Charlie Sain-Ley-Berry-Gray (2007)

The school was informed of the sad news that Charlie Sain-Ley-Berry-Gray had passed away peacefully while with his family on the evening of Wednesday 19 June. Alan Cooper provided the following obituary:

I knew of Charlie before he joined MCS. The Usher, Richard Cairns, told me about a promising sportsman that would be joining my house, Callender, from Winchester House Prep. He came with a formidable pedigree having swept up almost all the sporting prizes and been the most charismatic member of his year; he was literally head and shoulders above the rest, already being 6 foot tall.

A strong mathematician, he worked hard and kept up well with his studies, though he did struggle at first, missing the routines of boarding, not enjoying the long travelling time and then having to get down to prep; indeed at times he was doing his work by torch light on the car journey in. He settled into better routines and, importantly, was making strong friendships and recognising his own worth and talents.

He immediately made an impact in the MCS teams. Mr Winstone recalled an U14 cricket match against Pangbourne; MCS batted first and amassed almost 300 for 3 without Charlie’s help. At tea Robin spoke to Charlie - ‘Big guy, you’ve been sitting down all afternoon - now it’s your turn! You’re tall and powerful so I don’t want you to bowl medium pace, but really fast and frighten someone!’ He responded well, and soon the visiting batsmen were in disarray, he terrified them with his pace and accuracy. 5 overs, 2 maidens, 5 wickets for 5 runs and they were all out for 26. He almost immediately went on to play First XI cricket for the next four years.

It was at rugby that he was to excel. One of very few players at MCS to spend four years playing in the First XV, he was an enormously successful captain in his final year. His confidence, stature, athleticism and eye for space allowed him to break defences and pull away from opponents with consummate ease. He had that ability of talented players to create time when in possession, with wonderful skills as a three-quarter he was versatile and equally devastating roaming the field from No 8. All this was complemented by a howitzer of a boot. Rightly he represented the county at all levels to U21 before leaving school. So keen were the school to keep him in the Sixth Form that the Old Boys provided a further sporting scholarship for him.

Charlie had huge charisma and was able to relate to pupils and staff tremendously well. A key figure in his year group he was no angel, and his school record is littered with those mischievous incidents that are the essential part of growing up and exploring acceptable boundaries.

Charlie was a personable young man, good natured and respectful to his teachers. He engaged with them with increasing confidence and humour, developing his academics through careful enquiry, a methodical approach and a positive attitude. In the Sixth Form he was even more at ease, studying his favourite subjects and he succeeded in gaining a place at Newcastle University, and when he arrived in the North East, so did a large proportion of his school First XV. He was universally liked amongst his peers and had a particularly good group of close friends. At Newcastle University he set about his studies, developed his social life, and relished the independence. It was whilst there, during the summer of 2009, that he was to start to feel more acutely the symptoms that were to turn out to be the cancer that killed him. A mole, often said to be benign by doctors, was irritating him. Tests eventually revealed large, advanced, tumours on his spine and liver. Over the next few years Charlie endured standard treatments and moved on to experimental ones in an effort to prolong his life and provide a cure for others. He remained steadfastly resilient and to his friends indestructible, but he succumbed on 19 June 2013.

At his Memorial Service on 23 August in Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Square, on what would have been his 25th birthday, his friends packed the large space and said goodbye and celebrated his life. His legacy goes on, his family having founded the charitable Charles SLBG Foundation to provide young people with the opportunity to access specialist cancer prevention services.

Visit www.charles-slbg-foundation.org, where you can find out more about his life and how you might support this charity.

Always in the thick of things, Charlie was looked up to, not just because he was tall, but because people saw in him so many attributes that they wished and hoped they might have in themselves. He is missed.