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Eulogy for a friend

Today you will hear/have heard tributes to Susan representing the different ways she touched us all. She was many wonderful things to many people. Her warmth, humanity, friendship and love is reflected in the attendance of so many of you here today. Susan had a wide circle of friends and a loving husband but I am the only one here who can proudly say she was my sister.


Although we were sisters, with only a few months between us in age, we had different personalities from the start. While I loved nothing more than perfecting my plié in ballet lessons, Susan could usually be found mucking out and galloping round the paddock at the Horse Rangers. This diversion in interests sometimes led to the occasional quibble. After taking offence over one little argument Susan decided to exact  her revenge. I had a very special teddy that I loved very much. When my back was turned she smuggled the bear away and proceeded to cut all its fur off. As if that wasn’t bad enough she then covered it in black boot polish. To give her the benefit of the doubt, perhaps concerned by my early love of fashion, Susan was trying to prove that affection shouldn’t be based on looks alone. If so I certainly learned my lesson and have kept that bear to this day. But Susan atoned for her crime by allowing me to do something I’d been wanting, or should I say threatening to do for some time – cut her fringe! Susan thus became my first hairdressing client, aged 5.


Susan was a spirited and clever student. She eased her way confidently through Millfield school and from a young age had that thing that doesn’t come easily to most – a certainty about her choice of career. She knew she wanted to attend secretarial college and go on to work in business. She duly won a place at Clarks College and latterly her diploma.


In the mid 60s that self-same surety of Susan’s own personality combined with her love of music to affect a small change of identity. She was never so keen on the name Susan. The Beatles’ song ‘Hey Jude’ had just been released and obviously made something of an impact. As she was Susan Judith Jones she asked her friends to adopt an abbreviation of her middle name and call her Jude. Whether she insisted that it was because Paul McCartney had actually written the song about her I don’t know. But I do know that the name stuck and some of you still know her as ‘Jude’.


After finishing her education Susan showed her adventurous side by heading off to live in Australia and explore New Zealand. Today many teenagers think of nothing to catch a long haul flight or go on a gap year. But in the late 60s to travel aged 18 to the other side of the world was quite a thing and I admired her greatly for it. The flight was astronomically expensive so she went by boat – 6 weeks there and 6 weeks back. She managed to find work down under and stayed for more than two years. But all missing her as we did we were delighted to welcome her back to the UK.


Upon her return she worked in London before finding a job at Stevens in Wooburn. They’re famous for their sturdy wooden furniture. But even by their standards of durability and reliability Susan stood out. She worked there for 25 years. The office was her life, providing her with many friends and happy memories. It was of course at Stevens where she first met her husband Graeme. They were to spend decades of happiness together and of course were married 4 years ago, going on to create a stunning home in Berkshire.


Outside of work Susan kept up a strong set of interests. She did a great deal of voluntary work of which we were all incredibly proud. She served her community as a Parish Councillor. Also she became what’s referred to as an ‘Appropriate Adult’: offering support to vulnerable adults and young people who find themselves detained in Police custody. As kind and responsible as Susan was I can’t think of a more appropriate adult than her for such a role. She always was a fantastic listener and I know there are many of us here, who if we found ourselves going through times of difficulty, would turn to Susan for support. She would always be only too happy to give it.


Her affection extended to our family. She was extremely fond of her niece and nephew and their children – her grand-nieces and nephews. She did of course love her dogs, particularly Jack Russells. She gave Maisy and Jake a fantastic home.


Of course, when it came, her illness was a great shock to us all. The nature of it meant that the outlook was never good. For a lesser person it would have been a crushing blow. But Susan bore her illness extremely bravely and with great dignity and fortitude. She took the attitude that she was going to make the most of whatever time she had left, still enjoying a gin and tonic up until two days before she died. I’m sure it was this attitude that allowed her to surprise her doctors by far exceeding the life expectancy she was originally given.


I never once heard a word of complaint from Susan and I think this points to the fact that she felt she had led a good life. Although she was taken from us at all too young an age she felt that she had made the most of her time with us and could leave in good conscience and good heart. That’s surely something we all aspire to and Susan achieved it.


There was one good thing about Susan’s illness. It brought us closer together. She was an independent person her entire life. Although we were always on good terms, she led her life and I led mine. But spending more time with her as I did throughout the last few years it brought home to me what a fantastic friend, wife, aunt, godmother and, above all, person she was.


Susan loved Abba, and her favourite song was Dancing Queen. I can picture her now at family parties – glass of pinot grigio in hand, with a big smile on her face, gracing the dance floor to that particular song. That’s how I will remember her – as my dancing Queen.


Eulogy for a Grandfather

A lot of things spring to mind when I think of Gramps but an obvious one, and a good place to start is his size. His dimensions were all in proportion of course but were just all extended by that bit extra in comparison with anyone else in the family. His size was imposing even when I’d grown up but as a kid he seemed enormous. He was tall, but not rakish – well built and handsome. His feet were big enough that as kids Nat, polly or I could fit a whole foot on his instep whereupon and he’d dance us round the living room in perfect synchronicity. To his grandchildren he was the very gentlest of giants. He literally and metaphorically has left some big shoes to fill.


Those shoes, like the rest of his clothes were immaculately kept. In fact immaculacy is a word that fits gramps well. He was always well turned out and appreciated – without succumbing to vanity – the value of looking smart. His clothes were kept so immaculately that I’ve been recently proudly been sporting several of his hand-me-downs – they look like I’ve just bought them for a small fortune from Bond Street. He had a full head of hair for his entire life and was never anything less than clean-shaven. One of the first things he’d do when I’d come to visit him in recent years was point at my stubble and say ‘what’s all this!’. Looking through the family picture archive it’s striking how his sharp dress sense combined with matinee idol good looks cut a dashing handsomeness.


But his immaculacy didn’t stop with his appearance. To reach the executive level he did in the civil service was a significant achievement, born from a marriage of  striving for perfection and working as efficiently as possible. Apparently he used to answer the phone simply with the word ‘port’. One syllable. He didn’t even waste time with ‘hello’. From helping to protect the nation’s coastlines from environmental damage to computerising the DVLA, to managing the Laser Research Lab at University College Hospital, to in later years running the Boltons’ residents association, many thousands have felt the direct benefit of his management and hard work. In a time of strife about waste in the public sector you know that if there were 10,000 grandpas running the country every last penny of public money would be accounted for, every minister held to account and the trains would be renationalised and then made to run on time.


Time never stood still for Gramps. In fact he was something of pioneer. Whether it was being the first pilot to land at Heathrow (albeit by a foggy accident) or bringing computer technology into the civil service he embraced the possibilities of the future. Looking back at those pictures of him standing next to banks of computers, each one the size of a small car, makes you realise he was at the cutting edge of perhaps the most important technology of them all. I imagine computers and gramps got along from day one. The combination of mechanics, perfectly logical processors and the speed of their development made them a perfect foil for his intelligent and methodical brain.


His office at home gradually became a museum-cum-shrine to his favourite type of computers – macs. He always bought macs even when everyone else was buying PCs. Gramps knew how computers should work and it was perfectly obvious to him that the mac way was the right way. I remember him looking at a computer mouse once and saying with heartfelt passion ‘what is the point of a second mouse button?’. Eventually the rest of the world caught up with his foresight and now macs (with their one mouse button) very much rule the world.


For a lot of people age is a barrier to technology yet Gramps was sending emails before I was and in recent years despite being largely confined to his home, he used the internet to enrichen his knowledge and travel the world, albeit virtually. With every other family in the country it was the kids teaching their parents, and maybe, just maybe their grandparents how to use computers. With our family it was the complete reverse. For years he was our family IT consultant. I remember him helping me and Dad set up our first mac (Gramps’ suggestion of course) in the early 90s. He was pointing to the connecting sockets on the back of the computer explaining this was the monitor port, and this was the keyboard port. Dad, presciently replied, ‘the only one we’ll need is the Ken Port’.


Although he used computers to help broaden his understanding of the world, they were far from being his only area of expertise. He had a love and a talent for music. I wish I’d had a chance to watch him playing the pop music of his day in his accordion band as a youngster. The joy you can give and receive from playing music with others is an experience we’ve both been lucky enough to share and through it we’ll have a common kinship forever. Luckily, unlike Gramps, I haven’t had to pay to get into any of my own gigs though.


His never-ending quest for knowledge was obvious just from a quick glance at his bookshelves. The range of books was wideranging and the desire to better himself unmissable. Completing an open university degree whilst still in full time work is a testament to his dedication and intelligence, a combination that also made him a formidable opponent to face across a chess board.


Those two attributes – dedication and intelligence – are great examples for any grandfather to set his grandson. Fortunately for me he was one of several role models in my immediate family that had used their brains to great effect. But there was another area – about as far removed from bookishness as you can get – in which Gramps really stood out. He was the only man in the family who I could look up to as a man’s man, a boys-own hero. Here was a bonafide man of aeroplanes, wartime adventure, and motorbikes with sidecars. Here was a man who knew his carburettor from his crank-shaft. Here was a man who hade made emergency landings with flying boats or almost crashed a plane into Salisbury Cathedral Spire. There is an elevated category of life experience best defined by when you first reminisce about it you’re able to say to yourself ‘I’ll tell my grandchildren about that one day’. Most people are lucky if they have one of those heroic tales to tell. Gramps had them in spades.


Through those stories, and through so many other ways in which he touched our lives he will go on living for a very long time yet.

how to write a eulogy

Eulogy for a father

I’m not a man of mathematics but the equation that ran through my head when I sat down to write this was family occasion + speech = Dad. For landmark birthday parties: my 21st, Nat’s 21st, Granny’s 90th, he was the go-to-booking. Likewise at family funerals he was the obvious and right choice to speak. Guests at those parties were naturally impressed and his ability behind the lectern caused word to spread. If you want some added production value to your upcoming do, they said, make sure you ask David to ‘say a few words’. Over the years I’ve witnessed him give ringing affectionate tributes for children of family friends he really knew very little about apart from the fact it was their birthday. But he pulled it off. Every time. And now that ‘family occasion + speech = Dad’ is for the first time an unsolvable equation it’s worth thinking why it served us so well for so many years.

Of course there was the oratory and intelligence honed at Oxford that drove him to the Presidency of the Union. There was a sense of humour that drew from intelligent wordplay but appreciated a good schoolboy jape. There was a love of performance that allowed him to become a prominent broadcaster for 40 years. But above all there was a warmth and generosity of spirit, a love of humanity and the ability to see and celebrate the best in everyone. It radiated out of Dad and instantly connected with an audience. Even if you’d studied (as he had) the finest political orators at first hand and recognised the methodology Dad was employing, it still didn’t in any way interfere with the sentiment of his words. In those many speeches – be it praising the achievements of his grandmother’s life, or celebrating a child’s 20m swimming badge as if it was a Nobel prize for literature, his audience knew he meant every word.

Although he’s got a pretty good reason for not being able to make this particular speech, making excuses was never part of Dad’s DNA. His sense of duty was almost superhuman. I only ever recall him having one day off work in his entire career – Even during months of chemotherapy – the medical profession’s best attempt at recreating Hiroshima on a personal scale – he continued to turn up for every media training session he was booked to give and never gave any hint that he was unwell. If

you asked Dad to be there in a professional or personal capacity he would be – he was truly ‘David the Dependable’. It prompts the unavoidable and tragic cliché. It’s only now that he’s gone that we can truly see what a presence he was in our lives.

Not giving excuses to others and crucially not allowing himself to accept his own excuses allowed Dad to get so much done. Ask him to perform a task and he’d just do it – immediately. “David can you go to town and buy a lightbulb, David can you write a quick speech for a leader of a major political party, Dad can you pick me up from the party I’ve underestimated the distance to the location of and turns out to be 50 rather than 5 miles away?” I’m on way, of course, I’ll be there as soon as I can. He thought his attribute was anything but an attribute. He considered it perfectly normal. Yet we – the vast majority in the ‘I’ll do it in 5 minutes’ camp know what a remarkable a trait it really was.

It was why – in perfect tandem with his enormous brain, he did so well academically. The hurdles of school and university examinations were overcome with ease and aplomb. Scholarships to Charterhouse, Trinity College Oxford, and the great honour of being a Kennedy Scholar to MIT all followed. Admittedly this eagerness to cram the maximum amount of activity into a day very occasionally had its drawbacks. On Christmas Day (as on every other day of the year), he’d be up by six at the latest, have all the veg for Christmas dinner peeled by 7.30, whereupon he and I would commence our annual argument about why it wasn’t a good idea to put the roast potatoes on at 8 in the morning when you were planning on serving lunch at 3.

Dad’s skills in the kitchen were never hugely developed. With one notable exception. Scrambled Egg. He made the best scrambled egg this side of the Bosphorus. It was a curiosity. After all if he could do great scrambled egg why was his mash lumpy, his steak overdone, his spaghetti all stuck together? Could it be that hidden in the beaten egg mixture lay a deeper symbolism. For the uninitiated Scrambled Egg on Sunday night is something of a Walter / Lacey-Thompson family ritual. Dad grew up having Scrambled eggs on a Sunday night, as his parents had before him. Family tradition – and by extension family itself – was hugely important to Dad. With that in mind I like to think Dad subconsciously took it upon himself to not only be able to cook Scrambled eggs, but do it exceptionally well and keep the tradition alive. It didn’t stop there. He wrote witty rhyming couplets indicating your

place at the Christmas table as his grandfather had done before him, so too he set clues in rhyme to help us hunt chocolate Eggs at Easter. These were just some of the symptoms of a pride he had in his heritage, his upbringing, his family. He was a wonderful father to Nat and I, a devoted son to Granny & Grandpa Basil, a loyal brother to Uncle Christopher, a loving husband of more than 40 years to Mum. Not to mention a steadfast uncle, grandson, cousin, nephew and last, but very much not least, master to his beloved dog Ben.

I’m not going to go into Dad’s career achievements in any great detail. We’d be here until next week if I did and to compress them into a few sentences seems to somehow diminish them. The many, many wonderful tributes composed by colleagues from journalism and politics have done that job more eloquently and with more precision than I ever could. However Dad’s career was obviously remarkable. Although they work in the same universe political journalists and politicians are two clearly defined tribes yet Dad was able to operate at the highest level amongst both. As has been pointed out time and again in tributes from colleagues, he was the last to recognise and celebrate his own achievements. But ultimately personal achievement wasn’t the be all and end all for him. I think the chance to work and interact with like-minded intelligent people – whatever the arena – gave him the most satisfaction. I have never seen him happier than chatting over lunch to former colleagues about old times at ITN and the BBC, about getting one over a cabinet minister or doing a live broadcast from a dodgy phoneline in the middle of no- where. In those conversations his energy level increased and you could almost see the pride bursting out of him.

That change in mood, that ability to alter the tempo of his personality was career defining. I heard him describe it once as flicking a switch from his off screen persona to his on-screen one. I did have the pleasure of working with him a little over the last few years – sometimes doing the camera work for his media training – and saw the switch being flicked at first hand. It was quite a transformation. The latest trainees – usually executives of the likes of the Royal Shakespeare Company or the Arts Council would file in to a meeting room whereupon Dad would engage them in a typically friendly, and genuine, chat about their latest project or how they were settling in to their new job. After a few minutes Dad would politely ask them if they didn’t mind, as long as they felt they were absolutely ready, had definitely finished

their coffee and biscuit and had had a chance to answer that pressing email that had just popped up on the blackberry, that perhaps they could try a practice interview? “No problem” came the reply, and you could see them thinking ‘I wasn’t really looking forward to this but he’s such a nice bloke – what’s the worst that can happen’. I would press the button to roll the camera and smile, knowing that Dad was about to flick the switch. The first question usually boiled down to “So you’ve just started this job, Everyone including me thinks you’re absolutely useless, and you’ve got no hope of succeeding in this moribund pathetic excuse of an institution. What have you got to say to say for yourself?” Almost to a man the interviewees virtually fell off their chairs.

The switch flicking was wonderful for us – it meant we got our lovely mild-mannered Dad in the evenings and weekends and it meant that his colleagues got the friendliest and most generous of comrades. But it still allowed him to be a devastatingly good journalist and political operator when the need arose. However in the same way that Clark Kent was passed over for promotion at the Daily Planet because he was too modest to tell anyone he was pretty busy being superman, Dad’s personality gave the more myopic TV news executives or party elite an excuse to pass over his candidacy for jobs or indeed for electoral candidacies. Their brain circuitry forged in the hardened world of politics made them mistrust Dad’s approachable geniality. How he didn’t make it into either of the House of Parliament whilst patently inferior candidates did reflects incredibly badly on the ‘so fair it’s unfair’ Liberal Democrat candidate selection policy and more importantly the British political system as a whole. But let’s face facts – Dad was a million miles away from being a failure. Of his many successes the ‘switch flicking’ was perhaps the secret to Dad’s greatest achievement, and hopefully his legacy – namely being a truly nice guy that succeeds in an environment traditionally populated by absolute bastards.

He clearly helped so many people. In the many letters of condolence we’ve received they’ve often contained anecdotes about how he was so encouraging to people at the key moments in their careers or took the time to give advice or lend a hand. I know helping others gave him great satisfaction. In fact he told me a few weeks ago – obviously having mused on his life quite heavily whilst in hospital – that had he had his time again he would have liked to have been a mediator with the UN – helping warring factions to come together to benefit the greater good. If he put half the

energy into helping world peace that he put into supporting my sister and I there wouldn’t be a single nuclear weapon left on the planet by now. Whether it was helping Nat to learn lines or making vast detours on the way home from work to buy a special book I needed for school nothing was too much trouble. He never missed a play Nat was in or one of my gigs – in my case trekking across vast swathes of far-flung London corners, often alone, to watch me do 20 minutes in a sweaty pit with 10 random teenagers for fellow audience members. He basically did my Latin homework for me for about 6 years when I’m sure he would have rather been reading or doing the crossword. I would sit there every Thursday evening getting the latest translation hopelessly wrong with Dad trying his best to help me understand my dative from my vocative. Some weeks I did better, some weeks I did worse but we developed an unspoken pact that sooner or later until he would just start dictating the answers. A couple of days later with another 10 out of 10 safely in the bag the Latin master would hand back my exercise book with the words ‘excellent work Walter’. Little did he know I was NOT the Walter he was really congratulating.

Although his pronounced modesty would have had him squirming in his seat by now at this much praise I do want to briefly touch Dad’s wider palette of skills. He was a talented lyricist and actor, an enthusiastic sportsman and a dedicated patron of the arts. He was a gregarious party host and a welcome guest. He was, lest we forget, the author of four books. He was a genuine world traveller, was fluent in French, virtually fluent in Italian as well as being proficient in German and Spanish. He was a constant imbiber of culture. He usually read three newspapers a day and a couple of books every week. His general knowledge was staggering. I was the one with a history degree but he knew more about the subject than I ever will.

It all adds up to a huge list of achievements as a scholar, a broadcaster, a politician, and most importantly as a human being.

I was listening to a comedian the other night who said you grow up hero worshipping your father, boasting to your mates in the playground about how ‘my dad is better than your’s. Then, he said, you get to about 12 and you suddenly realise your dad’s an arsehole. While that might be the experience for many, it was never mine. My Dad – David Charles Walter – always was, still is and forever will be my hero.