Ustinov remembered with affection at funeral service

Peter Ustinov was remembered today as a great actor and humorist who made a difference to the world through his good works for children.

Peter Ustinov was remembered today as a great actor and humorist who made a difference to the world through his good works for children.

"This is an extraordinarily sad occasion, all the more so because Sir Peter was an extraordinarily funny man," said Carol Bellamy, executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund. "The world today can ill afford to lose such a source of laughter."

Bellamy spoke to about 300 people who attended Ustinov's funeral service in Geneva's historic Cathedral of St. Pierre, where 16th-century religious reformer John Calvin preached.

"The children of the world had no greater champion," said Bellamy. "His work for children was an act of faith that brought him face to face with brutal reality."

She said he saw in person child labourers, sick children and other suffering youngsters.

"Such sights never dampened his compassion," Bellamy said. "He had a real connection with children. I remember him playing Ping-Pong with them in Egypt, dancing with them in Cambodia and helping vaccinate children in China."

No movie stars appeared to be present. The crowd was made up of U.N. and Swiss officials and British diplomats as well as admirers primarily from Switzerland and Germany, where the multilingual Ustinov was extremely popular.

Leon Davico, a former spokesman for UNICEF who enlisted Ustinov to serve as the agency's goodwill ambassador for 35 years and who helped organise the service, said no formal invitations were sent.

"His struggle for peace and against human stupidity did more for the world than all the speeches of politicians and ministers put together," Davico said.

Israeli Violinist Ivry Gitlis played the Gavotte from the E-major suite for solo violin by Johann Sebastian Bach as sunlight streamed through the stained-glass windows onto the mourners' faces.

Gitlis, a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations' Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation, then played a Hebrew lullaby by Ustinov's coffin.

Then the 81-year-old Gitlis quipped, "I don't know how much time I've got left. Goodbye - and see you soon."

Pastor Henry Babel, who presided at the Protestant religious service, said, "He had the gift of being a great man while remaining a human being. Many great men lose their humanity."

A choir of 40 people sang Mozart's "Tantum Ergo" and a chamber orchestra played two other pieces by Mozart.

Davico recalled the clutter of books, photographs and paintings that Ustinov surrounded himself with in his home in vineyards overlooking Lake Geneva.

"You needed a sixth sense to navigate your way through them," Davico said.

Ustinov told an interviewer that he moved to Switzerland in 1957 in part "for fiscal reasons," referring to his former wife's desire to escape the high income taxes Britain imposed on his earnings as an actor, author and raconteur.

He was being buried later in the village of Bursins, where he lived in a chateau since 1971.

Ustinov, who had been suffering from diabetes, died of heart failure late Sunday night in a clinic near his home. He was 82.

Ustinov won Academy Awards for the role of Batiatus, owner of the gladiator school in "Spartacus" (1960), and for Arthur Simpson, an English small-time black marketeer in Turkey who gets caught up in a jewel heist in "Topkapi" (1965).

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