I hope that it did not seem inappropriate, but as Sir Bernard Ashley began his last journey on this earth, from the front of the Church in the Montgomeryshire village of Carno to his grave, alongside that of his first wife Laura, I discovered that I was smiling. And I was not the only one. As the bearers carried his coffin down the aisle, a recording of Frank Sinatra's voice, singing 'My Way' filled the Church. The song could have been composed especially for Sir Bernard Ashley.
It was a lovely service, mixing inevitable sadness, with humour and celebration of a truly inspirational life. It began with his favorite Bible reading, delivered by his daughter, Jane. Next was Dave Duggan singing 'This Land', a song composed by his daughter-in-law Ari Ashley. The line that implanted itself in my memory was 'This land is the place I belong'. We were in the heart of Montgomeryshire, surrounded by her largely unspoilt uplands. Then it was moving tributes from grandchildren and nieces. There were quivering lips and misty eyes all around the Church - and I daresay, amongst the hundreds outside. And then Vicomte Phillippe de Spoelberch, who introduced himself to us as a BB (the second B standing for Belgian. One of Sir Bernard's genuinely affectionate descriptions). His tribute was both funny and touching. Absolutely bang on appropriate for today.
The sermon and committal part of service was conducted by the Vicar of Rhayadr, a man who used to be a Tesco manager before he was ordained. Seemed to me so very apt that a former businessman should conduct the funeral service of one of the greatest entrepreneurs ever to live in Mid Wales. First time I've attended a service where there was a choice of singing hymns in English or Welsh. Decided to sing in Welsh, because there were so many people belting out 'Guide me, O thou great redeemer' that no-one could possibly hear me.
Today's funeral told us a lot about Sir Bernard Ashley. He was clearly a great family man. His grandchildren showed their great love for him. He was a religious man. His brother, Geoffrey let us know that Sir Bernard read the Bible every day, before he ended the service by reciting a lovely poem, 'Memories of the Heart'. He was an unusual man (I used the word idiosyncratic when interviewed last week). The tribute, and the recording of 'My Way' informed those of us who did not know it already that this was the case. He was a loyal man. The Church was filled with people who had worked for him many years ago. They came from far afield just to say goodbye. And we know that he, in that amazing partnership with Laura was a great businessman. He was a man who made a huge mark on Montgomeryshire, the land to which I belong. I was privileged to be in Carno Church today.