I am grateful to son Paul for this eulogy read at Keith’s funeral held on 25th March at St Lawrence Church Bidborough. The small church was overfull; the congregation reflected Keith’s wide interests, and included three O.A.’s, suitable attired in striped blazers.
Dad was always fond of talking about his past, his childhood and his roots. Whether telling Caroline and me about his experience of cycling ten miles to school every day through wind,rain, snow and searing heat (not always at the same time) before letting us out of his car at the school gates, his adventures in East Africa as a young shipping agent for Union Castle, or his experiences during the war (I think his favourite story was when a nearby bomb scared his white cat Snowy into running up the chimney and coming down as a black cat Sooty). And although I never met my grandparents, Dad would often share his memories of them, his Dad Fred stopping a runaway horse and cart on Lewisham High Street, and his mum Vi’s love of singing musical hall songs at the piano.
As a tribute I’d like to share some slightly more recent stories of the things I remember about him as a father.
I think we all know that Sport was a massive part of Dad’s life. I’ve not really inherited his talent, but Dad tried hard to get me engaged.
Although tennis, squash, and lately golf were his main passions, Dad had also been a keen footballer, playing one or two matches for one of Charlton Athletic’s reserve teams, and after taking me to a couple of matches as a child, they also became my team. For a short time in the late 1990’s this was quite exciting, and I remember returning the favour and taking Dad to see them play in their first (and only) premiership season. Dad also tried hard to get me into playing football, driving me to and cheering me on at cub scout matches, and even managing to get the legendary Jimmy Hill (who Dad knew from tennis circles) to write in my autograph book wishing me and the team good luck.
Dad came from a generation when domestic duties were more clearly divided between men and women than they are today, although I’m told he did change the occasional nappy, which was apparently quite modern for a 1970’s dad. Cooking was definitely not one of his passions, andso whenever Mum was out it was normally a choice between eggs on toast or lunch at a local pub. Most times, we would both agree on the second; I have fond memories of lunchtimes spent at the Beehive pub whenever Mum was away … and slightly fuzzier memories of a few years later when he would always be happy to pick me up from the same pub after it had become the favourite hangout for me and my friends. Thanks Dad.
Even if he was reluctant to pick up a saucepan, Mum kept him busy with a constant list of gardening jobs, which he would diligently work through with only occasional grumbling or outsourcing to me … it’s a big lawn for 50p). Perhaps part of the attraction was the chance to compete with the laws of gravity and impress, sorry, scare the living daylights out of, Mum by balancing precariously 30 feet up a ladder with a chainsaw under his arm.
In later years, although his nappy changing days were behind him, he was always delighted and entertained by his lovely grandchildren (and not just as an excuse to indulge his and their sweet tooths). One of our fondest recent memories was him singing along with Clara and Amelie to Delilah as part of the entertainment put on at the care home for his Golden Wedding celebrations (his 30 years of training with the Orpheus choir not so easily forgotten perhaps).
One of the things I most admired about Dad was his confident and easy-going nature. He just seemed to get on with everyone and if he ever needed a favour people were generally happy to help him out. I remember age 9 or 10 Dad taking me to Wimbledon on finals day, and finding all the seats were taken in the Umpires section of the stand, he persuaded the scoreboard operator to let me sit with her under the scoreboard to watch Navratilova play Hana Mandlikova. He had some explaining to do when we got home and Mum had spotted me on TV, but I think we got away with it and I’m pretty sure I was allowed back the next year.
I think Dad would have been proud that I was visiting garages recently as part of my career with Shell. This brought back happy memories of “bring your kids to work days” with him, watching him leverage his family man credentials to convince site managers into switching to Shell oils, and bribing me with Smiths Crisps to keep quiet and smile sweetly.
I hope you can join us later at the tennis club to share your own memories of Dad with a pint of his favourite Harveys or, if you prefer, the legendary “Poult Wood Pinky”.
I think it’s no exaggeration to say Dad made the most of his 86 years, focussing on the things and activities he loved. This shone through in his personality, always seeing the bright side, even near the end when his mind and body wore out well before his patience and charm.
We’ll all miss you Dad, but you leave us with a lot of happy and proud memories.