The spirit in which he fought his illness characterised his personality. Nothing would keep Charles from the buzz of the auction room, the livestock market and most importantly, being around the West Country folk he worked with and worked hard for.
In fact, right up until Christmas 2018 Charles could be found auctioning calves on Saturdays at Sedgemoor Auction Centre and was among the farming community on market days right up until recent weeks. Richard Webber, partner in South Molton, notes: “He was a remarkable man, totally unique. If there was a medal for bravery in battling illness the way Charles did, he would be awarded the equivalent of the Victoria Cross.”
We all spend much time getting to know our colleagues during our working lives. Many make a mark on us and none more so than Charles, who leaves an enduring legacy with staff right across the firm. Charles was on the examining board of the CAAV (Central Association of Agricultural Valuers) and many young professionals gained the benefit of Charles’ mentoring. Among them are qualified auctioneers who owe many of their skills to Charles’ instruction.
Jamie Batt, agricultural surveyor and auctioneer, said: “Charles always made selling the calves look absolutely effortless and it was not until I took the microphone that I realised what a difficult job it was. Charles knew every trick in the book when it came to auctioneering and if I have managed to learn just a page of that book, I feel I will be doing well! I feel privileged to have spent time alongside Charles on the rostrum and his wit, charm and professionalism is something I will always aspire to.” James Wotton, agricultural surveyor and auctioneer, agrees: “Until you sit beside a man of that calibre you do not realise how much you have to learn as a young auctioneer; it truly is a privilege to say I have been trained by him.”
It takes a great personality to understand a crowd and the psychology at work in such a highly charged atmosphere. Charles at the auctioneering rostrum was a sight to behold. Whether it was weekly calf markets, selling property in various states of repair or helping to raise funds at charitable events, he worked his audience with skill and always got the best result for the seller.
Tony Overhill, partner in Tiverton, recalls: “Charles had the ability at any charity auction to indiscriminately sell any of the lots to random members of the audience. Never once did I see or hear of any objection from the chosen recipient. I still have the full Newcastle United football strip that I ‘purchased’ at The Round Table sportsman dinner in 2007!” It comes as no surprise then that Charles raised in excess of £2 million for charity during his auctioneering career.
The livestock market was a natural habitat for Charles. In fact, during his GTH career, Charles spent a total of 1,555 days selling at the market, which equates to five years of his life. His inimitable style shone through and he was a recognisable figure to market goers over the years. Andy Clements, agricultural auctioneer and valuer, sums him up: “He taught me everything I know on the calves. He had respect and authority with dealers, buyers, vendors, staff and all farmers alike. His approachable manner and quick wit always meant he conducted every auction with professionalism, precision, speed and entertainment.”
Charles was not only a seventh generation auctioneer but undertook professional work for many valued clients. He led the GTH team managing the 4,000 acres or so of glebe lands in Somerset on behalf of the Diocese of Bath and Wells and was a Trustee of a large local farming trust. He acted as a Single Joint Expert in many matrimonial and other professional valuations, also handling Landlord-Tenant issues in particular. Charles was also a Trustee of the Somerset Community Foundation for some years; a charity dedicated to helping disadvantaged people and groups in Somerset.
Charles was also fondly known for his great wit and repartee. Once, when Charles was asked what he did as a job, with typical aplomb he replied: “I’m a second-hand cow salesman.” Derek Biss, partner at Sedgemoor, remembers Charles auctioneering at an event prior to snooker player Willy Thorne’s guest speaking slot: “Charles stole the show to such an extent that afterwards Willy offered him a job as his warm up act!”
There have been other humorous anecdotes through the years. Apparently there used to be a barber at the livestock market who charged a fiver for a gent’s haircut. Charles asked him to cut his hair but only had £2.50 cash on him. He bargained hard and eventually the barber gave in, agreeing to cut Charles’ hair for half price. He got to work and showed Charles the result… One half of his hair was neatly styled and the other half was left uncut. Charles then had to race around the market to find someone to lend him £2.50 to get the rest cut before he started selling calves. We can just imagine the scene!
Tony Overhill reflects: “Whether around the boardroom table, in work or socially there has never been a dull moment and I genuinely believe that in some way or another he has enriched the lives of all he has met. Charles would have succeeded in any path through life but he chose the family tradition of auctioneering – I feel blessed to have been part of that journey.”
Graham Ford, chairman and partner, remembers him with fondness: “Charles was a much respected valuer and auctioneer known across the entire country. Loved and entertained by all who encountered him, he will be truly irreplaceable in all of our lives and we will all miss him hugely. His character, professionalism and commitment completely summarises Greenslade Taylor Hunt and everything that the firm stands for.”
Charles was a man of character and grit; inspirational, gregarious, fiercely loyal, witty, energetic, but didn’t suffer fools. He brought a real presence to any gathering and will not be forgotten by any who worked alongside him or under his wing. Will Handel, partner in Honiton, and who worked closely with Charles for a time, considers: “If I’m in a new or difficult spot, I always try to think ‘what would Charles do in this situation?’”
We imagine that if Charles was in our situation now, he would no doubt crack a joke and perk us up with his powerful and authoritative voice and tell us to keep on doing the job in hand. We will, Charles, and thank you for the lessons and inspiration we have to follow as we do.
RIP Charles Francis Burnett Clark 1959-2019