On a personal note…

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.

  • Moving tributes for both. May they rest in peace.

  • Mickhall

    The obituary pages are one of my bug bear, especially the Guardian, which in the main reflects the middle class backgrounds and likes of those who work on it. Although to be fair it has improved somewhat with ‘other lives’.

    l like the Telegraph best, being an old-soldiers paper I especially like it when they publish a little jewel about the life of a guy who during WW2 stormed a machine gun nest, killed forty Germans whilst taking ten bullets himself, then after the war went back to being a plumber or accountant for the rest of his life. OK I exaggerate somewhat, although there was an Indian guy last year who would almost fit my description.

    My point being I much prefer the lives of ‘ordinary’ people who were called upon to do something extraordinary, or indeed just led a caring decent life. Rather that reading about some celeb for the umpteenth time.

  • Martin

    I agree. Actually, the obits and the sports coverage are the only reason I would pick up the Telegraph. It is ironic how the more progressive Guardian is so middle class in its obituaries – even “other lives” seems a bit apologetic.

    When I taught in India one of the admin staff at the school was desperate for me to see a medal his father had been awarded in the last war – it was a Military Cross! The guy then went on to be deputy station master at Jodphur station or something similar. I’d certainly prefer to read even a brief precis of his life than the vanity biographies of very young “celebrities” like Jordan, Gavin Henson, Robbie Williams etc etc. and yet without some really extensive research his story is doomed to be forgotten…

  • west belfast resident

    A very moving tribute mick

  • missfitz

    This may interest no one, but sure that hasnt stopped me before.

    Radio 4 are starting a new obituary programme called “Last Word” and it sounds fascinating. On Friday at 11am, they are doing a show on obit writers, and examining some of the issues that arise when deciding whose obit is going to be published, and whose isnt.