Marcus Sefton-Green

Marcus Sefton-Green

07 September 1931
Birmingham, United Kingdom
03 October 2009
London, United Kingdom
Words by
Julian Sefton-Green Son

[From the Hesped Team: Julian wrote these notes from which he spoke about his father.Tributes by Julian’s sister Tertia and Rabbi Tony Bayfield follow below.]

Overwhelmed and overwhelming. Family thank you etc.

Talking about who Marcus was is a kind of detective story. I know the facts but interpreting them is difficult.

Methodological dilemma. Because I am in the way – I was him and he is me. Here is my attempt to look at some of the mysteries of his life, explore four tensions, contradictions puzzles that I think made him who he was and also to show what I admire:

1.Marcus Clive Sefton-Green born Birmingham, his dad’s death, fraught relationship with his mother and stepfather, unhappy childhood -> mystery 1. How did he learn to love, to be such a good father? Tertia will talk a bit more about our happy childhood.  He always said it was Dorothy,  but I think difficulties led to love of order, (theatre programmes) filing, clearing his desk, shining shoes every Sunday night, fastidious dresser, and other thousand irritating pernickety habits – also part of his concern with phrasing (3) and precision. These kinds of adversity also instilled a great ethic of hard work and dedication.

2. Penicillin story, family myth – embodies tradition and tolerance. Active choice of progressive Judaism – and active observance of tradition, brer rabbits only discord with mum, but why choice of cremation? Post enlightenment values. People said he was terrifying , not suffering fools gladly, (or at all), but ruthlessly fair, accept things he didn’t like me/Ruth because it was , he was genuinely impartial.

3. Leads to Marcus and the Law. Easier for me to understand. The tolerance was not just a question of personal behaviour but embedded in his love of the law and learning. Reasonable and proportional integrity, ethics… doing things properly, learnt from Articles at Osmond Bard and Westbrook (one of the predecessors to OGR). At death five loves in the room -Practicing Certificate on wall in the room in which he died.

Encyclopaedic, Ali/ Ruth admiration for knowledge and understanding. Ruth (share birthday) exam questions, proving he was right Appellate court Bagehot. butterfly/magpie mind. Bit of know-all. Love of learning own sake – later ‘rabbinical’ studies.

4. In room also Pembroke prints. Oxford. In trying to make sense of his life spent a lot of time , working out why Oxford was so important to dad. Getting away from his mother, reinventing himself, smoking Turkish cigarettes . generation of social mobility (not silver spoon). Of moving through the English class system indeed of a way of being English for a contemporary Jew. Learnt personal self-confidence, to act in public- given he was apparently a shy and bookish boy. Raises questions of ambition, law to dad yes a way of doing well, but also question of values, of ethical behaviour, of belonging, of community and or active participation. dad’s classical balance of family/community, self and happiness.

So what have learnt? LOVE, ORDER, REASONABLENESS, FAIRNESS, LEARNING, THE LAW. Finally I want to add HAPPINESS. The pleasures I guess of living a good life. Even at the end (not to be recommended) he counted his blessings. Rather than focusing on the might-have-beens he enjoyed what he could when he could. The best of this was his family.My sister will talk about this.

Over to you Tish.

Words by
Tertia Sefton-Green Daughter


Although when we were growing up there were lots of rules about elbows off the table, not to mention grammatical corrections; underneath it all, Dad was a big softie, a deeply sensitive, warm and emotional man whose love and care knew no bounds.

For me a true patriach, he was deeply loved and respected not just by his children, in-laws and grandchildren but by so many people in all the communities with whom he spent time.

He took extraordinary pride in his family and their achievements and was not shy about announcing them – when Gaby got into Oxford he was at synagogue before the doors opened! Exemplary at qvelling, he was however surprisingly modest and humble about himself.

we saw every amphitheatre and cathedral in Western Europe on our fantastic holidays

Dad was a wonderful combination of being terribly dignified, punctilious and formal; his bowler hat always ready for funerals and his underwear marked for each day of the week, and informal; our camping holidays characterised by him in shorts screaming about how the tent was put up and why did mum not know which bit went where. Hugely conscientious about work, duty, and the importance of doing the right thing, he also knew how to relax, if you can call scrutinising the Blue Guide voraciously, to ensure we saw every amphitheatre and cathedral in Western Europe on our fantastic holidays driving to the Continent relaxing, but at least we are all experts on Greek columns! He was not so relaxed behind the wheel and many of those holiday memories include being terrified in the back seat listening to him shout at Mum about the directions; not helped by his never knowing his left from right, which was particularly hair-raising at roundabouts!

A voracious reader with a photographic memory, (he could recite all the Prime Ministers in order), at his first meeting with my then husband-to-be Adam, they discussed how many volumes of Shelby Foote’s Civil War books there were and when he conceded that Adam was correct, I knew he was accepted.

he was quite adamant about being right

Because he was quite adamant about being right (to put it mildly), it was no mean feat to get him to admit to being wrong or saying sorry. When I hurt my ankle dancing on the kitchen floor, he shouted at me not to make a fuss. After supper when he went out, Mum rushed me to hospital and on discovering it was broken, we delightedly exclaimed , “now he will have to say sorry!”

Brought up as Orthodox,  Mum and Dad chose to move to Alyth when I was born, because they wanted to bring their children up in a warm and friendly community, something they certainly found there. The first person Dad met at the door was Jerome, with whom he developed a special bond of friendship, strengthened by their becoming law partners.

It gave Dad huge joy that his grandchildren Gaby and Tobias chose to make a commitment to Judaism by being bar and bat mitzvah, not because, as Ruth put it, they wanted to please him, but because they wanted to give a gift back to him. He taught Tobias his portion (far more patiently than he had done with the three of us), and Tob’s event in December at Alyth was particularly special because we knew it would be the last joyous family occasion we could share together. It was celebrated in the Sefton-Green tradition of all of our bar and bat mitzvahs, wedding parties, anniversaries and Seder Nights – at home in Brim Hill.

It is impossible to capture the depth of their love and devotion as well as intellectual equality and friendship

When Dad became ill, his courage, strength and acceptance was truly inspiring as was, (as his grandson Sam so discerningly remarked), his dignity. The support of his friends and the community throughout the past few months has been incredible and the soups and kindness hugely valued. He also managed to help Eva learn her torah reading for Saturday and her incredible support, warmth and friendship to her ‘new friend’ as she always called him, was formidable.

But the biggest rock for the past fifty two years was Mum, of whom he said, the best thing he ever did in his life was to marry her – a feeling much reciprocated. It is impossible to capture the depth of their love and devotion as well as intellectual equality and friendship. They shared all their interests together: sightseeing, reading, the theatre, exhibitions, the crossword and, matching Rohan jackets. They shared a tremendous companionship, with Mum always knowing how to calm him, advise him and most importantly, laugh at and with him.

It is only because of Mum, that Dad was able to spend his last months at home where she organised and cared for him with incredible patience, courage and inspiring devotion, which he deeply valued.

There are so many people whom Dad touched and so many who we want to thank. As his little bubbakins Eloise put it, when I told her he had gone, “I’m really sad; I’m sad in my feet and in my arms and in my tummy and in my head.”

Words by
Rabbi Tony Bayfield

In all my career, I have never known a funeral at which so many people wanted to pay tribute. Which is, along with Julian and Tertia’s words of eloquence and profundity, the finest tribute anyone could receive. In that situation, I was tempted to give up my opportunity but the family said ‘No, Marcus wanted you to speak’. I am so touched that he was as proud of his relationship with me as I of mine with him. So, just a few words which, I hope, will speak for others as well.

I often wondered how Marcus Sefton-Green came to be Marcus Sefton-Green. Yesterday I found out. It has to be true because no one could make it up! Marcus Sefton-Green was Marcus Slesnick-Binstock. He was Slesnick after his father who died when he was only fifteen or eighteen months old. And Binstock after his stepfather. In truth, Sefton-Green suited him better because the world of Slesnick-Binstock from which he came, a world of pre-war provincial Jewry, of poverty and tragedy, of wartime disruption, of evacuation, of separation and hardship was very different from the world and life that Marcus built. He came from a world that was shattered by war and enlightenment into disparate fragments and Marcus’s genius was his ability to bring coherence to the disparate parts, to hold things together and to hold fast to what was important.

his values, his integrity and an unswerving commitment to what is right and what is just

He came from a tradition that valued learning and education. Learning – for his family and for himself – was and still is central. He valued Dorothy’s very considerable academic talents. He loved what the Leo Baeck College had to offer. Ask his children what he wanted read to him as his strength declined.

His commitment to the values of Judaism was absolute and unswerving. He shared his faith with his children where it was possible and, most importantly, he shared with them his values, his integrity and an unswerving commitment to what is right and what is just. Which characterised his commitment to the law and the way he practiced it. As a former lawyer myself, I have known and know many lawyers, women and men of exceptional ability and professionalism. But if I could have chosen one lawyer to act for me, it would have been Marcus for his thoroughness, integrity and impartiality that were the very essence of who he was.

To learning and integrity, let me add a deep sense of communal responsibility, always discharged with the same thoroughness, un-showiness, sense of fairness and integrity he brought to his work. Members of Alyth and members of the Jewish Joint Burial Society will know just what I mean.

And finally, through all the immense changes symbolised by the journey from Slesnick-Binstock to Sefton-Green, the centrality of family that you already know about from Julian and Tertia. It is one of the sad things that happens to all rabbis that sometimes they only fully come to appreciate families on occasions like this. Dorothy; Julian, Alison and Sam; Ruth, Roland, Gabrielle and Tobias; Tertia, Adam and Eloise. Marcus was very special and deeply significant in your lives, sharing with you different aspects of you and himself in a profoundly enriching way. In fact, sitting with you, despite the shock and sadness, has something of the same joy, honesty and frankness that I experience with my own family and you know how important my own family is to me.

He was a serious man in the best sense of the word

Marcus brought coherence to the world around him. He held things together. He was the embodiment of ethics and integrity. He was a serious man in the best sense of the word and sometimes his standards frightened others. What those who found him scary completely missed was his tremendous sense of humour. A couple of months ago, when he was already confined to bed and wheelchair, I visited him. He mentioned that something was going on in a particular synagogue and asked me what the gossip was. I said, truthfully, that I did not know but would find out for him. I made a couple of phone calls, uncovered a minor scandal and went back a few days later to tell him. I knew that I could rely on his confidentiality. I told him. The straight judicial face did not change, at first, and then that twinkle appeared in his eye and the suspicion of a smile crossed his face. Frightening? He was a frighteningly good example of everything that is best in a Jew and in a human being. His legacy is a fine one, but we will miss him very, very much indeed.