Remembering our friend Richard Charnley

28 August 2014

Richard Charnley

28th June 1950 – 12th August 2014

The whole team at Hazchem Network Rugby were saddened to hear of the passing of Richard Charnely, Managing Director of Cumbria Logistics, Hazchem Network Depot 069 and TPN Depot 003.

Our Managing Director wishes to pay tribute to our colleague who became a friend of ours; and indicate to those who were not fortunate to have enjoyed his presence, a little about the man who always made us smile.

Richard Charnley was a man who exemplified the terms "larger than life" and "fearless", so we were deeply saddened to hear of his passing. No one prepares you for the challenges of age. One of the hard aspects of reality to cope with, is losing friends, especially those who made you smile, made you laugh and brightened your day. I’ve had a tough year. I lost a dear colleague who became a friend earlier this year - Robert Dods-Brown, who I wrote about here.

The last two weeks have been cognitively traumatic to me as I lost my friend and writing tutor Jeremiah Healy, a renowned American writer [in tragic circumstances]. Jerry [as he was known to his friends] was a military man, who became a Harvard Law Professor and then a successful and award-winning writer of Private-Eye Fiction. We were both members of the Private Eye Writers of America [PWA], where Jerry would make us all laugh, with his offbeat and surreal sense of humour. I was shocked when I learned of his death last week. I wrote a eulogy of sorts, detailing how we first met in Las Vegas in 2003, when he was running a writing workshop at Bouchercon – The World Crime, Mystery and Thriller Convention, and it is archived at Shots Magazine Here

Jerry Healy’s passing occurred mere days after I heard of Richard Charnley’s passing, and again I was in shock, as both men were filled with energy, wit, and could make any situation amusing and lift one’s spirits. This is a trait that one must acknowledge as a key tenet in managing our lives, because the ability to make people laugh at the observations of life [without cruelty] takes a special type of person. Richard Charnley, like Jerry Healy had the ability to make us all laugh, and many times it would be at his own expense, and with goodwill and irreverence.

When I read Albert Camus, in my youth, I started to realise that this French writer / philosopher was onto something when he considered life or reality, to be absurd, and that one available coping mechanism is humour, and the ability to see ‘the absurd’ [and gain amusement] from any situation that posed cognitive angst. Camus also in his 1955 work "The Myth Of Sisyphus" posed the question that a life worth living needed to have "meaning" or a "purpose", otherwise it was pointless and this expanded, and perhaps augmented upon the existentialist ideas of Antinatalism and Nihilism. These lines of thought are dangerous, and can lead to anxiety, as well as depression and other mental afflictions, if we dwell or ruminate upon them too intently.

Richard Charnley was the exact opposite of an Antinatalist or Nihilist. He had a joy for life and also the ability to see humour in any situation. He also had the other crucial trait that Camus alluded to – ‘a sense of purpose’, though I’d use the plural, as Richard was a busy man, combining business acumen, a hard work ethic linked to a sense of duty to his customers, staff and most crucially his family, despite the long hours he worked. He also had passions, and integrity.

Graham Greene once remarked "Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation." Though Richard Charnley was not a writer, he was however a very busy man who filled his time with his work, his family, his passions, and a sense of responsibility, so when coupled to his tremendous sense of humor, he made for a wonderful companion.

Richard had many careers, though he started as a chef, and anyone who has been fortunate enough to have dined with him will realize he could have been awarded stars on his lapel from Egon Ronay if he continued in this vocation. It was while he worked as a chef in London that he met Maureen Sweeney, originally from Ireland but now working in Hotel Management in England. It was not long that they became a couple. Later they moved to Ireland, and then back to Richard’s native Cumbria, where Maureen had a post office shop and Richard ran a gun-shop. I am sure these early roles seeded in both Maureen and Richard, passions for both business, and customer service.

Between them, Maureen and Richard raised two wonderful boys, James and Jason Charnley.

Later Richard would pass his HGV and join his Father at Suttons Tankers, eventually becoming a manager. Throughout his life he always retained a sense of proportion and even when he became a Company Director, he remained grounded and talked to people in a gentle and humorous manner. This is a trait I admire, as a key element of a rounded personality.

Richard and I had much in common, both our wives were from Ireland, our families always at our centres, both experienced and qualified in Dangerous Goods Logistics [tanker, bulk and pallet operations], passionate about keeping customers happy by taking our roles seriously, ensuring staff welfare was maintained [exemplified by training and motivation], always keeping busy with passions outside of our work and crucially a surreal sense of humor.

Following his role with Suttons Tankers, Richard re-invented himself by starting a logistics business [R Charnley and Sons Ltd] which was originally a parcel carrier, which he then diversified into pallet distribution joining The Pallet Network [TPN] and then later Hazchem Network.

Like many of us in Logistics, Richard worked long, long hours. I recall calling him and often being advised that he was out driving. If he had urgent pallets that needed delivering, and if he was short of drivers, he’d roll-up his sleeves and sort the problem personally.

Since I went into business in 2004, setting up Hazchem Network with my colleagues I have come to admire people who take the inherent risks in going into business. These days, when anyone remarks at a dinner party ‘you are lucky working for yourself’, I smile and nod politely, but within the confines of my mind I think ‘you don’t know the half of it’. Unless you’ve driven down that road, and put your personal life on the line, you will never understand the risks you will need to take, nor how one has to manage the internal ‘ups’ and ‘downs ’ that come with business, and how to manage these cognitively without slipping into madness. It also takes the support of your family as you have to sacrifice so much of your time. And with that comes bravery and tenacity; because once a business starts, there is no turning back, unless you wish to fail. Richard’s wife Maureen and his sons James and Jason were always there for him, despite the long hours he worked, with Maureen and James becoming directly involved in the business that has become Cumbria Logistics. Richard’s youngest son Jason has currently successfully completed his first year at University College London [UCL] studying for a business degree, and we hope he may well join the business in due course.

Somehow, during his life and work, Richard became a skilled and qualified mariner, having taken his yacht many times across the Irish Sea. He also became a skilled mechanic, restoring classic cars. I always enjoyed visiting him, and seeing the delight in his face when he showed me his latest toy, though I had to grip my seat and keep my feet firmly braced on the footrest when he’d take me out on drives in his Lotus, amongst his various other cars over the years.

Later he received a pilot’s license and kept a glider, and would spend many an afternoon soaring above the Cumbrian skies, often to the worry of Maureen.

I did mention he was fearless, even asking me to join him one afternoon. I however have my own fears, and freely admit I do not share the same level of bravery evident in the Charnley genes.

Richard and I would chat frequently, as he was proactive and would often call me with the opening "Ali, I’ve been thinking…." And we’d laugh; well I would, as he’d soon relay one of his antics relating to flying or his cars, digressing when the mood took him.

He’d recently been taken seriously ill, but being a fighter, he took his illness in his stride with little drama or pathos - making a full recovery. Though he was advised to take things a little easier, so he reduced his direct input at Cumbria Logistics, relying on his team of Maureen, Nicki, James and the staff at base; even Jason would help out when on summer leave from University.

The last time we met was at the Hazchem Network members meeting, where we had dinner at Brownsover Hall, with Derek Burns, MD of Hazchem Depot 037 Burns Express. It was a very amusing evening, as Richard was full of anecdotes, including his recent escapade with a police officer, where he stood his ground on a very minor [but weird] matter. I left that dinner with a huge grin on face, as Richard’s sense of humour was totally surreal, eccentric if you may. He always had the ability to make you laugh, and I knew he did this purposefully, as he was aware I was presenting to the membership the following morning, so he did his best to "chill me out", as he did everyone and anyone who was fortunate to share his company.

So it is with little surprise that when I arrived at the Parish Church of Saint Michael and All Angels, in Longtown to pay my respects at Richard’s funeral, there were a queue of cars on the lane to the church, that stretched almost to Carlisle. There were many present including, many of Cumbria Logistics customers such as Alistair Forbes of Kilco International, TPN MD Adam Leonard with his wife and PA Lisa Leonard and Derek Burns MD of Burns Express.

After a very moving service we all drove in an entourage to Carlisle Crematorium which is some distance from Longtown. The weather was not good. It rained heavily. On the drive, I was lost in my thoughts, my remembrances of my friend Richard Charnley; someone who now only resided in our memories. As I scanned my music hard drive in my car, I found a song so apt; I felt the tears run down my face, in synchronicity to the rain pelting on my windshield. It was from the Peter Green period of Fleetwood Mac. The song was ‘Albatross’. It reminded me of Richard soaring over the Cumbrian skies in his glider, and then it made me smile. I have captured the moment here -

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The service at the crematorium was sombre, but the priest indicated that we should now celebrate the life of Richard Charnley, and try to remember the good memories we all have, of the man he was. The priest then mentioned that in all the years he’s been presiding over funerals, he’s often asked to play music [while the body is finally laid to rest], but in all that time he’s never been asked to play this particular song. When we heard the opening guitar riff, everyone smiled, only Richard Charnley would have said farewell to his friends and family, with such an upbeat song, one written by John Fogerty, of Creedance Clearwater Revival, but made famous by a British Rock Band.

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Then the curtains slid closed as the coffin was taken away, and he was gone. There was a gasp from Maureen Charnley, and we all looked as James and Jason comforted their mother as the service closed.

We then went to a hotel for tea and a light buffet, where we all mingled and shared our memories in celebrating the life of a man who made us smile, and enriched our lives with his presence.

Our thoughts are with Maureen, James and Jason Charnley and their wider family, as well as the team that are ‘Cumbria Logistics’, the business Richard Charnley left behind to them.

There was a collection afterward for The British Heart Foundation, the charity the Charnley Family chose in lieu of flowers. If you wish to contribute to a very worthwhile charity click here

We would ask you all, if you need Logistics Support along the English / Scottish Borders - you should contact James Charnley and the team at Cumbria Logistics as Richard Charnley has built a band of hard workers, who care about their customers, and they also have the same rounded sense of proportion that their founder instilled in the business.

Cumbria Logistics

Shed 8 Unit 7 Sandysike Industrial Estate

Longtown

Cumbria

United Kingdom

CA6 5SR

Tel : 01228 792111

info@cumbrialogistics.co.uk

Everyone who was fortunate to have known Richard Charnley, were blessed as they interacted with one of the nicest, and funniest guys in the Logistics Business.

His life held meaning, and a purpose like Albert Camus indicated when considering ‘a life well lived’, as he was as far removed from the toils of Sisyphus as anyone could be, as while he worked hard, he also raised a family, worked at his passion of cookery, sailing, flying, car restoration – and most crucially he injected his sense of humour into everyone he interacted with.

It was my birthday today.

I had the privilege to spend it saying farewell to my friend Richard Charnley and spending time with his family, colleagues and friends, and I miss him already.

Ali Karim

21st August 2014