Tuesday, February 13, 2018


Denis at our house in Vero. He calls this our national security
strategy meeting. He was born in India. His father was a
British Army Brigadier. Denis served in the U.S. Army.
Products of the English Benedictine Congregation had several mini-reunions in Vero Beach, Florida this past week.

First we had a formal lunch reunion, about 30 people, at the Moorings Club, south of Vero Beach, kindly sponsored by alumni members of the club. 

Several representatives of Portsmouth Abbey School visited, including the incumbent headmaster, as part of an annual tour of retired Portsmouth alumni in Florida. The tour usually takes in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach as well as Vero Beach.  
We were joined by the family dog, HachikĊ.
Denis holds on to a palm leaf to restrict its growth.

I attended the event in 2015 and again last year when relatives of the late Fr. Damian Kearney were there who reside in the Vero Beach area.  

A few days later, I had a visit from Robert Denis Ambrose, who was known as Bob at Portsmouth and as Denis at home and currently. 

Denis was at Portsmouth for the two academic years 1953-1955, first in the Barn, headed then by Fr Bede, and then at St Bede's House, where the housemaster was Fr Hilary. Denis says he has fond memories of these years. He remembers also Fr Aelred ("Barney") Wall and the Associate Headmaster, Cecil Acheson, from Ampleforth.
We looked over the potential attendance list for the Portsmouth
Class of 1958 60th Reunion, planned for Newport, Sept. 28.

Denis then transferred to Ampleforth College, at St Wilfred's House. He told me it was a bit of a shock to go from the more laid-back environment of Portsmouth to Ampleforth. 

Denis recalls many moments of his time at Ampleforth, and personalities such as Regimental Sergeant Major Hennessy, Father Julian, the swimming coach and the teas after swimming meets, especially the away matches where the teas were a schoolboy's dream. 

Denis was taken aback by the number of rules at Ampleforth, many more than at Portsmouth, and the fact that they were effectively enforced. Boys were not allowed to eat candy bars on public streets, for example, and were forbidden to sit on radiators.

He has strong memories of his study of history at Ampleforth. He says that one theme that recurred was: "England's foreign policy is and has been about maintaining the 'balance of power'." 

(My own recollection is studying the Wars of the Roses to death. I learned that a red rose of Lancaster does not smell as sweet as a white one of Yorkshire.)

England may no longer rule the waves, but that doesn't mean it will now Waive the Rules. The central heating in British schools and universities, he thinks, is still not turned on till late November. He likes a book by Jeremy Paxman, The English

Despite the rigors of the English classroom and plumbing, Denis believes, both Ampleforth and Portsmouth hold out a model of peace and tolerance, the Benedictine way of life, that is a worthy one to follow.
L to R: Denis, John, Bill.
After three years serving in the US Army, Denis trained as a civil engineer, spending several years designing bridges and obtaining a Professional Engineering License. 

Subsequently he obtained a bachelors degree in business from the University of Pittsburgh and an MBA from Lebanon Valley College. He was engaged in economic feasibility studies and valuation studies for water and wastewater projects including certifications for bond issues and rate covenants and presentation of testimony before regulatory agencies.  He still provides consulting services on a limited basis. 

The same summer of 1955 in which Denis was heading across the Atlantic from Portsmouth to Ampleforth, I was going the other way. 

I found the transition relatively painless. I had been at Gilling Castle and the Junior House at Ampleforth College for three years.
The academic environment at Ampleforth was austere, Old School... My brother was in the upper school and used to visit me with the late Johnny Encombe, who also had a younger brother at Gilling.

L to R: John (pushing back on a fast-growing Bougainvillea), Bill and Denis.
I started learning Greek at Gilling Castle as well as continuing Latin and French. Our ancient history teacher, Fr Bruno, gave us vivid descriptions, which have stayed with me more than 60 years, of the Battles of Marathon, Salamis and Thermopylae.

Denis stayed with us in Vero for a few days, during which time we paid a visit nearby to Bill (Gregory) Floyd, Portsmouth '57 and former Abbey headmaster. 

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