Robin Gard died on 1 May 2005. He was a founder member of the CAS. The first meeting of Catholic archivists in England took place at Spode House in July 1978, as a result of a plea for help to Father Conrad Pepler, warden at Spode, for help for religious sisters who had been given charge of their congregations’ archives but who had received no formal training.
The meeting which Father Conrad organised attracted a wide response. Several professional archivists (including Robin, who was then the County Archivist of Northumberland) who attended in the hope of learning more about Catholic Archives, as little information was generally available at that time, found themselves pressed into the role of teachers, explaining everything from the integrity of the archive group to the value of the brass paperclip, but at the same time discovering the wealth of archive material held in religious houses, diocesan archives and other institutions.
The need to preserve this material and to make it available and to support the people who were given charge of it was clear and urgent and in the following March the Catholic Archives Society was established.
Robin was involved from the very beginning of the society and took on the role of editor of the journal, Catholic Archives, which first appeared in 1981. He edited 15 volumes of the journal, which included articles on all aspects of Catholic archives, not only in the British Isles but also in all parts of the world.
In 1995 he handed on the role of editor to Father Stewart Foster and then took on the role of chairman of the society for three years, during which time he continued to promote the aims of the society at every opportunity. He was active himself, not only as archivist for the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle but also in searching out, listing and finding safe homes for any threatened archives, especially those of lay Catholic societies, in which he had a particular interest.
He was also the society’s first representative at meetings of the Religious Archivists’ Group, a special interest group of the Society of Archivists. His great contribution to work in the field of Catholic archives was recognised in 1997 when he was appointed a Consultant to the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church.
He was always keen to promote contacts with archives in other countries. It was during his period as chairman that the CAS began its series of overseas visits with a visit to Rome.
While there the welcome contact with the Pontifical Commission began when the society met Archbishop, later Cardinal, Marchisano, now one of the Society’s patrons. Robin presented him with the complete series of Catholic Archives in a box he himself had made and spoke lucidly of the work of the society. With one exception, Robin took part in all the later overseas visits and frequently reminded the council of the importance of such links.
When he completed his 3 year term as chairman, Robin continued to serve as a member of the society’s council and to produce publications, notably Archive Advice Leaflets, which provide advice and information in a clear and simple format. He contributed articles about his work with the archives of lay societies to Catholic Archives and also edited Reflections on Catholic Archives, a collection of essays by archivists, historians and users of archives, which was published in 2002. He always stressed the need for the society to maintain an active publishing programme and rightly pointed out that publications are the only means of reaching the 75% or so of the membership that do not attend the annual conference.
He was the longest serving member of the CAS council, having been a member continuously from its formation until his death, and he retained an active interest during the last few months when he could no longer attend meetings.