Monday, December 28, 2009

Obituary: LP scientist, painter in Britain dies

From The Telegraph in the UK:

Richard Jones, who died on November 18 aged 64, was born with a rare genetic condition which restricted his growth to only 4ft, but had a fruitful career as a government scientist; he also exhibited at the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition and appeared as an extra in many films – including as R2-D2 in the Star Wars films and as the Mad Hatter in Dreamchild (1985).

Richard Henry Louen Jones was born in Cardiff on March 18 1945, the son of a ship's engineer. After attending the village school at Llandaff he went on to Cathays High School, Cardiff, where he obtained A-levels in physics, chemistry and maths, and also learned Welsh.

A degree in Physics and Chemistry from the University of Wales in Swansea led to an appointment, in 1969, as a scientific officer at the Building Research Establishment (BRE) at Garston, Hertfordshire, where he became an expert on ventilation, condensation and mould growth in buildings.

From 1976 to 1978 Jones was chairman of the Association for Research into Restricted Growth (later to become the Restricted Growth Association, or RGA), established in 1970 to improve the quality of life of those affected and help them integrate into the wider community.

Jones himself never needed any help integrating; his warm and irreverent personality attracted friends from all over the world as well as waifs and strays from the edges of the St Albans social spectrum, many of whom benefited from his generosity.

When a friend in trouble turned up on his doorstep with two small children in the middle of the night he immediately offered shelter, and they lived with him for many weeks until they were able to find permanent accommodation.

While at the BRE, he would, as he put it, "bunk off" (his absence was probably recorded as sick leave) to go to Elstree studios for his work as a film extra. Stanley Kubrick was only one of the famous directors he knew, and his other film roles included a garden gnome in Tellifant, Rwmbaba in Labyrinth and the village elder in Willow.

A gifted painter with a lifelong passion for portraits and aviation subjects, he did much of his work at the Kubrick Studios in Hertfordshire; many of his most beautiful and haunting works were nudes, male and female, perhaps executed as a contrast to his own condition. In the 1970s he studied under Professor Ernst Fuchs and Wolfgang Manner, but his most enduring influence came from years with Sargy Mann at the Camden Arts Centre and with the Inscape Group.

In 1972 he was elected a full member of the Guild of Aviation Artists and in 1982 taught painting at De Havilland College.

Over the years his works were displayed at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, and in 1983 one of his portraits was hung in the National Portrait Gallery. He exhibited widely and sold work to, among others, the RAF Museum, Sir Francis Chichester, Stanley Kubrick and Victor Lownes, the former head of Playboy in Europe.

Although he lived in St Albans throughout his working life, Jones was a Welshman to his fingertips. For many years he owned a house at Laugharne, where he was a popular member of the community.

In the 1980s he lost his sight in one eye; he had tunnel vision in the other, and was a frequent patient at Moorfields Eye Hospital. He managed to drive until 2003, in a car with extended pedals and other home-made modifications. He was frequently stopped by the police, mainly for speeding, but few officers were prepared to charge someone so small that they would not be seen in the dock.

By 2005 his spine had begun to crumble and he had to have metal plates inserted in his back ("my scaffolding"). But he thought it high time he married his lifelong friend Louisa, and the ceremony took place at St Albans register office. He later became wheelchair-bound, but even under the most trying conditions was indomitable, and utterly immune to self-pity.

Helped by a glass of wine almost permanently in his hand (despite an array of medicines which stipulated no alcohol), he never lost his irreverent sense of humour or his disdain for political correctness: in particular, he had no patience with the modern terms for his small stature, referring to himself as a "gnome" or a "dwarf". He may have been small in stature, but in all other respects he was larger than life.