Farewell to the great Judith Buckland, who founded the Arundel Festival and encouraged everyone she met

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On Thursday March 2, Judith Buckland, MBE, DL, who lived in Chichester sadly died at the age of 92. She was the founder of the Arundel Festival and the first woman High Sheriff in West Sussex. In this personal tribute, Editor In Chief Gary Shipton remembers this remarkable woman.

I don't mind admitting that the first time I met Judith Buckland nearly 35 years ago I was in awe of her - and just a little bit terrified.

She swept into the offices of the West Sussex Gazette in the high street in Arundel like a stately galleon and effortlessly attracted the respectful attention of everyone in the newsroom where I was the newly appointed editor.

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Her mission was to enlist me and the WSG as supporters of the Arundel Festival - a cultural annual event which the then Duke of Norfolk had encouraged her to found.

The late Judith Buckland tending her lemon trees.The late Judith Buckland tending her lemon trees.
The late Judith Buckland tending her lemon trees.

I was an easy convert.

Judith's knowledge of the arts and classical music dwarfed my very modest understanding of the subject - and her absolute focus on delivering a festival which was of sublime quality earned my, and the entire community's, wholehearted admiration.

She never compromised on creative standards. She wanted the festival to carve its reputation not merely as a wonderful event in Arundel and Sussex - but of global status. To that end, she was never afraid to take artistic risks.

Her handbag normally contained not just a host of newspaper cuttings about up and coming composers but details from the Financial Times of successful business people who might become sponsors of the future.

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As I learned very quickly, my initial terror was entirely misplaced. Judith might have wanted the best and set her sights on a festival of excellence but she would never hesitate to roll up her sleeves to make it happen.

Behind the scenes she, and her two wonderful daughters Alexandra Anderson and Caroline Burn, turned their hands to everything - making the sandwiches for the sponsors' marquee, ensuring every one of the volunteers and guests was perfectly looked after - and even cleaning a portable toilet when it was not quite up to scratch!

She was incredibly kind and big hearted too - putting people at ease and making them feel special; listening assiduously to what they were saying and helping them to achieve their potential.

Above all else, even in her later years she had a profound faith in God and belief in others and she was a great encourager of people - often writing to them to thank them or cheer them on.

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Outside the Festival, her planning was immaculate. On more than one hot summer's day we would sit by the river in Arundel eating ice cream and discussing the stories that would really help sell tickets.

The Duke of Norfolk, Miles Fitzalan-Howard, did everything to support the Festival - hosting an annual luncheon at the Castle's state dining room to encourage sponsors and often taking them on a personal tour.

It was no surprise that Judith was appointed the county's first woman High Sheriff in 1999 nor that she was a Deputy Lieutenant of the county.

On one occasion she was shortlisted for a major national cultural award and she asked me if I would accompany her as her guest to the event which was hosted, from memory, by the amazing Joanna Lumley. As a journalist, I was in the unique position of knowing in advance that she had won - but I never let on. When she found out at the end of the day that I had been aware of the result throughout she gave me a Paddington hard stare.

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Judith has been described as a force of nature; a great character; perhaps even a little eccentric.

I thought she was simply brilliant - kind, funny with an extraordinary genius of making the impossible a reality.

The Arundel Festival and the talent it inspired would never have happened without her. How much we all owe her and will miss her cannot be adequately described, even by a life long journalist such as myself.

God Bless you Judith.

[] Judith’s funeral will be on Friday, April 14 at St Paul's Church in Chichester at 11am and everyone will be welcome.