Just a closer walk with thee

I saw this clip a few days ago, and had it in mind to post it at an appropriate time. Unfortunately when I got home today I learned some news that makes today seem all too appropriate. A distinguished and respected colleague, Prof. Steve Rawlings, of Oxford University was found dead last night. This is shocking and desperately sad news. I have no idea what happened but apparently the Oxfordshire police have arrested a 49-year old man on suspicion of murder. No doubt more information will emerge in due course.

The connection between this sombre piece of news and the clip I  intended to post should become obvious when I tell you that it depicts a funeral. Indeed the music featured, the hymn or spiritual Just a Closer Walk with Thee, was the main music chosen for the service when my father died,  just over four years ago. It’s a lovely old traditional tune that often  plays a central role in New Orleans style funerals, as shown here, and is a melody that, for me, has a deep associattion with loss and bereavement.

The clip is taken from the US TV series Treme. I haven’t seen Treme -if it has been shown on UK TV I missed it – but it’s set in New Orleans in the aftermath of the near destruction of the city by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Not knowing anything about the TV series I only watched the clip because of the music, but I was mightily impressed by the way the scene was photographed and how careful the producers had been in getting the details just right, because a funeral in New Orleans is unlike any other.

The sashes, parasols, and exaggerated, swaying slow march seen in the film are in some sense almost comical, but  they are also at the same time solemn and immensely dignified. Defiant, even. I don’t think it’s just because I am a jazz fan that I find this video so moving. Perhaps it’s really because, faced with the awesome finality of death, every action we take in life is comical anyway, just as every word is ultimately banal. However, if a farce is what  it’s going to be, let’s just make sure it’s done the way we like it – especially at the end.

One of the commenters on Youtube put it thus:

it aint my time yet .but when it is thats the way i wanna go home

Amen to that. I don’t think Steve Rawlings was a jazz fan, but this is the best way I can think of to pay my respects.

12 Responses to “Just a closer walk with thee”

    • telescoper Says:

      I gather the PM didn’t establish the cause of death, but it does appear there was some sort of confrontation beforehand. It’s terrible, especially to those of us who knew the people involved and can’t understand how things can have come to such a state between them.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      It’s not clear what the row was about; it’s not clear who first got physical; it’s not clear whether Steve died of injuries or a heart attack during a fight. I knew them both personally and I regard speculation as in bad taste.

  1. Albert Zijlstra Says:

    It is a terrible loss, to his family but also to astronomy, Steve made the SKA his own. and the UK standing in the SKA project is to a large degree because of his work. Steve was also instrumental in winning the SKA Project Office for the UK. And he was a nice guy, fun to be with. The SKA became his life and now his work became his nemesis.

    Steve was scheduled as the opening plenary speaker for the NAM2012.

  2. Steve was a friend of mine. He was a friend of everyone at UKIRT and the JAC. As Albert mentioned he was fun to be with – always looked forward to his visits out here and so did our staff. I have nothing but good memories of him at both the summit of Mauna Kea and at restaurants and bars in Hilo talking cricket and football and all sorts of other things, sometimes even academic stuff. I’m still in a state of shock and can’t believe the news.

  3. Simply out of respect for Steve, his family and his friends I hope people won’t speculate too much here. There’s bound to be intense interest from the media and I’m sure the tabloids are going to have a field day. Phillip – out of respect to Steve’s family, friends and colleagues please give it a rest – we don’t need to hear about other astronomers passing away at this point. Steve was a friend and I don’t appreciate your morbid interest in astronomer deaths.

  4. telescoper Says:

    Let me echo Tom’s remarks. There’s also been too much speculation around on my email at work for my taste.
    Some of us know Devinder Sivia too, and he hasn’t been found guilty of anything yet. Most of all, though, it’s intrusive and disrespectful to the friends anf family of Steve Rawlings.

    We’ll know the facts in good time.

  5. Bryn Jones Says:

    It might be noted for the benefit of those people who could not be present that a warm tribute to Steve Rawlings was given at the start of Friday’s R.A.S. meeting by the President, Roger Davies, a colleague of Prof. Rawlings at Oxford. The audience stood for a minute’s silence as a mark of respect.

    These events, whatever their character, are very tragic and profoundly sad.

  6. Anton Garrett Says:

    This is, at least, an explanation, if a distressing one:


    I doubt that more will be known before April’s inquest. Unfortunately a few online conspiracy theorists are playing with supposed defence applications of Steve’s work. Grotesque.

    I shall remember Steve from playing cricket together. See him on some of the 1985-90 team pics at


  7. […] distressing news we learnt on Thursday about the events of Wednesday night cast a shadow over the proceedings. Given that I was going to […]

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