Today we said goodbye to my Grandad. I shared a few words at the thanksgiving service in Taunton.
We’re all here because of my Grandad. For me, and some of the others here we literally could not have been here without him!
By the time we met, he’d already lived a packed 64 years so some of you have known him for far longer than me but I reckon that our experience of him will be much the same – a man of incredible generosity and of wisdom. Someone full of integrity and good humour. A true gentleman.
But as much as we might share, I’m sorry for you because most of you can’t claim membership in the exclusive club of being a Welby grandchild.
You can choose your friends, you might have some say over who you work with but you’re lumped with your family. Whatever we all think about our parents (or each other) my cousins and siblings know how lucky we were to have had The Lawn and its resident Cmdr & Mrs Welby foisted on us at birth.
True, some of us seem to have inherited a certain degree of stubbornness and the ability to wreak chaos from order. Unfortunately none of us are knocking on the door of Wimbledon having failed to possess any of Granny’s sporting talent and none of us have the adoration for the sea that they shared but irrespective of our genes we’ve witnessed a relationship whose blueprints we would do well to emulate.
Over the last few days I’ve looked through hundreds of photos meticulously catalogued and captioned around The Lawn. Those albums are full of the sea and they’re full of friends but they’re overflowing with family. And that’s not just passive photo taking of family groups or staged photos complete with artificial smiles. These are always action shots with Grandad in its midst with sleeves rolled up and cracking on. In overalls contributing to one of his sons’ great (and occasionally-ending) projects, big birthday or Christmas celebrations, steaming trains on the model railway, ‘sailing’ us across The Lawn (by pulling us in a dinghy), caravan holidays, playing games at the crack of dawn in pyjamas…
They’re shots of the joy that comes from being part of this family.
There’s no mistaking that Granny and Grandad were a double act in all of that (after all, who was taking the photos?). And one of the things you can’t appreciate about grandparents as a child is the love they have for each other. I’m lucky that I got to grow up and begin to understand the depth of love between them and to see that particularly in his care for Granny after her stroke. I hope I can come close in my own marriage, I know he thought I could.
Christine and I got married the year Granny died and were privileged that Grandad could come up to York and celebrate the day with us. Legally that was the day Christine became a Welby but Grandad had already long adopted her into the family. The phone calls, the cards, the regular rhythm of contact with the family patriarch to us in the far flung north speak of his pride, enthusiasm and interest in what she and I were up to. We didn’t see him much but he made sure he knew what we were doing, and he made sure we knew he was praying about it.
On the mantelpiece at The Lawn is a beautiful memento from one of their voyages on Duel. It reads ‘what lies behind and what lies before are tiny matters compared to what’s within us’. They lived like they believed that – focused on the present and investing in the people around them. And that’s a large reason why today is so sad. He’s going to be missed within his family but you’re all going to miss him too. And we’re going to miss him because as an individual, and as part of that coupling he shared with Granny, he was and will always be remembered as, an outstanding man.
I’ve been a very lucky grandchild.