Memorial Addresses — H.V. Hodson

The Mercer — by J.P.C. Palmer, MC, (Master, 1969-70)

I am the senior member of one of the long established Mercer families and it is as such that I speak of Harry Hodson, the senior member of another.

Harry was Master of the Mercers Company – just before becoming Provost of Ditchley – from July 1964 to 1965. Most unfortunately he was unwell for part of this year and missed some of his engagements, but made a complete recovery. This is evidenced by his subsequent 34 years during which he applied his enthusiasm and exceptional mental skills to furthering the administration of the Mercers Company’s considerable funds, and applying the income to education and other charitable objects.

Harry was only the second Hodson to become Master – the first being his Uncle Vincent in 1932.

He was the son of Professor Thomas Hodson, also a keen Mercer. Thomas was a deep thinker with radical views which he tried to introduce into the Company – probably ahead of his time – thereby antagonising the Court of Assistants and – as Harry told me – in particular the Clerk. Not surprisingly he was never called to take Office.

Harry by contrast worked with courtesy, quietly, within the establishment gently nudging for change where he thought it necessary. In consequence he and his charming Australian wife Margaret were respected and loved by all Mercers and staff alike.

On arriving in England Margaret found herself in the thick of Mercer activities when she acted as the Master’s Lady, accompanying the bachelor Uncle Vincent on his Apposition visit to St Paul’s Girls’ School.

Harry has raised four sons – seen to their admission – as of right – by Patrimony. There are Grandsons and now a Great Grandchild, so with Anthony already Warden the prospects for further Hodson Masters in the future are good.

Just one of many instances of Harry’s successes – from the time he took office in 1961 he served with Peter Winkworth and Lord Ebbisham his immediate seniors, both men of comparable intellect.

Between them they attempted to rescue the moribund Gresham Lectures by grafting them onto the City University – mercifully only for a trial period of 5 years, as this scheme did not work out. Peter Winkworth and Lord Ebbisham both died but Harry, with new colleagues including David Vermont and the present Bishop of London then Gresham Professors of Divinity found the present most successful solution with an independent Gresham College established in Holborn as the home and base for the Professors. These are now all men of intellect – leaders in their fields. It is also the base from which other innovative activities are organised in addition to the now well attended lectures – sometimes packed.

How delighted Harry would have been to learn of his son Daniel’s appointment only a fortnight ago as Gresham Professor of Commerce.

Harry was a strong influence on the affairs of the Company and thereby contributed greatly to the Company’s present reputation and standing in the City. For instance: when Harry rose to speak at the Court the Clerk invariably took up his pencil ready to note the expected relevant wisdom.

Although his views were not always generally accepted he invariably caused a shadow of doubt in the minds of those thinking otherwise as to whether he might not after all be right.

Last November Harry had a stroke at Mercers Hall after a Court Meeting. Although he recovered to some extent he was never able to come to the Hall again. But he continued to study the many papers and was briefed by his Warden son Anthony.

One particular issue during this period was hotly debated in the Court with strong adherents on both sides. Harry was asked to indicate his position and did so in a brief letter which the Master read out to the Court. In Harry’s masterly and succinct way this clearly indicated what he thought and why – while at the same time helping to reconcile both sides.

This was his last direct communication with the Company and a very typical and fitting end.