(February 1958 – 24th April 2020)
(Obituary written by Misha Glenny, OW 1976.)
Friends and family of Rob Stephens remain in deep shock after learning of his death on April 24th almost a month after he came down with Covid-19.
Rob entered the II Form of MCS in September 1969 as an eleven year-old. He was renowned among his peers for his developed sense of mischief, combined with a profound perceptiveness wrapped up in his hallmark dry wit. Exchanges between Rob and his English teacher, Paddy Hare, were masterclasses in restrained humour which all pupils relished.
After A Levels in the spring of 1977, Rob and I, together with another contemporary, Simon Weeks and Simon’s girlfriend Claire Wratten, embarked on a six-month trip to Kathmandu in a 1954 Land Rover baptised Crusher. En route, we were attacked by bandits in western Turkey and observed the first open stirrings of anti-Shah sentiment in Iran; we were hosted by a hash-smoking aristocrat in Herat, Afghanistan; and we witnessed the military coup in Pakistan which brought General Zia Ul-Haq to power. These were exceptional formative experiences for both me and Rob. Together we became aware of the extent of the challenges facing humanity, in particular around issues of poverty, inequality but also of how perception of cultural differences were easily manipulated in order to avoid addressing the substance of those very issues.
Rob graduated with an English degree from Birmingham University. We enjoyed one memorably disastrous afternoon travelling to see Oxford United play away at Walsall with Iain Tenquist, who has been Rob’s best friend ever since school. As we returned to my Ford Anglia on that bleak, icy November evening following another away defeat, a group of Walsall supporters spotted Iain’s long Oxford scarf trailing from his pocket and gave chase. We managed to pile in the car but not before a bottle of the local Davenports beer came flying through the slanted back window of the Anglia, ensuring a freezing drive back to Bristol where I was at college.
Rob and I lost touch after university but I was not surprised to learn that in 1987 he landed a job at JAA Media which specialises in advertising for charities. Rob was there for 33 years and worked his way up to be a most respected CEO, catering for clients such as Save the Children and Cancer Research. He organised legendary dinners and an unmissable Christmas lunch at which other MCS alumni like Bruce Young would also pitch up.
Throughout this time, Rob was one of several from our cohort who remain devoted supporters of Oxford United. In recent years, we had all found ourselves again – at home and away matches, come rain or shine.
Until Covid-19, characters like Phil Marsh, Rich Hudson, Adam Ganz, Fred London, Julian Dowdeswell, and Chris Harrison would congregate most Saturdays, usually prefaced by a pint at the Catherine Wheel in Sandford, a ten minute-walk from the ground. Rob was the ringmaster and the centre of attention, flanked by his charming son, Jack. Before each game, Rob would write a preview which focused not just on the game but on the various business interests, sordid or benign, that stood behind the opponents. These were brief Swiftian essays which sometimes bordered on genius, revealing exactly why Rob was so successful in his professional life.
Rob was devoted to Jack and his wife, Suzy, to whom we all send our deepest sympathies. He is sorely missed by us all.
Misha Glenny, 5th May 2020