Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Gordon Arthur Davenport
A real family occasion today, with my mother's brother and my cousins Ross and Louise. My grandfather died two weeks ago at the age of 89 after 4 years of illness, and today was the funeral. Since Gordon never liked organised religion my mum decided that we'd do it ourselves.

I haven't been to many funerals but this one was certainly the most intimate and truthful - a personal, honest and heartfelt testimonial to Gordon's life.

Gordon was a private and reclusive man, so much of his story has disappeared along with the incisive mind that contained it. The vague details of his life I know are a combination of influences from a past which seemed today to finally drop into written history. They illuminate only a little of this intelligent but stern man, who was to me at the same time the most fascinating and the most difficult to reach of all my grandparents.

Gordon was born in 1915 in Croydon, South-East London. His father had been in the Norfolk regiment during the 1st World War, and it was in Norfolk that his parents met. Gordon was the oldest of 4 brothers. Sadly the family disintegrated under the strain of the loss of the youngest child, and the emotional conflict appears to have scarred Gordon's ability to trust.

At the age of 12, in 1927, Gordon won a scholarship at Whitgift Middle School in Croydon. This was a fortunate step since Gordon's educational routes had previously been limited by his family's poverty. No doubt it was this poverty, together with the Great Depression and then the Second World War, which caused Gordon to be such a frugal man.

Despite his utter refusal to make any purchase beyond that which was justifed by practicality, he never failed to be generous or to help his family financially. It was in his generosity and in his fairness of generosity that I could tell he was a principled man. We know most significantly from the story of his life that he was against war. When the 2nd World War broke out in 1939, Gordon registered as a conscientous objector, a choice which caused him considerable difficulty in integrating into post-war Britain.

Since he wasn't a soldier during the war, he was instead involved in the country's efforts by driving ambulances organised by the Quakers. It was this vocation which was registered on his marriage certificate to Rona Adair in 1942.

Gordon and Rona had met at the Tolsworth Manor Youth Hostel in Caterham, Surrey. Rona was the Head Warden of the Youth Hostel and Gordon sometimes the Assistant. They both shared a great love of the countryside and of walking. In Gordon's house today, there were still pairs of walking trousers that Rona had thoughtfully made for him for their camping holidays in the British hills and mountains.

Beyond Rona's own death in 1991, Gordon never failed to walk. Right up until his liver failed and he started regular dialysis 4 years ago he would be out on the South Downs almost every day, whatever the weather, hiking for hours at a time. Even under dialysis he would still drag his ailing body around Eastbourne. Two Christmases ago, when his car failed to start for a trip into town to buy his great granddaughter Alexandra a rocking horse, he didn't call a taxi. He just trotted off for the 3km walk into the town centre, and trotted back on the return, carrying the clumsy box.

It was in his relationship with Alex, who called him Great Gordon, that we noticed an ever so slight change in temperament. The total frostyness became edged with just a faint dab of appreciation for Alex, which rubbed off a little onto other people. He began to smile and joke on occasion. It's hard for me to describe how these limited glimmers of his hidden humanity gave me hope and appreciation for Gordon. My mother more so than me.

In these later years of his life, it was her who looked after him the most. By necessity, their previously distanced and estranged Father-Daughter relationship developed into one of much more mutual respect. My mother helped whilst respecting Gordon's need for independence and privacy. In return, Gordon's stern and authoritarian attitude, which so marked her own childhood, softened.

For myself, I am glad that I managed to see him on the day before he died, lying in constant pain in a sterile hospital bed. The last month had been getting harder and harder for him, his mind clear but his body fading away. He knew it was time and was not afraid to discuss his options or to give instructions.

As I said goodbye I took the risk of touching his arm. He didn't jump away as I expected but reached back to me and looked at me in the eye with emotion, decades of stern glare gone and just Gordon the man, in his naked human state, looking at me and I at him.

All the best, Great Gordon.

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