John was a friend and a colleague who will be remembered with a tear but a growing smile by many of us. His career in Moscow from 1993 to 2015 was distinguished by one thing â himself. Whoever he was working for at the time was secondary; we came to see John. His support of the expat community and for charitable works through the Scottish, Irish and UK business clubs and societies was simply amazing. With his flowing white beard; something he cultivated in Russia, and the natural way he communicated with children, John became the communityâs Father Christmas in countless charitable balls and events. Many children grew up in Moscow thinking that he WAS Santa Claus, as Avril Conroy mentioned.
John was a gentleman, in the old sense of the word, but he also had a mischievous, playful side. Russia was a country that afforded Johnâs personality and talents the room and scope to manifest. He was a magnanimous man, although even those who were closest to him admit that the scope of Johnâs activities was so large that we never really knew the âcomplete Johnâ.
Johnâs career spanned 41 years, and he worked up from a cookâs assistant at the Ritz Hotel in London to co-owner of Royal Travel and various senior consultancy positions in the hospitality industry in Russia and the UK. John served in the Royal Navy in 1966-7, and during the decade that followed, worked at Hamleyâs publishing house in London and dedicated time to one of the great passions of his life â painting, something which he didnât tell everybody about. During those years, John would frequently disappear to Europe to paint, sell his paintings to get by and/or worked in restaurants to pay his way. One of his paintings was displayed in the Royal Academy Exhibition in 1978. John painted throughout his life, however he never became a commercial success, possibly because that would have meant that he would have had to make sacrifices in terms of style and subject matter, whereas for John, the whole point of painting was free expression. His refusal to compromise on causes and issues that he believed in became the hallmark of his life, as is witnessed by the increasing amount of charity work he engaged in in the latter part of his life.
In the late 1970s his career as a hotel manager really took off, and he worked as deputy general manager the general manager of a string of hotels including the Penta Hotel Heathrow and the Hotel George in London. In the late 1980s John created his own business, âRoche Personnelâ, mainly focusing on the HR requirements within the hospitality business. He relocated to Russia in October 1993, in connection with promotion of beer and other liquor sales to Russia for Allied Lyons, where he helped establish the John Bull Pub Company.
It is from his days at the John Bull that many expats came to know of John Roche. He was a lighthouse that bought everybody together even back then. Everybody knew him, the âEnglishman in Moscowâ. This marked the beginning of a career in Moscow that would focus on his quiet and powerful charisma, his wit, and care.
After the Allied Lyons contract was over, John worked mainly within the travel and hospitality industries as a consultant, trainer, manager, travel agency owner and tour operator. In many cases, John worked with colleagues from previous jobs, or created, through inspiration, a new cohort of young managers who still look up to their old mentor today. His activities were too numerous and varied to list in full, suffice it to say that he survived the 1998 financial crisis thanks to his network of friends, and shortly afterwards set up his own travel agency Royal Travel in partnership with Russian colleagues.
Johnâs charity work in Russia took off in parallel to his business activities, and survived most of them even as his own health began to seriously deteriorate over the past 5 years.
The testimonies, which follow, give an indication of the scope and breadth of the contribution John made to both the expat community here in Russia, but also to the lives of countless children whose lives he literally lit up with hope and joy through his favourite charity: âTaganka Childrenâs Fundâ.
John leaves behind a sister June Roche, a son Guy Roche, a daughter Charlotte and granddaughter Lilly Rahimi.
Interview with John Roche inÂ Moscow expat LifeÂ magazine from December 2013 – Click here to read ‘The Perennial John Roche’
Avril Conroy and the committee of the Irish Club
For as long as most of us living in Moscow can remember, John Roche was a source of warmth, wisdom, and kindness.
For the Irish Club, he was the guiding voice of the St. Patrickâs Day Parade. He was Santa Claus at Christmas at our annual White Ball and at our Christmas kids party, to such an extent that many of our kids grew up thinking that he WAS Santa Claus, leading to some awkward explanations when, every March, âSantaâ stood up on stage to introduce the Parade.
John was our âtamadaâ at the Irish Club Emerald Ball, helping us raise donations for our nominee charities, including his own favourite, the Taganka Childrenâs Fund. He gave his time generously and repeatedly for the good of others, visiting orphanages and childrenâsâ hospices. He also gave his time to any of us who needed it.
John loved his life in Russia. The quiet, gentleman John was only part of him. He had a mischievous glint in his eye that we all saw, hinting to us that he was a man with a rich catalogue of adventures behind him who loved life, and loved people. No better place than Moscow for someone like John to make his home.
However hard it was for him to leave us all behind, it is much harder for us to say goodbye. We can take great solace knowing that he is on the other side now, that same kindness, that same glint in the eye making sure that we remember him with enormous affection for all the goodness and joy he brought into so many peoples lives. John, you will be missed, and for so many are irreplaceable.
I met John Roche 13 years ago and little did I know how fortuitous a meeting it would be. I had just moved to Moscow, was looking for work, and we were introduced by a mutual friend. John knew everybody and had clearly been an expat institution long before I arrived. After an initial chat and short drinking session, we quickly became friends and it remained that way until I last saw him a few months ago.
My abiding memories of John are conversational. We most often met up in pubs and quickly dropped into long and animated conversations aboutâ¦ well, anything really. John could converse on any subject, whether it be art (his favourite!), music (mine!), literature (those Shakespeare soliloquies!), films, family, or politics. I always learned something from John as he was a keen observer who could spot something the majority of us would miss. He was tough when he needed to be but there wasnât a mean bone in his body. More often than not we would sit for hours just catching up.
One of Johnâs best attributes was his tireless work with childrenâs charities here in Moscow. Others can elaborate on this but I can only add that I know he loved the work and looked forward to donning the Santa costume every year. Seeing him after a night of bringing cheer to a group of children always warmed the heart.
John was a true one off and he will be desperately missed. His ability to bring disparate people together with charm, wit and style, in these times of too little diplomacy and not enough understanding, is something we will all miss.
Iâm a better person for having met John and there could be no more fitting epithet.
John Patrick âRockyâ âTwo Shedsâ Roche, the Dancer, the Painter, the Cook, The Poet, the Lover, and the genuine Great Guy. Thank you for letting me meet you and get to know you just a little, for your life will always make me smile remembering how you could bring a smile to any ones face.
John was a friend and a colleague whom will always keep a smile in my mind. His selfless support of charities in Russia, his humor, his desire to live life to full is an example to all of how to be at peace with yourself. His support through the Scottish, Irish and UK Business communities has been never ending. Always there to help, with anything. Always willing to go that extra mile for the sake of the charities, the children. âDyed Morozâ â Father Christmas, a mark that John has made on Russia and on many childrenâs hearts and minds.
I am sad, and yet I sit here smiling, a small tear in my eye for the loss of a friend, but a smile that grows stronger and bigger as a reflection of his achievements and what he did for so many.
Thank you John, for the honor of knowing you. Rest in peace, you deserve it. You have touched many lives and made them better and for that you will never be forgotten.
John first came to Moscow in October 1993. He arrived fresh faced, running bars and restaurants under contract. John was the ideal man to head up such an enterprise, having managed many hotels in London, as well as kitchens. From the word go, John rolled up his sleeves and got stuck inâ¦ the menu was completely revamped, with Soviet-type stew being replaced with good English fayre, fish and chips and Sunday Roast Dinners. Word soon got out about town, and within a few weeks the bar had doubled its turnover and had become of regular watering hole for ex-pat businessmen, Russian bankers, with their entourage of body guards, and international lorry drivers, many of whom were of the Finnish persuasion. John liked to joke that is was like the bar out of Star Wars â although without the Stars, âbut not sure about the wars. It is the nineties after allâ. And they all came to see John. Such was the beginning of Johnâs career in Moscow. And it started as it carried on, bringing people together, caring for others.
From 1994 until 1998, John continued to work hard and play hard, making friends wherever he went and winning hearts and minds of the local Russians, who just fell in love with the âAnglysky Dyed Morozâ. It was about this time that John started to grow and wear his beard more regularly than before. However, 1998 saw the first major financial crash in Russia. John managed to find work, as we all did, using his strong contact network. It was just after this time that John set up his travel agency, Royal Travel, in partnership with some Russian colleagues.
John Roche was a rare person these days, a true gentleman, respected by all who met him , a man who always gave more than he took .
I was privileged to spend a lot of time in his company, we worked together, shared an apartment, in fact we lived in each others pockets for a couple of years.
John was always an inspiration during this period and between us we came up with a wealth of ideas and had a lot of fun doing it .
If I were ever to get round to writing a book about my 20 years in Russia, there would be many chapters involving John and as I have so many good memories of him which would take too much time to recant here, I have decided to write the headings to these chapters .
Summertime. Cosmonaut night . Dougy the Digger. A few scoups .The longest joke. Coffee. Compass. Ufa to Far. A full English. Bacchus and Skolka.
Those of you who were around then might remember some of these stories with fond memories, if you were not then I would be happy to raise a glass to John and tell you about them sometime.
The world is missing one of its brightest lights and Christmas in Moscow will never be the same without him.
I will leave it to others to ring the praises of the charity work he did, if anybody deserves a posthumous OBE then surely it is the legend John Roche .
You have left us John but you will never be forgotten !
In loving memory.
It is something that one cannot be prepared for. The feeling of shock, loss and grief on John’s passing away will stay with his close friends for a long time. The fact that this wonderful person is no longer part of your life and life of the community is extremely difficult to accept.
But I know that John’s legacy – everything that he has done for the various charities in Moscow helping to change so many lives for the better, including families and children in care of Taganka Children’s Fund â will always stay with us. He was always there for us to help with fundraising and public events, to attend childrenâs performances and be their Santa around Christmas and New Year, help kids practice English and so many other occasions for so many years, that it is hard to imagine any of it without him being there.
I had the privilege of knowing John for over 10 years, His human wisdom, amazing sense of humour and warm-heartedness made him a very special and dear friend to so many of us in Moscow. The one person who made difficult things seem easy. His encouragement meant so much. John will be truly missed.
When we last met at a party in September, he said to me before leaving: “I will be seeing you”. Yes, I will be seeing you, wherever it is, John. RIP my dear friend. You will never be forgotten.
Witty, intelligent, life and soul of any party. His kindness had no limits. His generosity in giving himself away to people was overwhelming. Not only he could feel, understand and identify peopleâs yearnings, he was able to soothe them.
True gentleman, delicate with the othersâ feelings. Fascinating, sincere and open-minded interlocutor. Faithful friend with an open heart and a vast soul. Life will never be the same without you.
I first met John in 1994, and from the start he came over as a likeable and approachable guy. Since then John moved from his hospitality background through timeshare, travel, and teaching English and office management. He ended up back in the travel business once again. However it will not be for his working life that John will be remembered, but for his huge contribution to fund raising and other charity work. John for me was the personification of the expression âa Gentleman and a Scholarâ. He will never leave this country in spirit.
He will be especially remembered for his âDyed Morozâ and Santa Claus characters which brought truly magical moments to orphans and other children in Moscow. Many really believed he was the real deal. It was heart-warming to see not only the joy he brought to children but the special twinkle in his own eyes that contributed to the moment.