Today was the funeral of my friend Stuart Ryland. Stu was a great friend and Christian brother and his passing has devastated me.
Stuart’s younger brother Andrew has been one of my best friends since I was 7, so for many years I saw him mainly as ‘my mate’s big brother’.
Stuart was always nice to us though (not always the case with older brothers!) and we played a lot of cricket in the back garden and Invaders from Space together. He was also the first person who introduced me to what became my favourite band, Depeche Mode.
Stuart was good friends with my brother Stephen (who led the prayers at the funeral today) and in 1985 our families went on a memorable camping holiday together to France. As a group of 4 boys, we played cricket almost non-stop much to the fascination (and irritation) of fellow campers. In the campsite bar one night, a fellow Brit who was heading back to the UK the next day was determined to spend all his Francs before going home so kept buying pints of Stella Artois for Stuart and Stephen. The results were not pretty.
Stu was mad about sport, especially passionate about Crystal Palace FC and Sanderstead Cricket Club. Stu was nicknamed ‘Hip Hop’ for his bouncy bowling action and a great day for the Ryland family was when Stuart and Andrew shared a 100 run partnership together. I loved playing alongside him because of his competitiveness and fun on the pitch… and his fondness for a cheeky Zinger Tower Burger afterwards.
Faith and friendship
Stuart and I became closer when we helped lead the Barnstaple CYFA youth camp in the early 1990s and Stu brought along young people from Emmanuel Church, Croydon. The camp had a big impact on many of us: it helped forge our faith and gave us friendships with other Christians that were deep and lasting.
As a result, Stuart and I, along with Giles, Mikey and Mark (pictured below), started going on half term holidays together. On one Autumn break in Wales, (after yet another game of beach cricket) we decided to go for a impromptu dip in the sea in our underwear. It was cold, blustery and invigorating but what made it memorable was Stu’s big white boxer shorts which went completely see-through. The exposure shocked a few dog walkers but it did not bother Stu one bit. He was never short on ‘body confidence’ in such scenarios.
Once we got married and kids arrived, we turned these into annual days out which we have continued to do every year for almost 20 years.
Each day always involves some form of sporting activity plus plenty of time to walk and talk. We also make a time to pray for each other and our families, before having a curry to end the day. Stu hosted us a number of times in Westcott and we made full use of the beautiful Surrey Hills. Every single one of these days was special and nourishing and have helped us all during life’s ups and downs.
Stuart was a loving husband to Steph and devoted father to Hannah. I will never forget the pride with which he shared the news of his daughter Hannah’s fantastic GCSE results last year.
And he was a great brother to Andrew. As his Best Man he organised his Stag Do with military precision, grouping us into pairs who would approach the night club in 5 minute intervals to ensure we all got in.
And just recently, he had a great day out in London with his Dad, John, to celebrate his 80th birthday. I know this meant a huge amount to both of them.
Youth and community work
A key way Stu expressed his faith in God was through the faith he showed in others. As a teacher and then as a Youth and Community Worker, he touched so many people’s lives in his local community and across Surrey. He set up the youth centre in Westcott and later he worked for the YMCA and Surrey Youth Service where he worked with countless vulnerable young people who faced numerous challenges. Often he would send us WhatsApp messages asking us to pray for a particular young person he was concerned about.
The words which sum Stu up for me are faith and fun. He shaped his life around his belief in Jesus and was generous and committed to others. And also, it is the sheer sense of fun and laughter that I so often had when in his company that I will always cherish.
Honesty and tragedy
Those close to Stu knew he suffered from stress and anxiety. He was open about it and was committed and disciplined in the way he managed its effect on him. Like others, I was in contact with him the week he died. I knew the recent time had been challenging but I had no idea of a serious decline in his well-being.
Steph and the family have been very open and honest about the fact that Stuart took his own life. There is no shame or awkwardness: it is just the tragic reality of how the Covid virus, and the challenges and limitations it caused, exacerbated Stu’s mental fragility. It is another example of the terrible impact of the virus.
As we have seen so clearly since he died, Stuart meant so much to so many people. His life touched so many others through his work, his role in his local community, at church and the huge range of friends he had. We stand united in our utter sadness at what has happened. Most of all, our thoughts and prayers are with Steph and Hannah, and for his parents John and Sheila, and his brother Andrew in this time of grief.
Stuart Ryland 1969-2020: Husband, Dad, Brother, Son, Youth Worker and great friend to many. May he Rest In Peace and Rise In Glory.