Back in 1999, when a close friend died, I contacted the Guardian to see if they’d take an obituary note on his life. He’d joined the RAF in 1944, just in time to be sent to Egypt and then South Africa to train as a fight sergeant on Hurricanes. But the time he was ready for combat, the war in Europe had ended, and he was spared having to fire a bullet in anger. He was part of that melee of homecoming servicemen who voted (though I suspect he may have been too young to vote himself) Britain’s great war leader Winston Churchill out of office in favour of that queer mix of idealistic/pragmatic Labour government under Clem Atlee. He devoted his life to his family but was active in politics until the day he died. On one CND demonstration he’d slept on the floor of a church hall in northern Scotland the day his second grandson was born.
His widow received two letters from sitting MP’s: one his hero Tony Benn; and the other his old adversary the local Tory MP David Willetts, with whom he’d often fought through the letters page of the local paper. The Guardian weren’t interested back then, though I suspect they might take it now that the line between the ordinary and the extraordinary life is less smartly defined.
It was the death yesterday of one of my old neighbours in Holywood that put me in mind of Ron and the thought of extraordinary ordinary lives. Her’s was a more private life, nonetheless full of kindness and unstinting faith in the goodness of ordinary people. I (and all my family) will remember her in her many small acts of kindness. And the quiet and gentle grace of her leaving.