This week saw Croydon Minster stage the funeral of Maurice Reeves, an artist, sportsman and businessman who always had his home town at heart and who, late in life, became a Croydon hero when he showed the kind of leadership during a crisis which was so sadly lacking from others.
Reeves had long ago retired when, in August 2011 at the age of 80, he returned home from a night out with Ann, his wife, after celebrating their wedding anniversary. When he switched on his television he was horrified to see live news footage of his House of Reeves furniture store ablaze.
It was, Reeves said soon after, “wanton destruction” of one of the best-known and longest established businesses in Croydon’s old town.
It was the night of the Croydon riots, and it forced Reeves would come out of retirement to help salvage the family business, and in doing so also demonstrate the kind of calm leadership which Croydon was crying out for at the time.
Maurice Reeves died on May 8. He was 88, and had lived a life in the fast lane, often literally.
Born in December 1930, Reeves was part of a family who had been running a furniture and auctioneer business in Croydon since 1866.
It was while attending Wallington County Grammar School for Boys that he developed his love of sport and art.
He trained as a sculptor at Wimbledon College of Art. He was talented enough that Surrey County Council commissioned him to provide sculptures for schools in the area – one in Gander Green lane and one in Raynes Park. The artwork was featured on the order of service at his Minster funeral.
In the late 1940s, when doing his National Service, Reeves was due to be posted to Egypt, but at the last minute he was kept back because of a more important national requirement: he was drafted into the Army cricket team.
After his time in the Army, Reeves joined the family firm run by his father William, where he trained as an auctioneer valuer.
He continued to play a lot of cricket, joining Beddington CC (he thought “Beddington was the best team in club cricket”, the Minster was told this week), where he developed his craft as a spin bowler so well that he was picked for Surrey’s Second XI and was even given a run-out in the first team for a limited overs Sunday match, a precursor of what would become the Sunday League.
The game was staged at Beddington Park in May 1965, and Reeves found himself in a Surrey team captained by Mickey Stewart and including England Test players John Edrich and Ken Barrington against a set of cricketing all-stars such as Trevor Bailey, Alan Knott, Intikhab Alam, Keith Boyce and Mushtaq Mohammad.
Reeves didn’t get to bat, but he took the catch to dismiss opposition opener Barry Knight. When he bowled, he finished with figures of 0-29, as the International Cavaliers won by eight wickets, knocking off their modest 165-run target in less than 33 overs.
The Reeves family business was clearly doing well-enough in the boom years of the 1960s that Maurice had the means to indulge his interest in motorsport, including rallying and later rallycross. Reeves did, however, manage to get the business to get a Mini Cooper as a company car, which he used at weekends on race tracks around the country.
Into his 40s, Reeves started managing a rallycross team that won the national championship in 1977, and continued to collect trophies from events across Europe into the late 1980s.
In 1995, when he retired from his day job, he was even featured on BBC’s Top Gear as the country’s “fastest man with a bus pass”.
Maurice Reeves ran the House of Reeves from 1982 to 1995, when he handed over to his sons, Trevor and Graham, only coming back to in 2011 as chairman to assist the business in the emergency caused by the Croydon riots.
At the funeral service on Wednesday, a eulogy – “Artist, sculptor, racing driver” – written by his daughter, Sarah, was read by Canon Andrew Bishop. “Once met, never forgotten,” it said.
He was “fiercely competitive… failing was never an option for Maurice”.
Son Trevor said of his father: “I thought he was invincible.”
It was hard not to admire the octogenarian who we saw on television, looking somewhat stunned, as he was shown surveying the damage to his family business in the aftermath of those riots which spread across London that late summer weekend nearly eight years ago.
But as he showed in a BBC documentary made a few months later, Reeves took it upon himself to better understand the circumstances which sparked the fire which nearly wrecked his business forever, and he used his brief fame to meet the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, and take him to task in a private meeting.
After making the TV programme, Reeves recalled, “I never thought in a million years my shop, which had stood for 145 years, would be brought to the ground. I felt helpless, sad and physically sick. Afterwards I was interviewed by TV crews from around the world and said on the news that even Shakespeare could not put into words just how awful I felt.
“It was devastating to watch the bulldozers in the rubble of what remained of our shop – a cruel blow struck into my heart.
“In the aftermath of the riots I became determined to put what had happened behind me and develop what was left of my business. I started immediately with our adjacent shop. I had a clear vision of what I wanted. But also, with the help of a BBC TV crew, I strove to answer the question on everybody’s lips – Why?”
- Maurice Reeves (Dec 1930-May 2019), sculptor, cricketer, rally driver, businessman, leaves a wife Anne, two sons and step-daughter, four grandchildren and four great grandchildren
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