Yesterday’s service, cremation and wake for my father proceeded as successfully as these melancholic occasions can do.
Much to the appreciation of his brood, over 100 people congregated in my parent’s village church to celebrate the life of our much loved family head, some making a 200 mile round trip to pay their respects. As the consequence of the magnanimousness of those taking the pews, this morning £551 was donated to Wakefield Hospice from the church collection.
A short committal at the crematorium for family and close friends was followed by a wake for the old man back at the village social club. Here it was heartening to hear scores of people speaking of their fondness of the Leeds man.
I’m not going to write a blog as such today. However, I’ve been asked by quite a few of those present to share the eulogy I delivered during the service, which I do so below in lieu of my normal daily narrative:-
Malcolm Strachan – 1st November 2017
NON TIMEO SED CAVEO
“Cautious, but not afraid”
On behalf of the family, I’d like to thank everyone for attending today’s celebration of my father’s life.
“He was a lovely man!” can be a cliché when discussing those recently passed. A ‘go to’ saying as we scramble for the words that can adequately reflect our sorrow. In my dad’s case, however, those five words grossly undersell this true gentleman.
In the scores of cards and messages the family have received from well-wishers since his passing, the words kind, caring, loving and decent were recurring sentiments that threaded through them all.
I can honestly say that in over half a century of having the pleasure of this man’s company I never heard him make a derogatory comment about anyone, or indeed feel the need to utilise profanity. One thing for sure is if St Peter plans to renovate the Pearly Gates it won’t be financed by swear box contributions from my old man.
Like our mum, he preferred to look for positive aspects of an individual’s persona. To my mind, a far harder accomplishment than inherent negativity.
I feel blessed to have had Malcolm Strachan as my father and role model. This proud Yorkshireman exhibited all the attributes in the messages alluded to above and more.
Standing here within this historic village’s lovely church, I won’t pretend Malcolm was an overly spiritual man. That being said, his behaviour was far more how the bible advocates we treat our fellow man than some who claim to be the practising exponents of their religion.
Brought up predominantly in the Leeds areas of Woodhouse and Farnley, he grew up with a love of Yorkshire county cricket club and Leeds United football club. His heroes Yorkshire & England spin bowler Johnny Wardle, along with Leeds & Wales footballer John Charles.
In the mid-1950’s, my dad took the short walk from his Farnley family home on Whitehall Road to witness the Welshmen’s first game for Leeds Utd. One of many memorable games as a youth and in adulthood he attended to witness his home town heroes. They included some of the biggest games of Don Revie’s warriors in white, such as 1971 Fair Cup final (home leg) v Juventus, Leeds’ 1972 FA Cup final win against Arsenal and the 1975 European Cup Final v Bayern Munich in the Parc d’Princes in Paris
With his fondness of swing music, Malcolm learned tenor saxophone as a teenager. Sadly, boyhood aspirations of accompanying a local band to play standards by his heroes Sinatra, Mel Torme and Bobby Darrin never materialised for this shy Leeds lad.
As a youth and to some extent even in adulthood, my father preferred to let others take centre stage. Despite being very intelligent and capable man, he wasn’t interested in the limelight. He advocated that good role model behaviour could just be as easily undertaken on the periphery.
On my parent’s living room wall is a plaque emblazoned with Strachan clan coat of arms from the Scottish village which spawned our surname. Written on this ornament are the Latin words NON TIMEO SED CAVEO, which translate into English as ‘Cautious but not afraid’……. A maxim my dad subscribed to throughout his life.
Dad mooted sound advice and guidance is dependent on intelligence, decency and mentoring, not how loud you say it. Malcolm didn’t have to shout from he rooftops that he was a great bloke, people knew by just talking to the man.
In 1958, in the Hussars pub, Eastgate, he met the woman who would later become his wife. They were married in 1960 and enjoyed 57 years of happy marriage together until his sad passing a week after their anniversary. During this betrothal they brought three children into the world – myself in 1963, my brother Ian in 1965 and sister Helen in 1973.
A bright man who always seemed to have the answer to any questions we had, Mally’s life decisions were always undertaken selflessly. This family orientated man’s traits, in conjunction with mum’s similar qualities of selflessness, underpinned our family dynamic providing warmth, comfort and security to his clan.
In 1966, my father moved 100 miles from Yorkshire to Gateshead. A decision based on a desire to improve job opportunities, which in 1970 eventually led to becoming manager of the Hide & Skin company he relocated to. The esteem in which he was held backed by the fact three of his colleagues from his time at Northern Butchers have travelled today from the north east to this celebration of his life.
Some may question why, but I’ll be forever grateful that he Introduced me to supporting Leeds United as a child. My rite of passage starting on 19th September 1970 when he first took me to Elland Road, where, thanks to a John Giles penalty, we witnessed a 1-0 Leeds win against Southampton. Not the greatest game of football you’d ever see, but a day indelibly etched in my mind. My inauguration of witnessing one of the greatest club sides ever to grace English football. A gift he bestowed on my brother Ian shortly after.
From the mentoring of this beautiful man I learned a great deal. I was bequeathed the quality of selflessness, the unconditional responsibilities I have toward my children’s well-being, the need to create a warm and loving environment for offspring to flourish, along with maintaining an inherent pride at my Yorkshire roots. Malcolm also taught his children to display humanity, the folly of comfort buying, along with the worthlessness of negativity.
Between the ages of 14 – 45 I played cricket at clubs in Gateshead, Buckinghamshire and Leeds. It was my dad who taught me my bowling action and how to bowl wrist spin, spending hours practising on non-net nights with me as a junior player at Gateshead Fell cricket club.
Eventually he took up various roles at the club, including committee member, selector, mini bus driver for the juniors, and occasional scorer/umpire. This selfless cricket fan loved his time at GFCC where he met some great individuals both amongst the players and club members. Since his passing I’ve received many good wishes from former cricketing colleagues who’ve not seen him for over 30 years, but still recall him as a decent man who contributed a great deal to the club and our success as a junior team.
During Ian and my fledgling years he’d spend hours dazzling us at football with his tricky left foot. I recall he would jangle as he ran with all his keys and loose change in his pocket. An advocate of the maxim “You can never have too many keys!” when we played in Armley park close to his dad’s shop, I’m sure passers-by must have thought he was a jailer from the nearby gaol.
He didn’t play cricket as much as I did, but he achieved a hat-trick bowling in a works game, something I never replicated in 30 years of playing club cricket. An accolade he didn’t, with tongue firmly in cheek, tire of reminding me.
His tolerance levels were unsurpassable. This perfectly displayed when he took me down to the Lords MCC school for trials, at 17. The journey from Gateshead to London on the old A1 wasn’t the quickest and I’d inadvertently only brought one cassette for the car journey (Stevie Wonder’s Hotter Than July). Despite it being played on a loop for 6 hours he never uttered a word of complaint. Mind you he must have been tense as I had to prise his finger nails from the steering wheel when we got to our hotel in Victoria.
After moving back to his Yorkshire roots in 1989, in his dotage Malcolm Strachan was never happier than when in the company of his wife, children and grandchildren, who all have special memories of this affable Yorkshireman….. A glass of merlot and a background piece of his eclectic music collection weren’t compulsory, but if available weren’t unappreciated by the family head.
He also liked a game of bowls, as well as spending time in the company of Jack, Jacqueline, George, Mary, Thelma and Frank and their families, who’ve been very good friends with him and my mum for over 50 years.
Malcolm also loved the company of friends and neighbours Paul, Jo and their families, be that avoiding a custard pie in the face, or attempting to stop little Jake stealing his armchair. He also was very fond of long term neighbours Trevor and Marion and their brood who he saw grow from young children into adulthood.
Additionally, dad had a lot of affection for many of his friends in East Ardsley, such as Neil, Maureen, Aileen, Ken, Roy and Gwyneth. People of who he always spoke of with a great deal of fondness.
Conscious that this is a family tribute, I asked my siblings for their memories of our father.
My sister Helen said her overwhelming memory of Dad would be of his gentle, protective and organised nature. As a youngster, when in the throes of a teenage drama, Helen used to despair of Dad’s advice of ‘stop worrying about things that haven’t happened yet’, ‘do your best and that’s all anyone can ask of you’, ‘things are never as bad as they seem now’…..she couldn’t understand why he didn’t indulge her with the histrionics and why he was so calm all the time. Looking back now, this was one of the greatest lessons Dad taught Helen and they worked through many bumps in the road together – whether Dad was there with her or at the end of the phone. He’s not here now but Helen said she feels ready to tackle anything – enjoying the good times and dealing with the bad times – because of everything he has taught her. I think we all share this gratitude to our very special guide, counsel and teacher.
My brother Ian, unable to choose from the many fond recollections he’s had with dad, has asked me to read a poem he wrote for him following his passing. It’s his reflections of the many enjoyable hours he spent with the old man in the dining room accompanied by good food, palatable wine, eclectic music and enlightening chat.
Such sweet tones as you speak, euphoric music sweeps and fills the backroom
The gentlest of smiles I see, now I’m wrapped in your heavenly cocoon
Your silhouette leaps and dances in the soft light, making shapes upon the wall
We raise a glass to a glorious past, as the darkest empires fall
The figure that glows in the leather bound chair afore me, ensures my cup runs over
With the hope of a wide eyed child, I see you’ve found your four leaf clover
In the backroom of my mind, you taught me love in all its shapes and wondrous forms
And now I see myself at ease again, as your golden cloak adorns”
Through sun drenched fields of childhood memories, you’ll take me whenever I think of you
In a compartment of my heart I’ll feel your arms, then together we’ll sit and watch the sanguine sun break through.
The family will all miss him terribly, but he leaves a legacy of fond memories and his good lives on in his children and grandchildren.
I’ll miss being regularly quizzed, as I leave my parent’s home, if I’ve still got that CD of his or another such item I’d borrowed off him. When we saw him at rest after his passing, what I’d have given for him to open one eye and ask “Have you still got my ladders, Gary?!” or “When you gonna bring my Jools Holland CD back?”
Perhaps the most poignant moment of the whole experience of his last days was on Monday afternoon. The family were congregated in dad’s hospice room, when the unborn baby of my sister Helen (who’s eight months pregnant) was visibly kicking from her bump. Two feet away was the granddad she’ll never get to see enduring the remaining hours of his life. A melancholic reminder of the circle of life.
My soon to be born niece may never get to see her grandfather, however her elder cousins, parents, aunts and uncles will ensure she is made fully aware of what a thoroughly wonderful man her forefather was.
Rest in peace dad.