Obituary, 2004

Col. John Stephenson

STEPHENSON, Lieutenant-Colonel JOHN ROBIN CBE, died on June 2, 2003, aged 72. He had been afflicted by a rare virus that attacked his spine. Known to staff, club members and public alike as "The Colonel", John Stephenson was secretary of MCC from 1987 to 1993, a position he once described as "tougher than commanding a battalion". Since he commanded a battalion in Northern Ireland at the height at the troubles, he spoke with some authority. After retiring from the army, Stephenson had gone to Lord's in 1979 as assistant secretary (cricket). He was in the Christ's Hospital XI in 1948 with both his predecessor as secretary, Jack Bailey, and a future MCC president in Dennis Silk; he was the only one of them not to play first-class cricket and the first MCC secretary not to do so in more than a century. He stepped into the job when he was already 56, just four years off the club's retirement age, after Bailey resigned in an acrimonious cross- Lord's dispute with the then Test and County Cricket Board about MCC's rights. Immediately after Stephenson took office, the members rebelled and rejected the club's annual report; and then Colin Cowdrey, a high-profile president in MCC's bicentenary year, underwent heart surgery. But "The Colonel" - then still also ex officio secretary of the ICC - took everything in his stride, bringing an air of calm to Lord's with the gifts of a natural conciliator. Though a mild figure of fun to the public, who most often saw him on wet days striding grandly across the Lord's outfield directing operations, he was a charming and unstuffy man, beloved by his staff. His most crusty-colonel remarks about modern cricketers ("I can't think why they want to kiss and hug and behave like association footballers, but they do") were made with a knowing air. But he was not a natural moderniser and, after his retirement, went on record against the admission of women into the club. MCC asked him to stay on for two more years after he reached 60, though he still felt underused in retirement. A congregation of 1,000 paid tribute to him in Salisbury Cathedral.

© John Wisden & Co