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.
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.