 10 in a row in 1971 by not waking up in time for the second stage!

He also won the Bisley Grand Aggregate in 1970 and was in the top 50 17 times. Later becoming a champion and prize winning long range Match Rifle Shot and coach for many years. His last major appointment was as captain of the successful English Rifle Team in the Millennium Match held at Bisley.

As a dentist, he also played a major national part on the Dental Council for many years. I cannot comment directly, but he often regaled his attitude to the decision making process of that body while I was a captive audience in his dental chair.

A first class dentist, a first class target shooter, a good friend and with many other attributes – that was Keith and how we shall remember him.

John Jackman