Kevin Mayhew: 1942-2021
The founder of Kevin Mayhew Publishers had a life-long love of music, fervently believed in social justice for all, and was genuinely open to people of all faiths and none
When Kevin Mayhew left school aged just 16, probably few would have imagined he would go on to establish two hugely successful businesses, one after the other.
Similarly, when, aged 28, a setting that he’d composed for the Roman Catholic mass in English, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, was turned down by two Catholic publishing houses, few would have dreamt that just a short time later, after he decided to self-publish the setting, he would have sold over a hundred thousand copies, earning sufficient money to launch, in partnership with Joan McCrimmon, the first of those businesses: Mayhew-McCrimmon.
Yet I have little doubt that even as a teenager and young man, the drive, determination and creativity that epitomised Kevin must have been very much in evidence.
Kevin was born on 13 December 1942 to Walter and Alice Mayhew, and in 1980 married Barbara, who was to remain the love of his life. As a boy he attended Westminster Cathedral Choir School, and was a chorister at Westminster Cathedral, which no doubt contributed to his life-long love of music. Having subsequently studied at St Edmund’s College, Ware, and then the Guildhall School of Music and Drama until he ran out of funds, in the mid-1960s he became choirmaster of the Sacred Heart Choir in his home town of Southend-on-Sea, swiftly gaining recognition as a leading light in promoting new hymns and church music, as well as for publishing more familiar hymnody.
Kevin was also a gifted composer, in 1976 writing the hymn ‘Peace, perfect peace, is the gift of Christ our Lord’. His passion for music exhibited itself not just in the extensive list of sheet music, new hymns, and CDs of numerous genres that Kevin Mayhew Ltd publishes, but perhaps above all in the series of classical concerts he organised across the UK in 2004 and 2005, titled ‘Concerts in Churches’.
During those early years, Kevin undertook a good deal of voluntary work within the disabled community, organising, for example, the music for the service held at Westminster Cathedral each year for people with learning difficulties. A man of passionate convictions, he was one of those rare individuals who practise what they preach, fervently believing in social justice for all. To that end, he and Barbara participated in numerous marches and campaigns across the years, not least for nuclear disarmament or anti-war protests.
It was in the same year that he wrote Peace, perfect peace that Kevin formed Kevin Mayhew Ltd, which he drove forward with astonishing energy and vision. Although hymnbooks remained central to the company, it was soon offering an enormous range of other material: Christian resource and devotional books, church supplies, clerical garments and accessories, gifts, cards, and, of course, the music.
And this was not focused on any one denomination or particular brand of theology. Though Kevin was a committed Roman Catholic, he was genuinely open to people of all faiths and none, as he demonstrated in recent years by worshipping with the Society of Friends in Bury St Edmunds, among whom he felt very much at home.
The Kevin Mayhew book list has long reflected a similar openness. Though the company started with publishing simply Catholic hymnbooks, it was soon also producing them for Anglican users, as well as a host of other material for Christians of all denominations and persuasions.
Naturally charming, Kevin possessed that wonderful gift of putting people he met instantly at ease. And there was nothing false about that charm: he was genuinely interested in people, a good listener as well as talker, hugely supportive not just of family, but of friends, colleagues and of course the numerous authors and composers he helped to nurture. Yes, he could be demanding at times, expecting a lot from people, but if he pushed them hard, he did so because he wanted them to realise their potential, and many can testify to how his belief in them helped them to achieve just that.
It was a huge shock when Kevin was diagnosed about five years ago with the cruel disease Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. Yet, if this took a heavy toll on his body, his spirit remained unbowed to the last. He leaves behind his beloved wife Barbara, seven hugely gifted daughters, fifteen grandchildren and a large extended family, all of whom he delighted in. His passing leaves them and us impoverished, but his life and legacy have enriched us beyond words.