Roddy Cavaliero (1928-2018)

Roddy Cavaliero image

We were sad to hear the news this week of the death of Roderick (Roddy) Cavaliero at the age of 90.

Roddy was a key figure in the history of the BSR having served as Chairman of the BSR’s main Executive Committee between 1991 and 1996 during which time he worked incredibly hard with the then director, Professor Richard Hodges, to negotiate the BSR Supplemental Charter through the Charity Commission and the Privy Council, securing the patronage of HM The Queen as the BSR’s patron.

That work laid the foundations for the BSR’s governance structure and the Council which still serves us today.

Many within the extensive BSR community will be saddened by the news and will remember Roddy’s energy and invaluable leadership in securing the future well-being of the BSR for generations to come. We remain in his debt.

Richard Hodges, Director of the BSR at the time when Roddy was active on the BSR’s Executive Committee, here pays tribute.

Roddy (Roderick) Cavaliero was a larger than life character in every sense. He was introduced to the British School at Rome’s Executive Committee in March 1990, during my second year as Director. The elfin and kindly chairman, Sir Alan Campbell, had known Roddy in Rome during the latter’s tenure as Director of the British Council. Roddy had intervened to help the BSR when its taxation circumstances were under scrutiny in 1977, winning Sir Alan’s admiration.

He can be a bit of a bull in a china shop,’ Sir Alan had discretely warned me with a benign smile. And so, in a sense he was. At his first meeting the Honorary Treasurer wanted to pare the BSR’s British Academy’s proffered budget back, helping Mrs. Thatcher’s government to save public money. I stood my ground, and as many academics and artists buried their heads, Roddy in his typical booming voice introduced himself by coming to my aid with a clear clarion call for everyone to support my numbers. Irritated, the Honorary Treasurer called for a vote. Briefly perplexed and obviously reluctant to pitch the Treasurer against his Director, Sir Alan hesitated then nervously called for everyone’s views. Roddy was the first to offer his support. Unanimously everyone else followed suit and the Honorary Treasurer, without hesitation stood up and departed the hushed room. Within weeks Sir Alan had persuaded Roddy to become his successor as Chairman, but not before Roddy consulted me to earn my support for his candidacy.

For four tumultuous years Roddy changed the British School at Rome with his breath-taking energy. I need only note that in March 1990 when this memorable meeting occurred, the BSR was still employing an accountant in London with a pen to insert all numbers into a folio-sized ledger that followed exactly the same formula going back to the BSR’s beginnings. This was a metaphor for a deeper issue that had to be confronted as the UK scrutinized public spending as never before.

So the BSR’s fax hummed to Roddy’s daily and sometimes hourly missives that consumed countless batches of luminous paper. Roddy was the architect of a new BSR that was destined to have all its governance issues in order in time for the inception of the ground-breaking 1992 Charity’s Act. He revised the charter. He developed a vision then a mission statement, then annual reports and management plans, searching for the BSR’s appropriate strategic direction so that it might broaden its financial base to protect it should government threaten the institution. He brought new experienced individuals to oversee the financial overhaul of the BSR and to launch the alien idea of development. Most of all he energized the BSR’s administration, experimented with closing its London office, while investing in Rome’s management. His efforts sound both presumptuous and overly bureaucratic listed this way. They were not. Every decision was based upon listening and debating. Being a large man he might appear autocratic, but he was always inclusive as a point of principle.  

As for the BSR’s purposes, Roddy was sometimes puzzled by conceptual art but his intellect refused to be indifferent; he had to understand the artists. So began a halcyon period where the BSR and the British Council collaborated on a monthly project or two. As for the humanities, he revelled unabashedly in bringing the BSR closer to his beloved Romantics championed by the Keats and Shelley Memorial House.

Then, too, there was Roddy the man, always thoughtful towards his gentle and caring wife, Mary. For Mary and Roddy life was to be lived in company. They loved to debate with academics and artists. Of course, he was a showman, whether he sat in the audience attending a lecture with a miniature battery fan, or when with Trollope-ian oratory he delivered lectures on romantic poets or his forebears, Maltese crusaders.

Malta deep down was in his blood – Roddy was a crusader. He recalled his defeats more often than his successes. But his successes were on the grand scale. He belonged to a generation of humanists who stumbled into management and by dint of Britain’s increasing economic problems found themselves pitched against government to defend their values. He was most of all an exceptionally kind and patient tutor to me, a wonderfully resilient mentor – I was an irascible archaeologist after all – and any room he entered lit up with joy as he bowled into it, his huge frame and looming presence soon inculcating an unforgettable cacophony of laughter.

What the British School at Rome records (including boxes of fading faxes) will show – and at heart Roddy found supreme pleasure in archives – is that Roddy Cavaliero was the unexpected and mesmerizing difference between an age when the BSR struggled and an age when it has prospered.