Monday, February 21, 2011

Croquet, Reading, and the Times Crossword Puzzle

Chris Williams is an archivist of The Croquet Association and has access to all Croquet Gazettes of the period in which the Mills siblings played. While he has offered some very comprehensive data that I hope to share soon, the final part of a recent message I received from him was simple and quite moving. I’d like to share it here.

“The April 1973 Croquet Gazette (Number 125) contained an obituary for George:

G.R. Mills

George Mills was a late starter to croquet, but his exuberant and loveable personality made him a welcome member of the game. He became a keen and enthusiastic player until ill-health caused his interests to turn to reading and the Times crossword puzzle. He will be much missed by his many friends at the South Western tournaments and the Budleigh Salterton Club, who wish to extend their sympathy to Agnes and Violet Mills.


Gerald Cave I assume.”

It can be difficult to find out much about Mills, the man, and not simply dates and events that fit neatly on a timeline. As near as I can tell, George Mills played his last Advanced game of croquet in 1970, and Mr. Williams may be able to determine if that’s correct. He was 73 years old at the time, and he was victorious playing alongside his sister, Violet Mills at Budleigh on 26 June. So much for the data.

In this obituary, however, we find a sympathetic figure in Mills, a man we can begin to understand, not simply an acknowledgment of the death of a person who found himself too old to take to the lawns any longer.

Mills, keen of mind and a former author even in his last years, occupied himself with reading and his beloved Times. With his home, Grey Friars, literally just a few hundred feet from the Croquet Club, it’s easy to imagine Mills alternately watching play and scratching at the crossword on a fine summer day, sitting amid friends in a light sea breeze before heading inside for some bridge.

Presumably, even during that final period of ill-health, Mills made it to the club now and then for as long as he was able. He was a keen and witty observer of people, as we know from his writing, and others seemed to gravitate to him. It's hard to imagine him staying away if he felt up to it. Recently his physician, Dr. David Evans, said of the Mills siblings (perhaps pointedly in the case of George here), "They would go to Budleigh Salterton Croquet Club under all circumstances."

We'll never actually know Mills. But we can, in fact, see him reflected in the eyes of others and in the places he chose to spend his life. Thanks for the obituary, Chris, and thank you once again to everyone who helps me inch ever forward in getting to know George Mills.

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