Tributes paid to Freddie Rice, SMTC president and star of many musicals
STAR of many Stratford musicals Frederick Rice, known as Freddie, has died aged 90 after a period of declining health.
The much-loved father-of-five was president of the Stratford Musical Theatre Company (SMTC) and has been a driving force of non-professional musicals in the area for more than 60 years. He also performed with Birmingham Opera, the Sing Live Choir and acted as MC at charity events.
Throughout his life he played an active part in the Old Moselian Rugby club, and for more than 30 years he was a great host to friends from L’Isle Adam in France through Stratford Town Twinning Association.
Freddie died at home in Snitterfield with his wife Meryl and other family members at his side. Gershwin was playing on the radio as he peacefully slipped away.
Brought up in the Moseley area of Birmingham, he attended the Moseley Grammar School for Boys. Music was always an important part of his life, and he was a choirboy at nearby church St Christopher’s.
After studying at night school he qualified as a mechanical engineer, and went on to work for engineering companies specialising in pneumatics.
Freddie enjoyed his national service with the Royal Signals, playing rugby for the regiment.
At a local youth club he met the love of his life, Meryl. They were married in August 1956 and moved to the Stratford area, where Freddie quickly joined the Stratford Operatic Society (which later became SMTC). Meryl acted as the back-up team, helping to make costumes, supporting Freddie as he took on bigger roles and being incredibly proud of him.
The couple had five children, three daughters: Nikki, Gaye and Rhiannan; and two sons: Jem and Chris.
His family described Freddie as “a great raconteur, he loved to chat, but he was also quiet and thoughtful with a love of books and music”.
Meryl and Freddie provided a family home full of love and warmth, and always full of music. His children recall special moments of seeing their dad perform at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre when the operatic society performed there.
Some of Freddie’s most memorable roles with the operatic society/SMTC included Enoch Snow in Carousel (1960), The King of Siam in The King and I (1962), Alfred Doolittle in My Fair Lady (1972, the society’s golden jubilee) and Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof (1976, 1986), as well as Pooh-Bah in a concert production of The Mikado (1997). His final role was Arvide Abernathy in Guys and Dolls (2009).
Giving his all to his roles, Freddie shaved off his curly hair for The King and I, and his performance of Tevye was critically acclaimed, moving many to tears.
One of the stand-out things about Freddie was the time he gave everyone. His family recalled: “He was such a gentleman and so kind to everybody. He was such a good listener, really empathetic and perceptive – no matter what your problem was he always knew the right thing to say.”
Paying tribute, chair of SMTC Phil Ingle added: “We were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our president, Fred Rice. Many members have shared fond memories of performing with Fred, highlighting his warmth and humour off-stage as well as on. He welcomed and encouraged new members and was always incredibly interested in everybody.”
Freddie leaves behind Meryl, five children, six grandchildren and will sadly be missed by his loving extended family.
A celebration of Freddie’s life will be organised for May.