Hello everybody and love to all of you, including those watching this webcast across the world. Thank you for being with us today as we remember John.
I’m Leigh, (Eileen to some), John’s wife – and let me introduce our beautiful children:
Nell, who lit the candle for us
Hinnie, who read to us
Noni, our family link to Kosovo
Chris and Susan, music makers
Charlie and Julie, sandcastle makers
The photo of John on the front of your programme was taken in the summer by our grandson, Marcus. We were planting a tree for his Mum, our daughter Maria, who died in 2019. We shall plant a tree for John.
The photo of John inside was taken at Chris and Susan’s wedding. John was talking to our son, Dom, who died in 2011.
Whether you knew John as a child, as a young man, as a brother, a cousin, an uncle, a dad, a grandad; or as a friend; a boxer, a biker, a diver; or as a teacher, a neighbour, a singer, or as an artist – you knew you were in the presence of someone special.
John was a man who always gave space to others. He was a free spirit who did no harm. He did not affiliate himself with any religion, but respected all kinds of beliefs and had friends from all the world faiths and none.
His spirituality was rooted in human rights and the present moment. He was a constant supporter of LGBTQ rights and his work as a teacher brought skills and insight about living with disability.
I think his spirituality was like falling snow – you know, that moment of wonder when snow begins to fall – each snowflake unique, floating and drifting, to make unevenness even – or, as John would say, “… to transform the crap …”
John and I have been together for forty years. We have a small house and garden that we call Claraland, in Clara Street. John is also known as Dad, Da, Grandad, Dadi. Papajohn, Uncle John, Unca John, Captain America, Mr. Cook, Cookie, Urchin and Beethoven’s Batman.
We’ve had a quiet and also wild and worthwhile life together, with our share of life’s challenges and of its deepest joys.
John is my very own Man in the Moon, reflective and fearless as he walked through dark places. He is my Morning Glory and my Midnight Sun – creating comfort for people and playful as the day is long.
He laid stepping stones in the garden, where short people can dance along and make wishes to fairies – no shortage, as we have fourteen grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
Of course, the stones supported his motor bike as he wheeled it out. He was never happier than when out on the moors on his bike. A free spirit.
There were some night-sky moments when I discovered John could name all the constellations we were looking at.
But he loved most the time before sunset…that was the time of day when John went out. A special kind of light that drew him and he melted into it. You might know it – as if the whole world is lit by candlelight. John and this light became one.
When we were out together, in waiting rooms, in pubs, in the country, on a plane, on a train, or sitting in the park – John would take out his sketch book. People around were often shy to intervene, but I’ve seen many a child beside him, watching the pencil moving, gazing at his hand and completely in the moment.
Claraland is full of paintings and sketches. We are the curators of hidden galleries that John occasionally opened. Always an observer, he sensed genuineness. His silent observation could be a bit disturbing and was as if his role was not to be a physical part of what was going on. I often saw the child called John, separated out, learning the hard way how to observe and decide what to do with it.
John loved music. He played guitar, sang in choirs and absolutely loved to be with his friends in a pub, singing songs he loved in karaoke.
He loved playing with his grandchildren – hide-and-seek, charades, painting pictures, making models and sharing his woodwork skills in the yard.
There was something of the shepherd and the carpenter about John. A north country man, he loved the moors and high places. They were his road to light and escape – but he was always glad to be back near them.
Beside his fabulous neck, the thing I loved so much about John was his smile.When he smiled, he radiated warmth and love, filled with the wisdom of lived experience.
We are all better people for knowing you John.
Thank you for all the blessings you brought to us.
Here’s my poem…
This home rolled in the eye of the storm,
with its contents whirled
and its chatter stilled,
Til its outward aspect
to gaze on what
Love really is.