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.
See Stuart’s obituary page to leave a comment and donate to the chosen charities
20 thoughts on “My friend Stuart Ryland, 1969-2020”
Well done Jon, a lovely eulogy to a lovely man. So sad to hear od his passing even though i didnt know him.
Thanks for reading and for your kind comment Adam. God bless and nice to see you recently, Jon
How wonderful that his family – and you in your blog – have been so open about the fact that this Christian man took his own life. The Christian community needs that degree of honesty. Thank you.
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Hi Mark, the family’s honesty and openness about this has helped people grieve and I think it enables some good to come from such tragedy. Thanks for reading and commenting Mark, God bless, Jon
Thankyou for sharing yeah faith fun and friendship I had with him when we worked together and when we prayed and shared together it was good I will miss him .God bless his family and friends
Thanks Zareena – glad those two words resonated. Take care and God bless you.
Stu was such a good ,kind and loving person, and the nature of his youth work seemed so. well suited to his talents. The Rylands have been wonderful neighbours to us over many years , and Stuart’s passing has been a great shock. May he rest in peace.
Hi Geoff, thanks for your comment. I know what great neighbours you have been to John and Sheila over so many decades and how much John appreciates your care and support. God bless, Jon
Hi Jon, Thanks for your lovely tribute. I was able to attend the service on Saturday via Zoom, and amazed by the strength of Steph and all who involved. Whilst I only shared one year at school with Stuart we shared some fun. I did also see him at the reunion last year along with your brother. A good chap indeed and such a sad loss. I hope all can take some comfort that he is now out of pain and with his Lord. Thanks again Andy Briggs,
Thanks Andy. yes, Steph and Andrew showed incredible strength and eloquence. I felt the whole service captured, remembered and celebrated Stu so well. Take care and thanks for commenting. God bless, Jon
I am so sorry for you loss .
He was a lovely boy..as I had been his Art teacher at Tennisons School.I remember him so full of energy and football mad.
It is a tragedy to lose him..and I am so sorry that he suffered intensely with his anxiety.
There are no words of comfort I can find..I am so saddened by what happened.
I hope all.his family and friends will be able to face the future without him.
Much love to all of you who knew his kind heart.
Thanks Valerie for your kind message. I remember your art lessons well. Take care, Jon
What a beautiful tribute.
I was a good friend of Stuart’s at St.Andrew’s where we played football, cricket and even rugby together. I introduced Stu to Sanderstead cc where we played colts cricket. Sadly we lost touch but I remember Stuart as a terrific bloke and fellow ginger. I’m so sorry to hear the tragic news of his passing and would just like to add my condolences. RIP mate.
Hi Tom, not sure if we have met but I remember Stu talking about you – I think in one of the many conversations we had about forming a ‘ginger XI’ to play in a cricket week match (I am ginger too!) Thanks for your comment and take care, Jon
Thank you, Jon. A lovely tribute to a lovely Christian man. I first knew Stuart aged 5, when he started Sunday School and I was his teacher. I am surprised at how many memories of Stuart have come back to me, the latest, when he paid me a huge compliment when he visited Emmanuel after he was married.
Such sadness and yet joy. A life too short and yet obviously an influence for good to so many people.