DAG RIP (Eulogy for my Father)

David Anthony Gill:    28 September 1926 — 5 August, 2006

In a few weeks from now [these words were spoken at the memorial service on 2nd September] my father would celebrate and enjoy his 80’th birthday — towards the end of a full life in which he played many rôles — Father, (…-in-law, grand-…), husband, ( lover ), son; scientist, student, teacher; a churchwarden and a churchgoer; a colleague, a friend; a patient in a psychiatric ward … a man and a human being. Friendly, warm-hearted, rational, passionate, social, private. Anxious to please, humorous, independent. (A man of contradictions?)

Let me outline the facts of this life and then try to weave some threads together.

David Anthony Gill was born on the 28th of September, 1926, in Croydon, Surrey. His young father, Richard Harold Gill, was an up and coming city man with Northern Assurance (his father was a taxi driver). David’s young mother, Marjorie Spicer, had also worked for Northern Assurance but had naturally quit her job when she married.

The Gills moved when David’s sister Jane was born and he was about 4, to Carshalton Beeches. There, the family attended a church called the “Good Shepherd”. Another family — a large family of 9 children — came to Carshalton Beeches in 1935; and also attended the Good Shepherd. The youngest daughter was my future mother Pauline Hodgekinson.

David did well at school, though not at sports: he was more the scientific type (shortsighted, glasses…). But he was a social fellow and a handsome young man and he played Joseph in the church nativity play in 1941 when he was fifteen. My mother had already set her sights on him but to her chagrin did not get the rôle of Mary; however, as Anne, she was positioned well enough; they started walking out together, with a first kiss under a holly tree on a hillside field in May 1942.
I said to my mother: May 1942! The battle of Britain? … air-raid shelters? Well, it was May 1942 and two teenagers were in love and nothing else made much impression on them at the time.

At the age of 17, in 1943, my father would in the course of things have been called up, but England needed scientists and he went up to Cambridge to study physics. It seems that his passion for my mother absorbed more of his energies than his interest in science, and he only obtained third class honours in the finals. In the meantime my mother was in the Wrens doing very hush hush stuff at Bletcheley Park.

In 47 David began two years national service, while Pauline was becoming a chartered physiotherapist at Guy’s; they married in October 1950, living first in a flat in Carshalton. Their first son Richard was born in 1951, and in 1953, more or less simultaneosly with the birth of Nicholas, this young family moved to a new house in Godstone.

Jessica and Caroline, affectionately known as ‘the girls’ were born at two yearly intervals thereafter. In the meantime Father had got a job as physicist in the Paper Research institute at Kenley, moving to Water in Redhill a few years later, where he was the third to be hired at a brand new research centre.

At Redhill he happily burst plastic pipes under carefully controlled experimental situations and he loved to show me his old bath tub in a shed at the back of the big old house (the WRA)filled with measuring apparatus and excitingly contorted and/or shattered pipes.

In 61 the institute, growing still, moved to Medmenham, and my family to Frieth. By 67 my father was deputy director and probably not bursting so many pipes in old bath tubs as before; maybe this explains his move to Wavin around 70.

In the meantime ‘the smalls’ were added to the Gill family: Deborah, born in Spring 63 and Stephen in 65. At one point Frieth school was educating a whole pint of Gills, a staggering 10% (almost) of the school’s population.

At Wavin my father was supposed to be located near a new factory in Dublin but my mother certainly vetoed that move; however, the company so much desired his services that he was allowed to work from an office in London, from which he made frequent business trips all over the world, making long-time and deep friendships in places as far apart as Japan and Holland. (The latter, with unforeseen and far-reaching consequences).

My mother did not quite appreciate these absences (apart from the odd excursion herself) and both were very happy when Father became Deputy Assistant Director at an even bigger Water Research Association back in Medmenham in 1974. However, in 79 water was merged with sewage and clearly there were too many deputy assistant directors around; my father took early retirement under excellent conditions. (He was always more interested in how to optimally distribute water, etc., than in research institute politics).

Against the emphatic advice of all his children he became a science teacher at a Secondary Modern in Amersham in 1979. His predeccesor had had a mental breakdown, there was nobody there to coach him. Not to the surprise of his children, this did not work out … and Father experienced his own first ‘wobbly’ as it was known in the Gill family (his mother and sister actually also had a number of serious depressive periods). Fortunately he was able to escape to a brick research institute and happily started using his experience in Holland, where people actually pave roads with bricks, to serve society in a new way. But then recession hit the brick business, as everywhere else, and it was ‘last in first out’.

A succession of small jobs followed and a growing interest and passion in personal computing fuelled by his belief that personal computing, and later internet, would lead to a better society. Via computer classes at Finnamore Wood Borstal Camp he eventually became lab technician at Wycombe High School for Girls — Doyne North was required to write a letter of reference — where he happily in those early computing days set up a computer lab and became an essential and irreplaceable member of staff.

In 1994, at the age of 68, an unfortunate incident occurred. Badly cutting his hand on some broken glass in the biology department at school the bureaucracy discovered that he was several years past official retirement age. Reluctantly the school had to terminate his employment.

Well, this just gave my father all the more opportunity for fulfilling his mission and satisfying his interests, he became more and more involved in church and parish and synod affairs; and in all these spheres he was appreciated and loved for his lateral out of the box thinking, practicality, knowledge, aimiability, humour, … [Story about Japanese tourist and standing burials]. He brought these qualities in the same way and was loved for them just as much in the spheres of family (both immediate and extended …) and hobbies — whether sailing, camping, footpath preservation … or whatever.

Time was taking its toll. Mother and Father ‘downgraded’ to Marlow in 92. Still there was a round the world trip, an aerial excursion to view the Aurora Borealis, holidays at their beloved Ravello on the Amalfi coast. Father had some heart trouble and other ailments and coped with these by taking a scientific attitude and producing beautiful graphs of his heart rhythms plotted over many days which surely must have amazed his doctors.

Five years ago a spell of shingles left him with incessant head-aches and difficulty concentrating. A year and a half ago he was ‘switching off’ as my Mother said, retiring from various committees, travelling less, putting his business affairs in order, but still inquisitive, and planning new excursions. One of his last passions was his father’s diary which he dictated into his computer and converted into a splendid web site complete with old and new maps of grandfather’s hike in Dorset in his courting days [there is presently a link to this site from http://gill1109.spaces.live.com].

A bit more than a year ago father amazed my mother by saying to the doctor at a checkup ‘I think I’m in really bad trouble’. She (the doctor) detected symptoms of approaching dementia but a battery of tests seemed to point to a classic and therefore treatable depression. Father was admitted to a psychiatric ward in High Wycombe last September and spent his last year there and at Stoke Mandeville.

[[ Rest of speech was ad libitum. I wonder if Dennis the sound-man made a tape of the whole thing? Anway: I attempted to sum up, using some personal experiences with my Father during the last year. [The broad smile he gave me when I came, for what was to be the last time, to his room; his renewed attempt even then to explain his struggle to rationally understand and then communicate his situation by reference, using his hands, to the Möbius strip — all twisted up]. A man of contradictions and singular unity and integrity. Complex and simple. Who loved and we loved and we will love and remember. ]]

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