Algy Haughton, 1922-2008

Obituary for Algy Haughton, forthcoming in the Guardian

If a man is known best by the manner of his death, Algy Haughton, who has died aged 85, should be easy to introduce. Attended by family and friends, his passing was punctuated by calls for champagne and eager offers of whisky. And though the bar at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary was an imaginary one, my grandfather held court nonetheless, binding an intimate group together for one final time before slipping quietly away, lest anyone notice his position at its centre.

Born Edward Algernon Haughton in New Jersey, USA in 1922, Algy lived a life marked by many contradictions, between his Plymouth Brethren upbringing, Catholic adulthood and agnostic maturity; his ambiguous sexuality and fathering of ten children; his inspirational teaching yet deep suspicion of traditional teaching institutions. Such conflicts wrought occasional havoc, but Algy remained to the last a man committed to the building of communities.

After serving in the Navy and a degree at Cambridge, Algy converted to Catholicism and married Rosemary Luling in Westminster Cathedral in 1948. With his wife, later an author and radical theologian, he moved to North Yorkshire to teach at Ampleforth College. Their family, which by 1968 extended to 10 children and two foster children, was more an expression of the couple's environmental philosophy of community than of any Catholic attitude to birth control. After 20 years at Ampleforth, where Algy taught English and ran the theatre, directing Rupert Everett as Titania and Julian Wadham as Puck, he and Rosemary bought a plot of land near Dumfries in Scotland. Here they built what is still one of the largest log cabins in Great Britain, founding in 1975 a self-sufficient therapeutic community based on co-operative living. Lothlorien, named after the sylvan haven in Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, flourished precariously before Algy eventually moved to Edinburgh in 1989. His wife had left some time before to found a similar venture in New England, but the work they began together continues at Lothlorien under the Buddhist Rokpa trust. In Edinburgh, during the 90s, Algy worked for Scottish Aids Monitor (later the Waverley Care Trust) and on the Gay Switchboard, helping to develop the Icebreaker programme.

One day, returning from a large family holiday, Algy left the rest of us to finish dinner in Le Havre in order to board the ferry separately. Fastidiously setting up double measures for the 10 or so adults of the party, he soon discovered that everyone else had missed the boat. We picked him up the next day, still in his holiday shorts, braving the Portsmouth drizzle and the after-effects of his random and I assume near deadly cocktail, but still smiling and more concerned to hear about our misadventures than to tell us about his own. His path had taken him, as it often did, in a direction distinct from those around him, yet he kept a place for as many as he could at his table, whether they might join him or not. He leaves a wife and 12 children.

Algy Haughton, teacher and counsellor, born December 21, 1922, died April 30, 2008.

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