The funeral service was held at 12pm on Thursday 18th June at Mortlake Crematorium. A video of the service is provided here.
Dad was brought up with his younger brother Stan in Sunderland, the son of a coal miner Abe (who was badly injured in a pit accident) and Maggie (a house maid). He was very close to his cousin, Gladys.
The house was tiny with an outside privy at the end of the small back yard – I remember my grandfather cutting up newspaper squares for loo paper.
Dad was evacuated with Stan during the Second World War to Northallerton and when he was old enough he was called up to serve as a radio operator in the Merchant Navy. He travelled all around the world including Australia, India and Europe.
He refused his war medals and spoke little about his time during the war until much later in life when his grandchildren started to ask him about his experiences. Before Emma and Tom went travelling to South America a couple of years ago, he gave them a full run down on what to see in Buenos Aires having been laid up there for months while his ship underwent repairs.
Another story he told us involved a journey back up the Bristol Channel during a huge storm. His ship was leading a group of other ships and the ship behind was signalling with morse code flashing lights. Dad was the only person who understood morse code on his ship but he could not see because of the rain on his glasses (or his ‘specs’ as he always called them). They ended up beached on the shores of the Bristol Channel next to all the mines and had to be rescued the next day.
After the war Dad went back to his job with the Civil Service but soon resigned and became a teacher.
Dad met mum at a dance at Seaburn Hall on the seafront at Sunderland and they were married on 12 August 1956. It was the start of the strongest and happiest marriage anyone could ever wish for.
After they were married Dad got a job with the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment and they moved ‘down South’. Dad obtained a degree at night school and with the £300 he received when he left the merchant navy they bought a caravan which they lived in as their first house in Reading until it more or less fell apart and they moved into a house on the AWRE estate. They later moved to Scotney Road where myself and my brother Peter were born.
But 9 Burrows Close in Great Bookham is the first house I can remember. Dad was extremely practical and no job was too big for him. He installed central heating, constructed a car port on the side of the house, built a Mirror dinghy from a kit and most importantly made the most wonderful toys for Peter and me including a dolls house, go cart, stilts and a massive wooden slide which was the envy of all the kids in Burrows Close.
Family was always really important to Dad and I remember very happy Christmases and holidays spent with mum’s brother, Harry, his wife Mary and my cousins, Paul and Stephen as well as family gatherings with Uncle Stan, Auntie Doreen and cousins Tim, Simon and Libby. I am pleased that so many of them managed to visit mum and dad (often at the Lensbury) in recent years.
There were regular trips up North to visit our relatives in Sunderland. Dad enjoyed introducing us to special Northern delicacies such as cinder toffee, Sasparilla (both Sasparilla ‘pop’ as Auntie Ann used to call it and Sasparilla drops) and of course Notrianis ice cream. Dad greatly admired Uncle Lawrence’s spectacular model ships and we loved playing with our cousins Christine and Janet. The cars weren’t so fast then so dad built a bed in the back of the A35 for me and Peter to sleep on during the long drive up.
We went on the most wonderful family holidays in a VW camper van to France, Italy and Sweden (where dad embarrassingly picked up a hitchhiker so he could grill him about how good the socio economic model of Swedish government really was). The camper van caught fire once (when mum was cooking a Vesta meal) and dad had to put it out with the fire extinguisher.
When I was 11 we moved to Guildford. As every parent knows this is a time when you end up acting as a taxi driver for your kids. Dad gave Peter and I lifts everywhere – I remember him driving me all the way to Richmond ice rink for lessons early on Saturday mornings, to swimming club at Guildford Sports Centre, picking me up from parties at all hours and giving Peter lifts to go fishing at Broadwater Lake. Later on he taught both Peter and me to drive in the Morris Minor. He was so proud when we both went to university, especially when Peter chose to study engineering.
While we were living in Guildford dad worked near St Paul’s at the Central Electricity Generating Board where he was in a team responsible for the safety of nuclear power stations. I remember him inviting me for lunch and proudly introducing me to his work colleagues in the office canteen when I first started working round the corner in the City. He went through a phase of surprising us at Christmas by producing little gifts he had purchased at Leather Lane market. About this time he picked up golf which he enjoyed playing at Guildford Golf Club…although he would often joke that it wasn’t really in keeping with his Northern roots. Whilst in Guildford he stood for election as a Labour Councillor safe in the knowledge he would never actually get elected. Mum became a founding member of the SDP and while dad was supportive of their stance on proportional representation, he never gave up his life long membership of the Labour Party. We were all very happy in Guildford and Mum and dad made great friends both with teachers from George Abbott school where mum taught and with neighbours from Beatty Avenue where we lived. They continued to remain in touch after they moved to Teddington in 2001.
Dad was immensely proud of his 5 grandchildren, Christopher, Jenny, Emma, Becky and Charlie. He had a very special relationship with each one of them. When they were young he and Mum treated us to some wonderful holidays at Center Parcs – where they loved watching the children take part in various activities and eating out together.
Eating out became quite a theme later in life when they enjoyed inviting friends and relatives for lunches at the Lensbury and they hosted wonderful parties there for both their golden and diamond wedding anniversaries.
Dad made many friends in Teddington, mainly through the Lensbury and Church. He and mum had a busy social life what with church teas, lunches at the Anglers and harvest suppers. Dad was particularly fond of the curry club.
In later years mum and dad both became more reluctant to join in celebrations…although it was a bit of a family joke that they would always have a great time when they got there. This was true particularly of the birthday lunches I organised at Lynde House and also Hannah’s wedding last year which dad described as the best day he’d had for a very long time.
Dad loved music, particularly jazz and opera. He and mum regularly attended productions at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. He was a great Sunderland supporter of course and thanks to his excellent IT skills he was able to track their results on the BBC Sport App. I have very fond memories of the 2012 Olympics – we watched Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony together- it embodied everything dad was so proud of from engineering to the NHS.
In recent years he enjoyed some lovely Christmases hosted by Stuart’s brother, David and his wife Angela (despite various dental and medical emergencies). One year dad astounded everyone by answering all of the questions in Bryan’s quiz correctly before anyone else could get a look in.
He was definitely in the vanguard when it came to the latest gadgets and software – an early adopter of Electronic library books, Netflix, Now TV, Ocado and of course the Guardian Online. His iPhone became a lifeline for us all when lockdown started.
The last couple of years since mum’s stroke were very difficult for dad of course but except for a few periods of ill health he visited her regularly both in hospital and at Lynde House. During this time he was grateful for the help and friendship of a man we affectionately call David the volunteer who began by giving dad a lift to visit mum while I was at work but this soon developed into much more. We found David through a small local charity, Teddington and Hampton Wick Volunteers. When Dad eventually joined mum in Lynde House he and mum received many visits and calls from family and friends. He particularly enjoyed the calls from my wonderful Auntie Ann who has been an enormous support to us all in the last few years. The staff at Lynde House were amazing and I would like to thank them all on behalf of all our family for the wonderful care they gave to dad. Dad really enjoyed the activities especially a cuppa with George and the various musical entertainers who came in. Terina arranged a showing of La Traviata just a couple of weeks before dad died and he loved it.
Although it has been a very difficult couple of years, I had the opportunity to become very close to dad, speaking to him or seeing him nearly every day until lockdown. I think of him every morning at 11.30 …..and I don’t think that will stop any time soon.
Finally I want to say something on behalf of mum who sadly cannot be here. She prepared herself for this moment many times whilst we sat together in resuss…..usually at St George’s but sometimes at Kingston. They were a remarkable team and loved each other in every sense of the word. Mum will miss him terribly but would be the first to say that they were remarkably lucky to have had nearly 66 years together given Dad’s underlying health conditions. The value of their amazing partnership was far greater than the sum of its parts.
Cathy Withycombe 18 June 2020
My dad took me to brands hatch to see F1, I have been a fan ever since, took me to see Manchester United vs West Brom, took me to st James park to see Newcastle United vs Sheffield Wednesday, took me to Roker Park to watch Sunderland which was memorable for the way Sunderland fans harassed Sunderland players. He took me to the Birmingham motor show, taught me how to play squash, table tennis and sail. He enriched my life in all these ways and many more.
He talked about his roots in Sunderland of which he was extremely proud, talked about his parents background who we visited in the tiny miners cottage with the outside toilet in the back yard. He was evacuated to the country during the war but also served in the merchant navy as a radio operator and travelled the world. He studied at night school to achieve the qualifications he needed and moved hundreds of miles from what he new to find a good job and start a career. During his career he achieved so much while at the same time providing for and bringing up a family while being a wonderful dad.
He was a rock through my whole life, always there in the background to fall back on if needed, which was the case a few times, thanks dad for all the support and love you have provided over the years, you will be greatly missed.
Its never easy to capture someone in words, but Granda was the best Grandad ever and we were lucky he was part of our lives for so long.
Chris once asked him what the secret of a long and happy marriage was and he replied, To smile and nod.
Granda was always interested in what was happening and going on in our lives and the plans we had.
He taught us how to grow old with dignity, humour and kindness. He was loved dearly and we will miss him.
Gordon benefited enormously from the help provided by Teddington & Hampton Wick Volunteer Group in recent years – more details of the charity’s work are available here.
If you wish to make a donation by bank transfer to Teddington & Hampton Wick Volunteer Group in Gordon’s memory please use the following account details:
- Account number: 52610500
- Sort code: 60-21-17