Robert "Miff" Smith - in memoriam


Active member

This memorial is presented in three sections. As the Life Members Secretary of Sheffield University Speleological Society I am in frequent contact with our older alumni members, I was recently contacted by Brian Thomas and asked to post a memorial to some of his recently lost friends, I decided this forum was the appropriate place. This memorial to Robert "Miff" Smith features memories from three of his Caving Contemporaries.

1  From Mr Brian Thomas

What a star this dear man is and was!  He sprinkled tinsel on everyone that he met, without effort. After leaving Liverpool docks and environs he swam across the waste pits and polluted streams of Lancashire to the steel detritus and stinking rivers of Sheffield. Not too toxic the latter, as we did a Rag Day in 1964 as new SUSS members crawling along the River Don tributary running through Endcliffe park near Hunters? Bar.
Robert [?MIFF?] was born at an early age and immediately acquired a posh Scouse accent, alongside, at the age of six months, a rich baritone voice. He launched into many a Paul Robeson triplet and could out sing most of his peers.
Miff aimed to become a professional scientist, based on tutorials and his worldly grasp of?. the world. He joined SUSS [Sheffield University Speleological Society] in 1963 and improved many a trip with his understated wit and dashing good looks. He had some good times with our Jackie. He did not join many clubs and societies whilst at Sheffield University; indeed, he kept his own counsel and only became fully transparent after sinking four pints of the best Yorkshire beer [anything from Tetley, Worthington, Guinness and the incoming Carlsberg lager].
Robert?s smile was fetching, his anatomy was second only to Mr. Pepper?s and he intermittently grew facial hair in several guises.  He liked to watch horse-racing and Formula 1.  He loved his new grandchildren, starting with Jacob.
His intellect was formidable but he felt no need to display it wantonly. He could switch from Greek to Latin, from Crosswords to the capital cities of the world.  He could explain the storyline to ?Corrie? and was an avid ?Archer?.  He told his family each day ?there is no one in the Badezimmer!?  He could also say ?hello? in Chinese.
Always at the centre of SUSS trips, he was laid back underground and over.  Prolonged imbibing led to his proto-pregnancy, which became more marked over the decades and was heightened by a large hernia ? to which he was obviously physically attached but emotionally interested in it also.    It caused him a little pain.
After many years in Unilever?s detergent industry, Robert moved into Pottery ? in its heartland of Stoke-on-Trent.  He had to leave Wedgwood Benn; so started up on his own in 2001 as a ceramic specialist building special bar codes into commercial packaging.  He ceased his caving career on the grounds of age and apathy. Recently he went on regular local walks with younger daughter Lucy, by Werrington Rocks.  Then from 2011 he went on 6-weekly walks with Dave Wear and Brian Thomas. These have been recorded as a permanent record of Robert?s outdoor activity.
Robert had a great affinity to the natural countryside; his walking pace allowed him to stroke flowers and plants by the wayside, not to mention wild and domestic animals that were enraptured by his released pheromones.  His knowledge of flora and fauna was only equalled by the Primes; that of the English language only by Dave Wear [who had an extra facility with Latin]. He loved cruises with dear wife Joyce, a pursuit shared by Dave and Christine Wear.
Miff took great pride in his family ? be they Joyce [who undertook a big change of direction in 2011 by qualifying as a priest] or his three progeny ? Robbie became a defence solicitor; Ruth a qualified ophthalmologist and Lucy ? a Maths prodigy who wants to be an actuary. Robbie?s wife Lisa was a great family support during the last stage of Robert?s rewarding life when he contracted prostate cancer.  Robert was a diabetic like me and two other SUSSites.  It took 18 months for the disease to take Robert away.  He died peacefully on March 24 2016 aged 71.  I simply had to touch his coffin at the Crem on April 8; and kiss his head when Dave Wear and I last visited him at home on 3rd February 2016.  His ashes were sprinkled upon Wetley Moor, the site of many of his filial walks.

We have many memories of his bewitching laugh and thoroughly gentlemanly outlook on life.  We saw no weaknesses in him; whatever Joyce saw, was a very small list.
Ruth is producing, from her new house, a child?. for grandad Bob.
Ends from Brian

2  From Dr Dave Prime "Min" remembered some stories about Miff and came up with the following:
The only piece of music that he seemed to delight in was ?Leader of the Pack?, by the Shangri-Las. He found it very funny

Mm--""Is she really going out with him?""
""Well, there she is, Let's ask her"" 
""Betty, is that Jimmy's ring you're wearing?"" 
""Gee, it must be.""

He told me that he had some slight alcohol problems in his first year [1963-64] and recounted two incidents:

[list type=decimal]
[*]He came round from unconsciousness to find that he had gone blind; luckily it was merely his open wardrobe that had fallen on top of him [and see Dave Wear below].

[*] He was sick, lumpily, into a sink and was interrupted by his landlady whilst trying to poke the lumps down the sink with a pencil.
Shortly afterwards he was told to leave his lodgings for being ?sullen?.

He was omnipresent during Min?s first contacts with SUSS. Miff met Min plus chums at the Porter?s Lodge to guide them down to the Foresters? Arms (looking like Mick Jagger); he took them to the Army and Navy Stores to buy woollen long johns and cotton boiler suits; and he met them at Pond Street Bus Station to guide them all onto the 72 bus for their Freshers? trip.

Memorable Caving trips with Min:

Miff bottomed Penyghent with Al Watt, Bob Dearman and myself. We did a high speed deladdering with Miff working with Dearman, and myself with Al. This was the occasion when Dearman shared a self-heating can of soup, and mine and Al?s rum fudge mysteriously dissolved in the water when in the presence of Al.

Miff and I bottomed Meregill, everyone else had fallen by the wayside.

Miff smeared himself with mud, tied onto a rope and dived through the slit in Slit pot at the end of Simpson?s. All very impressive for the bystanders.

Miff suggested the Nettle Camping Trip but regrettably found himself unable to come along.

There was a camping incident in Kettlewell. Miff was supposed to be leading through Dowber Gill - Providence Pot, but was unable to extract himself from the arms of Jackie. We had to pull the tent down in the end and it was too late to do the Dowber trip. The incident resulted in one of the famous Wood Guthrie compositions sung to the tune of ?Plaisir d?amour? and containing the memorable lines:

?The joys of tents are but a weekend long,
The pain of ribs endureth the whole week through.?

Miff was thrown out of the Cheshire Cheese pub in Castleton because he was recognised. He said it was mistaken identity.
[Joan thinks Jackie Wood has all the Woody Guthrie compositions].

3  Some recollections from Mr Dave Wear, an Old School Wirralian

In the late 60's Miff had a brush with the law on a caving trip to Yorkshire when he insisted on driving his van as close as possible to the cave.  He was subsequently fined for parking on a bridleway.

He was occasionally the worse for wear with beer.  On one occasion, he got out of his bed in the middle of the night but, instead of opening the bathroom door, he entered his wardrobe, with predictable results.

While doing his PhD at Bristol, he shared a lab with an American called Tom.  This person told me that Robert was the most exciting person he had worked with (this was after several explosions).

One Christmas in Bristol Miff and his 2 flatmates had a Christmas dinner to which Tom and I were invited.  Tom was completely amazed when Robert poured brandy on the pudding and set fire to it.  Apparently not an American habit.

One of his prize possessions was a school photograph which also featured Paul McCartney.

It took a lot to annoy Robert.  When he was working in the Potteries, he decided to go on a management course at the local college.  He was interviewed by a pompous twit who seemed to think that Robert was not suitable ? Miff had gone to the college that evening straight from work and was in scruffy clothes.  This person looked at him and said "You need a degree to be on this course" to which our hero replied "I've got three, which one do you want". 

Another pleasant memory of him was when he met my mother for the first time and they discovered that they had both lived in the same street in Liverpool, though my mother had moved away shortly before Miff's parents moved there (this was before he was born).

ENDS from Dave Wear