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.