I have just returned home from the beautiful memorial service held on Saturday at Daneshill School, Hampshire, for Simon Spencer, who so suddenly and tragically died on 31 July 2016. It was packed – standing room only – and testament to Simon’s charismatic presence and the role he has played on the educational stage in UK prep schools for the past few decades. Tears, laughter, moving musical performances by former pupils … it was the model of what a memorial service should be.
We sang our hearts out, and no louder than when we sang the school hymn, ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth’. This song, written originally by Jill Jackson and Sy Miller in 1955, has become an uplifting monument to the desire to make a difference in the world, and its history is equally fascinating. Sy Miller himself wrote in his own words about how the hymn came about:
“One summer evening in 1955, a group of 180 teenagers of all races and religions, meeting at a workshop high in the California mountains locked arms, formed a circle and sang a song of peace. They felt that singing the song, with its simple basic sentiment – ‘Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me,’ helped to create a climate for world peace and understanding. When they came down from the mountain, these inspired young people brought the song with them and started sharing it. And, as though on wings, ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth’ began an amazing journey around the globe. It traveled first, of course, with the young campers back to their homes and schools, churches and clubs. Soon the circle started by the teenagers began to grow. Before long the song was being shared in all fifty states – at school graduations and at PTA meetings, at Christmas and Easter gatherings and as part of the celebration of Brotherhood Week. It was a theme for Veterans’ Day, Human Rights Day and United Nations Day. 4H Clubs and the United Auto Workers began singing it. So did the American Legion, the B’nai B’rith, the Kiwanis Clubs and CORE. It was taped, recorded, copied, printed in songbooks, and passed by word of mouth.”
Well, one of its destinations was Daneshill School, Stratfield Turgis, Hampshire, and in many ways it sums up what Simon Spencer would have wanted from the children who came through his school. All our children are our hope for the future, and this hope begins with our belief that the choices that we make, as individuals, are immensely important. Each of us is different, and each of us is uniquely special; each of us also has the opportunity to make the world a better place. Headteachers do this – and Simon Spencer did this in abundance. The message of the school hymn reminds us that we, too, can do the same:
Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now
With every step I take
Let this be my solemn vow;
To take each moment
And live each moment
In peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
RIP, Simon Spencer 22 January 1951 – 31 July 2016. And thank you.