Melanoma robbed my brothers and I of a father, and my stepmother of a husband. Daddy (yes, I’m past 40 but have always called him that) had so many friends, and nothing was a bigger testament to this than the enormous numbers at his funeral. The vicar said he had literally never seen the church so full, and people had to be sent away as there were too many even just standing. His funeral was one of the saddest and hardest days of my life.
It is perhaps too easy to describe someone as a real character but with Daddy there is no better description; he was truly one of life’s big characters. As so many have written in the letters which have poured in since his death: he was one of those people you only had to meet once, and then you never forgot him. He had such presence and was so charismatic.
The one positive of his death is that in death you perhaps often realise even more how special someone is. I certainly learnt that he had done so many kind things, helped so many people and not all of these actions had been known to me before he died. There is truth that you often don’t ask your family the questions you want to, or chat about the little things, and then, sometimes, it is too late.
He helped raise money to mend the church roof and was hugely respected locally because he bought the local pub which was so important for restoring the community.
His property company was more than just a job for him, it was a huge part of his life. The staff who worked for him – and still do work for my brother because it’s a family business – have all been there for years. It was both a business which he was hugely successful at, but also like an extended family to him. All his staff say that he was more than just a boss. He was their friend and someone they respected hugely. And he had strong morals so was always trusted, both at work and in life too.
Although his work was a big part of his life (he won many environmental and conservation awards for building on land which previously was wasteland but he made beautiful again) he also had many other passions. He was more than just a keen gardener: his garden is spectacular. It was certainly as beautiful, if not more so, than many well-known public gardens. And he did have garden open days to raise money for charity.
He could often be seen in his vegetable garden filling baskets and buckets with fruit and vegetables or listening to Classic FM in his greenhouse. He was big in the bee community too, and had many hives, and knew much about bees.
Then there was golf. He knew almost everyone at his golf club and was a gambler, always placing bets and bringing the club alive with his banter, jokes and the nicknames he and the other players all had for each other. He was a linch-pin and this has become even clearer since his death. Many have said the club is a quieter, duller place without him. ‘Playing with him was never dull,’ are words I have heard repeated often.
The pained expression in his face, the haunted look in his eyes during his last few days are memories which will never leave. But even during this time he was able to joke with the doctors and nurses. His oncologist commented that he was instantly struck by his charisma – and that he was a man he would never forget.
His striking eyes – which were so piercing and always glinting – became haunted but the strength and ferocity of his melanoma meant – again fortunately in some ways – that his days of pain were limited. Or maybe it was just his stubbornness and his appetite for life which meant he golfed and stalked (another of his passions) right up to his death. As it was he died less than 3 weeks after his diagnosis.
His house was full of things for his grandchildren who he loved tremendously and he was constantly wanting to add things so that they would come often. An amazing treehouse, a rocking horse he had beautifully carved…
As a family we are just so happy we all went skiing together just months before his death. He loved nothing more than having all his family around him and we all went together.
He was a man of strong opinions, and never shy to air them. And he had a huge love of nature. He loved swallows, the Scottish moors, Wales (especially around Druidstone), so he lives on in many places. And he loved exploring new places, and foreign travel.
He didn’t drink much, never smoked and was fit. Another shocking reason that melanoma should take him so young. Although he was never one to live by rules, no words are more apt for him than ‘I did it my way.’ So he did like his food, and although he was certainly not fat he didn’t like to be told he was eating too much cream or butter. No, for him life was for living.
I can picture him now with his whistle around his neck, striding out under the moonlight taking his dogs out for a late evening walk. I remember climbing Leith Hill which is near his home, again as a family and we all had hot chocolates at the top; all the grandchildren running around. I remember him in our garden one evening and he called to the owls in two large trees and they flew out in response to his call. He knew the calls of many birds
So much of what he stood for has been passed down to my brothers and I so he lives on in us.
Just before he died he’d been surrounded by a huge crowd of his friends for his big 70th birthday party. There is no doubt melanoma took him too young. He felt ill just before his party but thought it was a hernia. By the time we had his true diagnosis he had a huge tumour on his liver and his organs were failing quickly with the speed of his melanoma.
Mark, my brother ran a marathon in Daddy’s memory – and to raise money for melanoma research – shortly after his death, so my father’s bloody mindedness lives on in Mark for sure!
I was holding Daddy’s hand moments before he died. We were all with him and although he couldn’t speak at the end he knew we were all there. Moments later he was gone. A man I always loved seeing, I can picture his smile and still now I can barely believe I won’t see it again. I am just proud he was my father and any work which can be done to help cure and prevent deaths from melanoma is essential work. So that other families won’t be robbed of someone so special as our father.