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Church Members - Chris Clementi

Where did you grow up? What are your early memories?

I grew up in Buckinghamshire. My dad was in the RAF and he and my mum travelled around a lot, so for much of my school years I lived with my grandmother.

I have a younger brother and sister and we spent summer holidays in places like Germany or Cyprus – wherever my father was based at the time. I went to boarding school from the age of 7.

I didn’t particularly enjoy my time at my later public school but I had a great time at my prep school because it was small, homely and fun and I was allowed to keep my pony, Beauty, at a nearby riding school. The headmaster took me twice a week to ride; it was probably a nuisance for him, but great fun for me. I had Beauty between the ages of about 5 and 9 but had to give him up when I became too big to ride him.

What line of work did you go into?

Straight from school I went into banking and had completed all my banking exams by about the age of 21. I started in branch banking but didn’t really enjoy it, so I soon moved into a different sector and made myself a tax specialist. I did various jobs in this line and ended up in investment management where I was able to use my knowledge of tax to design products to suit individuals. I specialised in supporting expats who were living abroad and non-domiciled people living here, including people in the military, and think my early background helped me to understand their needs.

Through work I moved to the Croydon area in my late 20s. The firm I was working for at the time de-centralised from London to Croydon. A subsequent employer had offices in Switzerland and I used to commute frequently – 70 or more times – sometimes attending meetings in offices in the airport, so I’d often fly to Zurich and back, for work, without ever leaving the airport!

Your name is quite unusual – what’s its origin?

It’s an interesting story actually. My Great-Great-Great Grandfather was Muzio Clementi who was born in Italy in 1752 and became a talented musician under the tutelage of the Director of Music in the Basilica in Rome. When Muzio was about 15 a rich Englishman, Sir Peter Beckford admired his playing and offered to ‘sponsor’ him (some might say he ‘bought’ him), to provide entertainment at the Beckford family home in Dorset. At the age of 21 Muzio was released from his obligations and went on to become a famous musician, composer, piano builder, teacher, impresario and publisher (he was Beethoven’s UK publisher) among other things. Unlike his much more famous contemporary, Mozart, Muzio Clementi knew he had to be a businessman to survive as a musician. He toured Europe selling his pianos and the music to play on them often taking pupils to teach the buyers and once played in a competition with Mozart arranged by the Emperor Joseph II in Vienna.

Muzio Clementi died aged 80 and is buried in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey. His only surviving children were daughters, the eldest of whom married a clergyman named Smith and they had 10 children. The family kept the name Clementi, so they became Clementi-Smith, but at some stage some branches of the family dropped the Smith, and I am a descendent of these. If you learnt to play the piano as a child you will almost certainly have played his compositions, perhaps without knowing it!  

I continue his legacy today by sponsoring young pianists making the transition from PHD student to professional musician by providing an opportunity to study the pianos the composers would have used to give them an appreciation of the limitations over modern pianos. We have an 1809 Clementi at home.

When/why did you join St Mary’s and how did you meet Frances?

I went to a school which was very church orientated – chapel every day and twice on Sundays, and this put me off going to church after I left school until I came to St. Mary’s. My first wife Judy, who I married in 1976, was a Catholic and a teacher at Woldingham School. When she fell ill and passed away in 1992, the plan was for her to be buried in the small cemetery in the grounds of the school. At the time the future of the school was uncertain and therefore permission was refused.

With support from Bakers, it was decided that she would be buried in the council managed cemetery behind St Mary’s, and Colin Boswell, the Rector at the time ‘lent’ the church for the service, which was taken by the C of E chaplain of Whitgift (where our son was a pupil) and one of the nuns from Woldingham who was a close friend.  

I was so struck by this gesture that I decided to attend St Mary’s on the Sunday after the funeral and have been coming ever since. People at St Mary’s were incredibly kind and supportive and helped me move into the new phase of my life after I lost Judy.

When the church bells project started lots of people got involved, including me. It was through this that I met Frances, who had also been widowed, and who with her two teenage daughters were long standing members of St Mary’s. The Nos.1 and 2 bells are dedicated to our first spouses. We’ve been very happily married for nearly 25 years and our main focus is on our lovely grandchildren, 5 yr-old twins and a 2 yr-old.

What roles do you currently have, or have had, in St Mary’s?

I was a Church Warden for 6 or 7 years with Gay Russell and Debbie Samuels. I’m now a Deputy Church Warden with Gay and we work closely with the current wardens Martha Ellison and Hilary Clarke and support them where we can to ensure that the church runs smoothly. They’re doing an amazing job and working very hard for us all whilst there is a vacancy for the incumbent. When Father Duncan left I took over as chair of the PCC until the new incumbent starts.

I’m also Church Recorder, which involves looking after the promised giving envelope scheme. I think this is a great scheme and is useful in bringing newcomers into the life of the church and for reminding people that, like any charity, we have to budget and rely entirely on people’s generosity and that through promised giving we can support the church financially on a weekly basis whether we attend that week or not. These days more and more people choose to pay by standing order, which the Treasurer loves!

In the past I’ve been church treasurer, and remain a Deanery Synod representative and through this I did nearly ten years on the Diocesan Board of Finance. I am also closely involved with care of St. Lawrence’s so that its beauty can be admired and loved by future generations as well as ours and be a much appreciated community resource, being the oldest building in Caterham and one of the oldest churches in Surrey.

Do you have any other hobbies or interests outside church?

Well, going back to my pony Beauty, I’ve always taken a keen interest in horses. I had to give up a significant involvement in horses when I was first married – it’s an expensive business! - but I’ve always maintained an interest. For several years I was involved with a horse called Oslo who competed at Badminton and was short-listed for the London Olympics, but unfortunately he had to be withdrawn at the last minute through injury. He’s now retired and helping a young girl learn the sport.

I’m currently involved with a couple of other horses and really enjoy watching them compete in eventing, which is a discipline that combines dressage, cross-country and show jumping and takes place from March to October.  I am also involved with race horse ownership in a very small way, but have no interest in betting, preferring to watch the horses develop.

I am also heavily involved with voluntary work. I chair both the Croydon Almshouses and Relief in Need charities and the Endowment of a sixth form college in Horsham, having been a governor there for 16 years. For 23 years and counting Frances and I have helped run the Wednesday Lunch Club for the frail elderly which meets every Wednesday in the Community Centre and I see this very much as our contribution to the mission of St. Mary’s in the parish.

Through friendship with Charles Bradshaw, then vicar of Woldingham, I have become very involved in supporting the Anglican Church in Uruguay and have made quite a few visits to South America. Important initiatives I have been heavily involved with are building a hall in the Anglican Church in Salto in the north of the country, largely to give poor children somewhere to do their homework, their homes (hovellas) being too small, crowded and lacking basic amenities. I also restored a Victorian church in the town of Fray Bentos, yes that’s where corn beef used to come from, which was in a poor state of repair when I first visited and was worth restoring in view of its history with the UK and the development and opening up of South America.

Finally, is there anything else you’d like to add, perhaps about the church, or your philosophy around St Mary’s future.

Well, my current philosophy is to try to bring people forward and support them in due course to do the roles I do – succession planning. I’m hugely looking forward to the beginning of a new chapter in St Mary’s and am optimistic that there will be some good news about a new incumbent soon. It’s vital that we support the development of young families and build youth ministry. I feel confident there will be good things happening in this area before too long! --- and people will continue to enjoy and benefit from our worship, welcome and fellowship always.

Interview by Helen Dunford


The Beacon - Page 5

Beacon magazine cover

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Page 1

In Loving Memory

Edna Downham

Praying Together

Prayer Breakfast

Page 2

Renewal of Electoral Roll

Children’s Society Boxes

Guild of Friends

Church Members: interview

Page 3

From the Registers

Lent Course

Talk and Teas

Munch with Music

Page 4

Live at St. Lawrence’s

COAT Concert

East Surrey Walkers

North Downs Consort concert

Chris with his horse Ozzy chris clementi