Today, February 26, 2016, it is two years since we lost our beloved family friend Brian Summerfield. I mentioned Bri in a recent blog post and said that I was thinking of sharing the eulogy I delivered at his service. I’ve just managed to read it for the first time since the day of the funeral, so I am sharing it below to honour Brian, and to tell the world about him.
I miss Brian very, very much and the longing to tell him that, and just how much he meant to me, is overwhelming at times. I think of him for so many reasons. That confused dot com insurance advert with the robot who says, “You can call me Brian,” for a start. In his final few days in hospital, staff would come and up and say, “Mr Summerfield?” Brian would reply, mimicking the robot: “You can call me Brian.” It always raised a smile. I can watch that advert now but for a while I had to switch it off, especially the one where ‘Brian’ went along a conveyor belt and into a scrapheap.
Yesterday I went to Birchington, a place that Brian and I had gone for lunch not long before he died. He had picked up a copy of Moby Dick from a charity shop. I was slightly anxious about being there again so close to the anniversary and was very upset when I drove through the High St to see someone being attended to by two ambulances. There were several paramedics, one of whom was giving CPR for a long time. I really hope that person made it. Brian had heart disease and his heart nurse explained to me that one of the ways he might die was by heart attack. As it turned out, Brian died too soon but because of what accelerated his death, he died peacefully with Mum and I beside him. I was grateful that he hadn’t collapsed in the street and instead had a good death, albeit sooner that we hoped. To be holding someone’s hand as they leave this life is a beautiful thing. I will never forget the moment Brian opened his eyes, looked right at me, took a deep, deep breath and closed them again for the last time.
When I got home from Birchington yesterday I made a cuppa and smiled to see that by coincidence Brian’s sugar had run out. Brian hated waste so I had brought his teabags and sugar back to mine when we cleared his home. His unrefined sugar is a different colour to my white stuff, which is how I could tell his was finally gone. I would have gone shopping and bought that sugar for Bri. Funny to think that when I put it in my trolley I hadn’t known how poignant it would become and how a spoonful of Billington’s Golden Granulated Natural Unrefined Cane Sugar would make me sad, and make me smile. Another symbol in a long list of memories and goodbyes to this special man.
Two years, Bri. We all love and miss you.
Here is the eulogy:
Welcome everyone to this service for Brian. My name is Marnie and Brian was my dear friend. I’d like to thank you all for coming. Brian would be touched to know you are all here on this beautiful spring day to say goodbye to him.
He knows no winter, he who loves the soil,
For stormy days, when he is free from toil,
He plans his summer crops, selects his seeds
From bright-paged catalogues for garden needs.
When looking out upon frost-silvered fields,
He visualizes autumn’s golden yields;
He sees in snow and sleet and icy rain
Precious moisture for his early grain;
He hears spring-heralds in the storm’s turmoil
He knows no winter, he who loves the soil.
Brian, who shares a descendent with George W Bush, was born at Ramsgate General Hospital on July 23rd, 1935 to James Edward and Ethel Alice Mabel Summerfield. He was one of three sons. Brian attended Chatham House Grammar School in Ramsgate. His school report read – Brian never asks any questions nor answers any, in fact I sometimes wonder if he is here at all. Then Brian left school and made up for lost time.
In 1952, aged 16, he went to Bedford and embarked on a five-year electrical fitter apprenticeship at Igranic Electric Company.
But in 1958, Brian began his national service in the army emergency reserve of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers as an electrician. When he was discharged two years later his report read, “A good all-round tradesman who has worked conscientiously and well. He is worthy, intelligent and has above average initiative. He needs no supervision and is thoroughly trustworthy.”
After his service Brian moved back home to Ramsgate. His younger brother Len had moved out by then and Brian took a job in auto mechanics at George Fitt Garage in Tankerton Road, Whitstable. He then went to the Aviation Engineering and Maintenance Co Ltd, known as AEM, at Ramsgate Airport. For more than 20 years Brian was an engineering inspector in aeronautics.
For many of these years, Len, his wife and their daughters Michelle and Suzanne were regular visitors to Manston Road where they enjoyed the company of their Uncle Brian and grandparents.
Brian was a man of hobbies. He loved his football and was a fine goalkeeper, not least due to the size of his hands. He played for Margate FC and in the Thanet Premier Sunday League and the Thanet Works League. Brian played to the ripe old (in footballing terms) age of 50 but played with my nephews Richard, Joe and Ben, helping coach their youth teams as recently as ten years ago. He was an avid supporter of Dover FC.
When Brian was 50 years of age he was made redundant as AEM moved to Essex. Brian didn’t want to relocate. Ramsgate was home and he was living with his ageing parents who needed his care. Brian’s parents were devout Christians, devoted to each other and their family. They did much to support their community and when they died in 1988 within six months of each other, Brian not only continued to live in his childhood home but inherited many of his parents’ commitments caring for local elderly people, helping with jobs such as shopping and gardening.
When his father died, Brian took his place at Ramsgate Gardening Club. Brian had been to see his father’s competition entries over the years and it wasn’t long before he was competing himself. Brian then joined Manston Gardening Club, Eastry and finally Cliffsend Gardening Club where he was a valued committee member and until recently the treasurer.
As well as having huge hands, Brian had green fingers and over the years he won hundreds of prizes for flowers, fruits and vegetables. He even diversified into baking and made a mean lemon drizzle cake. Recently he told me that his biggest successes had been with peas.
After his redundancy Brian went to work at Norman Decovis’ DIY shop. He met his good friend Tony there. Tony had a workshop behind the shop and he and Brian would fix cars there. Brian had two legendary Austen Allegros (with glove compartments full of boiled sweets) and was a member of the Austen Allegro Club. Norman Decovis’ wife Joyce told us that Norman was always pleased when Brian had looked over his machines because it gave him confidence.
Brian loved all aspects of outdoor life. He was a member of the Royal Horticultural Society, the RSPB, angling clubs and rambling societies. His doctor told him that those rambles had improved his heart health and prolonged his life, a lesson for us all there.
Brian’s indoor pursuits included meeting friends for dominoes and a pint of real ale. He was a member of the Campaign for Real Ale, even brewing his own for a while. He belonged to the Royal British Legion and The Old Soldiers Association. In latter years, Brian became something of a quiz legend travelling all over east Kent to participate in quizzes wherever he could find them. He developed a saying, not dissimilar to Uncle Albert’s “During the war” which was “Cor, I went to this quiz last night” which he would then follow with an anecdote about a badly worded question or a daft answer.
In the last 15 months of his life Brian was unable to drive and garden extensively but he continued growing flowers and veg from seed in his lean-to and planting out onto the patio. He was happily pottering in the sunshine in his garden just a week or so before he died and was busy with a range of other projects, decluttering ready to move into nursing care, his regular crosswords and brainteasers, music and radio, newspapers and two novels he had on the go. He loved watching a whole host of programmes from Storage Wars and Ice Truckers to Axe Men and Gem Hunters. He loved Pointless, Eggheads, The Tipping Point, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and Deal Or No Deal among other quiz shows.
Brian had a full and active life in Ramsgate but he also had his Whitstable life. In 1976 he befriended my mother Maureen and her children, my brother and sister Greg and Cyd, and of course me, although I was only six months old at the time. Greg and Cyd went onto marry and have eight children, to whom Brian played a grandfatherly role, and latterly he played a great-grandfatherly role. We adopted Brian and he adopted us. He compiled countless quizzes for every occasion, his most recent one at Christmas. I wonder what the teacher who said that Brian neither asks questions nor answers them would think of that.
I’ve chosen a hymn for us to listen to now. One that reflects Brian’s love of nature.
At sad times, some people prefer to keep their thoughts within them, others like to share and it’s on behalf of those people that I speak now, beginning with my Mum Maureen’s thoughts:
Maureen: To have a friend you have to be a friend – Brian was the absolute epitome of this phrase. Brian had many friends because he was a true and loyal friend to many. Brian was my friend for nearly forty years and through that friendship has become integral to my life, the life of my family, friends and the community within which we all operate. There is not one part of my life or the life of my family and community in Whitstable that Brian was not an absolute part of – again I use the word integral.
Brian has been friend, father figure, like a granddad and great granddad, a mentor, has given selfless support whenever asked for and wherever he saw a need. He was like a son in the help he gave my parents, like a brother to those he supported in life and sometimes in death.
Everything I have done and been honoured with has been made the easier and more enjoyable with the support of Brian, my friend. My MBE was given to me for my contribution to the community of Whitstable and Brian played a very large part in every single one of those contributions. It was fitting that he got such wonderful care at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital as a mark of gratitude for the help and support he gave to the campaign which means we have the hospital there today. CHEK (Concern for Health in East Kent) who ran that campaign are here today to pay their respects to Brian.
I have spent two, three and four days a week, every week, in the company of Brian over the years. Our common interest was doing things, helping people and being busy, sometimes in situations of distress, but Brian was always there. As it has been, so it shall be for evermore, because Brian will remain that integral part of our lives and we will love him, respect him, treasure him, speak of him, always, now and forever. Amen.
If our family was an army, Brian would have been head of logistics. My brother, Greg says: Brian fixed everything. If it was broken, he fixed it. It went off in the boot of his car and came back better than new. He was a superb grandfather to my children Stephanie, Richard, Joe and Ben and to my nephew David and nieces Naomi, Jessica and Symone known as The Cousins. On our family days out and going to watch Marnie in dance shows, there were countless times when The Cousins simply couldn’t have joined us if it wasn’t for Brian’s trusty Austen Allegro. Many a time the boot of that car would open and out would come bats and balls of all sizes and we’d all have a game of cricket. On a Wednesday when Brian was over, he couldn’t wait for me to get in from work so that we could take Richard, Joe and Ben over the rec for a game of football, often with a new ball he’d bought them.
My sister Cyd says there aren’t words good enough in all our language to say how much you were loved and missed and so I say to Brian, au revoir mon ami et bon nuit.
Stephanie: Like everyone, I have so many memories of Brian. Just the way he said, “Hello Steph” was special. He was so supportive of all our hobbies and interests, he helped us to understand and do our homework. I loved seeing my partner Alex talk fishing and tools with Brian, they shared a great love of outdoors and fixing things, and seeing him chat football and cricket to my brothers – especially if he thought he’d found a hard football quiz question for them. I have hundreds of memories of Brian at Christmas! His famous quizzes, playing dominoes with the boys at the table, bringing a puzzle that had people trying to do it for ages (a physical puzzle, rather than a jigsaw). Brian was very strict and didn’t like it if Granny tried to give herself (or anyone else) a half point for a partially correct answer and once he described an answer she’d given as illegal. We would save our Christmas cracker jokes for him to have later in the day. I loved the way he actually laughed at them too. I remember how he snuck doggy treats that were stashed in his pocket to our Jack Russells Ella and Foley. I remember his last birthday with us. A tea party of course. We sat round in the garden just by your front door and ate cake, which was great. I loved the way he knew everything about everything. To us, he was literally the most cleverest man in the whole world.
David says: Brian was there when I was born. Not literally but running up and down from the hospital bringing food to my Mum, Dad and Granny. He even bought my Dad some celebratory lager. Brian was a doer and a giver. He made me an electrical circuit board. I didn’t even ask. Anything I wanted, he made it. Either Brian was nicknamed Brain when one of us kids spelled his name wrong on a birthday card or I did it on purpose. Either way, it suited him and it stuck. He was always there, making, doing, being.
Naomi, Jessica and Symone all remember Sunday roasts at Granny. Brian would have cooked a turkey joint in his slow cooker which all of them loved. Brian was great fun, says Naomi. I loved seeing him on Sundays round at Granny’s. I saved him the difficult bits of my homework then he’d drop us home to Herne Bay, the three of us munching on the sweets he always had in his car. He was so brainy and clever, making up quizzes.
Jessica says Brian was our big, friendly giant. I’ll never forget all the times he picked us up and took us places in his little cream Allegro, whether it was for a day out or to Mum’s. He played so many games with us, acting as a referee and telling us to calm down when we got too excited. Brian I’m so glad you met my children. I’ll never let them forget you and the fun times we shared. We’ll cherish our happy memories forever in our hearts. Lewis can’t be here today but he has many happy memories of you too. For now it’s not goodbye but goodnight until we all meet again. Symone says Brian taught me loads of games was patient with us even when we cheated at the game Badger by folding down the corner so we knew who had the badger! And that turkey meat was amazing!
Marnie: I come now to my own memories of Brian, my earliest being him bouncing me on his knees to the tune of Humpty Dumpty. Bri enhanced my childhood in countless ways. He paid attention to my interests and skills and if he could help me, he did. When I was small, the yellow National Garden Scheme book was our bible and Mum, Brian and I visited a different garden, stately home, farm or place of interest almost every week. We were among the first to see the Vietnamese pot bellied pigs in the UK. The Saturday night before Brian died, we did a tally and between us estimated that we went to about 200 gardens. Brian said how he loved the cream teas. These outings gave me a love of animals and gardening that has stayed with me. I loved to garden with Brian. The smell of soil warmed in a greenhouse will always remind me of him. He made enclosures for my pets and a pond and once on a woodland walks we saw a decaying log. Into the boot of Brian’s Austen Allegro it went to be brought home where I could observe its tiny wildlife. One night he set up a tape recorder to record the dawn chorus for me and after I borrowed his Billy Joel LP for the millionth time, he gave it to me.
Soon my competing days in dance began and Brian drove Mum and I thousands of miles to dance festivals. Mum would have made it happen, but she didn’t have to worry because Brian was there, getting up early, getting home late. At one point, I used to sing Leaning On A Lamp by George Formby and my dance teacher gave me as a prop, a six foot lamppost. Brian had his brand new green Austen Allegro which had a pull down armrest in the middle of the backseat. Famously (on the dance circuit) Brian cut a hole behind the armrest so that the lamppost could be transported, laying from boot to gearstick. Not many biological Dads would even do that to their car. Brian made me other props and welded a a collapsible dressrail for my costumes. He bought an engraver so that he could engrave my medals and trophies. He was so encouraging, “Very good Marn,” he’d say when I came off stage. He converted a room in our house into my own dance studio with handmade barres and later when I needed my own car Mum delivered Yellow Pages. And who went with her? Brian, the suspension on his car sagging under the directories. Ten years ago I changed my name from Marnie Smith to Marnie Summerfield Smith as a birthday present to Brian, as a thank you. He was delighted.
As a teenager I was plagued by larger than desired thighs and Mum read about one of these thigh wrap miracle cures. Our nearest stockist was a sex shop in Margate. If anyone here can think of a less natural environment for Brian than Pillow Talk on Margate seafront, I’d like to hear it. But, of course, Brian heroically went.
We wouldn’t be talking about our Brian if we didn’t mention that he could be a bit of a pickle. Not many people, fed up with tailgaters would go to the effort of wiring a switch to their dashboard so that they could set off their brake lights without touching the brake. Brian did. Not everyone likes seagulls nesting on their chimney. But not everyone would go to the effort of buying a sweep’s brush to shove up the chimney. And you didn’t want to get Brian started on the subject of how David Suchet ran out of breath introducing records on his radio programme.
Brian was a stickler, he liked things done properly and he was loyal. Like all families we’ve had our share of bad times. Brian never backed away. He never said, “I’ll be back in a few months when all this has calmed down.” He drove my Mum to London twice each year to tend the grave of my cousin Christine who was two when she died. Her parents couldn’t cope with going so my Mum went. She couldn’t have done it without Brian who would arrive with a boot full of tools and plants for Christine that he’d grown himself. Later he did the same for my grandparents’ grave.
In the last 15 months of Brian’s life when he couldn’t drive to Whitstable, we went to his home. I went once a week and took his shopping. I loved doing it, selecting his favourite healthy foods and sneaking in a few treats. When it was cold I’d bring fish and chips in, put the shopping away and then we’d eat and watch Storage Wars. On nice days we went out often eating fish and chips in the car overlooking the sea.
Two weeks before Brian died we went out for a long drive to the Bluebird Tearooms at St Margaret’s at Cliffe. I had a cream tea, Brian had a ham sandwich and food envy. Then we drove to the Pines Gardens. This was a special place to Brian, Mum and I. We went there many times when I was small and timed it for when the frogs were spawning, occasionally bringing home frog’s spawn and once, the owner gave us a frog. As we pulled away from the Pines Gardens a few weeks ago we saw some unusual animals in their woodland. We didn’t know what they were. I tweeted the Pines Gardens to ask and discovered they were Mangalitza pigs, known as sheep-pigs for their woolly coats. It was lovely to introduce Brian to a new animal for a change.
(Brian was unconscious towards the end but I whispered to him that I found out what kind of pigs they were and he responded. It was one of the last things I think he heard me say. We scattered his ashes on his parents’ grave and at the Pines Gardens.)
I will always remember that day (at the Pines Gardens). I wish we could have had a few more drives, one more fish and chips. I wish that Brian could have had one more summer, one more cream tea. But I am grateful for what we did have and that he had a peaceful death on a sunny day with a lawnmower humming outside, with Mum and I beside him holding his hands. But most of all I will be thankful forever that for no reason other than because he was kind and generous of heart that Brian chose, with no expectation, to take on the role of my father and to be absolutely outstanding at it.
Four days before he died, he was in incredible pain and as my husband and I walked him into my mother’s home for the final time, he said to me, “What would I do without you?”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “You’ll never have to find out.”
It was a question I could have asked him every week of my life.
An honest man here lies at rest,
The friend of man, the friend of truth,
The friend of age, and guide of youth:
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so inform’d;
If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.