By Malcolm Ellis
First Published in The Avicultural Magazine Vol. 118 No. 1
Copyright © 2012 Avicultural Society, Published with Permission

Raymond Sawyer, President of the Avicultural Society, died on February 21st 2012. He was 87 years old. Raymond joined the Avicultural Society in 1949 and succeeded his late wife Ruth as President in 2007, having previously been a Vice-President for several years and a long-serving Council Member.

There must be very few people in the world of aviculture in the past 50-60 years who Raymond did not know. He had been a friend of almost all of the notable aviculturists of the period. Jean Delacour (the doyen of aviculturists) had been a dear friend, so too had Dick de Quincey and Sydney Porter (who in 1946 had been the first aviculturist in the UK to breed the Kea), other friends included Ruth's father Alfred Ezra, John Spedan Lewis, The Duke of Bedford and Herbert Whitley (the founder of Paignton Zoo). Sir David Attenborough, a long-time friend, was among the guests who gathered at Chestnut Lodge to celebrate Raymond's 87th birthday last August, so too were Dr Henry Quinque and his wife, who flew over from France specially to join the celebration.

In the mid-1950s, when I began working in the Bird House at London Zoo, Raymond was a regular visitor and was a leading exhibitor, who took most of the top awards at the leading bird shows. He won the Supreme Award at the National Exhibition of Cage & Aviary Birds four times in the 1950s: in 1952 with a Ruby-Topaz Hummingbird, in 1955 with a King Bird-of­-Paradise, in 1958 with an Andean (Scarlet) Cock-of-the-Rock and in 1959 with a Streamer-tailed Hummingbird.

For several years Raymond was responsible for the livestock kept in the parks and open spaces of the Greater London Council, which included the zoos at Crystal Palace and Battersea Park. In of the magazine (1997), Raymond wrote about the first twenty-five years at Cobham, during which he succeeded in breeding 16 species for the first time in the UK. These included the Splendid and Emerald Starlings, the Violet Turaco, Masked Crimson Tanager, Blue Whistling Thrush, Black-necked and Black-winged Stilts and Wattled Jacana. The Blue-bellied Roller (1998) and more recently the Long-toed Lapwing, along with some as yet undocumented species, may bring the final total to 20 or more UK first breedings.

Raymond often became tearful when recalling his many friends who are no longer with us, but we also laughed a lot. He recently recalled how in the 1950s he persuaded the actress Jayne Mansfield (the US blonde bombshell and a big star at the time) to open his local bird show in East London and after the show invited her and her husband back to his home for tea. As they were leaving, Jayne Mansfield lost her footing on the narrow staircase and fell on top of Raymond. Her husband, the strongman Mickey Hargitay (Mr Universe 1955), tried to save her but also lost his footing and he too landed on top of Raymond at the foot of the stairs. Fortunately nobody was hurt and Raymond turned a potentially serious accident into an hilarious story.

Raymond loved to talk about the "good old days" and just a few weeks before he died, I had promised to go up and spend two or three days with him at Chestnut Lodge.