THE sad – and unexpected – loss of preacher and theatre critic Roger Simmonds has been strongly felt in many East Devon communities.

That’s because Roger, 64, touched the hearts of people from all walks of life, from his friends in the Methodist church to theatrical buddies in amateur and professional companies, a fish and chip shop in Budleigh Salterton, a cricket club in Clyst St George and the editorial staff at Archant, publishers of the Exmouth and Budleigh Journal, the Sidmouth Herald and the Midweek Herald.

All of them will miss a man with a heart of gold who cared, had time for people, offered great encouragement, and, above all, went the extra mile for those in need.

“His life was people,” said a close friend. “Church, theatre, sport and helping people. If you had a problem, he’d put things into perspective. He was brilliant for that.”

Born in 1949, Roger was a Budleigh Salterton boy. He attended St Peter’s School and was keen on sports, playing in goal for the school’s football team. His soccer skills were further honed at Exmouth Grammar School and Exmouth Amateurs, as well as playing for the town’s youth club. He then studied at Exeter’s St Luke’s College, training as a teacher.

Teaching proved a mainstay over the years, with spells in Brighton and Wiltshire. More recently, he became a supply teacher in Devon and Dorset.

Roger had a “deeply personal” Christian faith that dominated his life. He attended Budleigh Salterton’s Temple Methodist Sunday school and belonged to its youth club, first as a member and then later as a helper. He participated in the club’s theatrical sketches and pantos, and it’s thought this is where his love of acting first flourished.

Roger’s religious convictions deepened, and, in 1973, he became a Methodist preacher. Last year he was proud to receive his 40-year certificate. Taking an active part in church life, he was a founder member of the Men’s Fellowship, belonging to house groups and prayer groups.

On the sporting side, he became a fine wicketkeeper for the Clyst St George cricket team. “He could have made a much higher grade than the level he played,” said a friend, “but his principle of not playing on Sunday meant that he didn’t progress.”

Once he stopped playing, he became the team’s scorer and also took up umpiring for Exmouth Ladies’ hockey team.

His acting skills – and love and knowledge of the theatre – are legendary. A life member of Salterton Drama Club, Roger appeared in many of its productions. He also appeared at Exmouth’s Blackmore Theatre and belonged to Budleigh Buddies, appearing most recently as the Sheriff of Nottingham in its panto Robin Hood.

It was his theatrical knowledge – and his skill as a wordsmith – that made him essential reading in our newspapers’ entertainments columns. We will miss his great integrity. Unusually for a reviewer, if he felt a production showed promise but hadn’t fully delivered, he would attend another performance before penning his piece.

Well known in Budleigh Salterton, he had a soft spot for a local gastronomic delight.

“When I opened up my fish and chip shop,” said his friend and fellow thespian Simon Blisset, “he vowed he’d come in every week to have fish and chips, and he kept to that!”

“It was a great shock to all of us at the Temple,” said Ron Hill, one of his oldest friends from Budleigh’s Methodist church. “We miss him. But he knew just where he was going and he’s safely there now.”

Roger leaves an elder brother, a sister-in-law and two nieces.

There’s a private cremation, followed by a service of thanksgiving at Temple Methodist Church, Budleigh Salterton on Monday, March 10 at 2.30pm. All welcome. No flowers, donations gratefully received by retiring collection for Action for Children, or may be sent to Richard W. Gegg & Sons, Funeral Directors, 47, Rolle Street, Exmouth. EX8 2RS.