Eulogy for John William Stephenson, 23rd September 2014
For those of you who do not know me, I am Sean Michael, John and Christine’s eldest son. Sean Michael because when I was born my father was as known as Sean. I do not know why or when he changed to his christened name John but to his family he will always be Sean. For today I will refer to him as John, if that’s not Irish, what is?
Firstly I would like to say a couple of personal things. 1969 was the last time that I lived with John apart from when he was on leave, or back for the weekend or I was on holiday. So some of you will know things about my father that I do not and I hope you will share them with me later. Anyone who knew John would know of his belief in Education. Moving to Dunbar in 1969 and making it a family base whilst John worked all over the world enabled us, the children, to start a “normal” education. Throughout the 70’s and 80’s John and Christine, through great personal sacrifices supported and funded our education. Self-sacrifice and belief in the doing the right things are watch words that run throughout John’s life.
A term our father often used was “sincere thanks”. On behalf of our family I would like to offer our sincere thanks to everyone for attending today and for all your messages of support and kind sympathy.
John was from humble beginnings, Greystones County Wicklow, (a small village just south of Dublin). This was the grounding for his strong Christian beliefs and principles and impeccable manners. He was the eldest son of Mary and Patrick, of a family of 9 children, 4 sisters Joan, Carmel, Patsy and Mary, and 4 brothers Willie, Gerald, Bob and Brian. Sadly only Joan and Bob survive him.
John, if you crossed him and were wrong you felt his wrath, if you were in need and honest he would be your saviour. I hope that a little of this has rubbed off on us all.
John’s health had been declining for some time and culminated in him being admitted to hospital earlier this year. I would like to thank my brothers and sisters for everything they have done over these last few months in supporting both my parents. Throughout, Christine, our beautiful mother, has been calm, supportive to John and ever optimistic.
John’s love for golf started at the very early age of 5 as a caddie with his brothers at the local Delgany golf club and golf continued throughout his entire life. He has had many golfing achievements at many clubs across the world but most recently at Gullane, Goswick and Dunbar. He took great pleasure in teaching his five children and friends to play.
As a family one of the things that we are most proud of is his 18 holes in one, Bob witnessed his 1st and I his last, but most remarkably one of his long standing playing partners and lifetime friend, Ian Smith was with him for 10 of them! At the ripe old age of 82 he reached the final of the Ladies Cup at Gullane Golf Club from a field of 128 players. I am sure you would agree, he played golf with a keen competitive edge combined with a good sense of humour and the ability to memorise every course, every round, every shot, in detail!
John played to a very high standard and for many years played off a handicap of 1, and even in his late 70s played off a single figure handicap.
After a short spell in the Irish Army at the age of 15, having concealed his true age he enlisted to the British Army in 1948 joining the Royal Army Service Corps and he followed a career where he rose to the rank of Major in the Pay Corps. He served in Hong Kong, Singapore, the Gulf and Germany and had the good fortune to visit Nepal as Gurkha Pension officer, to set up the Gurkha Pension Scheme.
During his service he was awarded a BEM by the Queen in 1963 for meritorious service for his work on the installation of a research and development costing system at the fighting vehicles establishment in Chobhan.
John and Christine met at The Plaza in Edinburgh in 1955 when he was stationed at Edinburgh Castle and from that first encounter a loving partnership that lasted for many happy decades ensued. They were engaged within a few months with an emerald ring secretly transported in a jar of Brillcream from Ireland. Mum waited a year and took a 4 week boat journey to join John in Singapore for the start of their 57 years of marriage and where they soon started a family.
Myself shortly followed by Moira, James, Christopher and Claire. Later to become a grandfather to a football team of grandchildren, 7 girls Rebecca, Siobhan, Kerry, Katrina, Sophie, Christina and Molly and 4 boys Sean, Angus, Matthew and Paddy and many nieces and nephews. We all remember the simple family days which were great fun, watching family cine films and slide shows. Bramble picking on Doon Hill near Dunbar and picnics in the Lammermuirs, feeding on out of date army rations (waste not want not being the order of the day).
John’s passion for horse-racing began when he was in the Irish army stationed beside the Curragh and this pastime continued throughout his life. He was finally in a position in the late 80s to acquire the first of several horses and named it Traprain Law, after the hill on the outskirts of Haddington. He went on to win 4 races for John in the now well-worn and well-loved John Stephenson owner’s Irish colours of green, red and gold.
In 1980 Mum and Dad purchased their first retail pharmacy business on Dunbar High Street. Shortly afterwards John started to take an active role in politics, which he was very passionate about especially healthcare and education. This came from his Irish roots as he believed everyone should have access to healthcare and education. He served on two district and one regional council spanning 3 decades.
John was such a vibrant figure within his councillor roles. On the Lothian Region Council he enjoyed sparring with Robin Cook, Donald Dewar and Alistair Darling. A proud moment of John’s was the opening of the sewage works at Belhaven in 1993 – the photo sits proudly on the bathroom wall!
Only last year John and Christine were invited to visit 10 Downing Street where they met many interesting political figures including the Prime Minister David Cameron. I am sure he will have given David a word of advice!
John will be looking down on us with a frown and shaking his head because he never liked to boast about his achievements and never wanted to be put on a pedestal. But his competitive drive, and goal to ensure he continued to better himself or learn something new every day gave him the opportunity to meet the last 5 Prime Ministers, to be invited to lunch by John Smith’s wife at the Signet library only to find he was seated beside a distinguished Russian gentleman with a distinctive birth mark and to have also met many of the Royal family.
John achieved so much throughout his 85 years and never sat idle for a minute. He was very proud of his family and especially all of his much loved grandchildren. John had a great time joking with the grandchildren (who all called him Grumpa) and they had a great time in return winding him up trying to match his Irish humour. His favourite question was “What is twice the half of two and half”.
John has touched many lives, he will have touch us all here today in some way. His last few months were hard for him and he became angry through frustration. Angry at what was happening within his beloved council at Berwick. Frustration that his body was failing him and he could not work out how to get better. Throughout his mind was sharp, only a week past Thursday when I met him for the last time he could still turn a number in his head.
Yesterday Bob and I sat with him in the chapel of rest. John lay there calm and content with his journey from Greystones to Berwick. He was dressed in his Sunday best, just as he would be if he were in the congregation today, polished shoes (he always said as we went to church, you can tell a lot about a man by the state of his shoes). He was calm with a wry smile, the same smile I had seen on Willie and Gerald before him, the same wry smile I saw on Bob yesterday, the same wry smile he had sitting in the clubhouse after a good round (especially if had come back from an unwinnable position), the same smile as when he had argued a point and he knew you had no further repost, the same wry smile as when he watched Pip or Red Baron win on the DVD for 1,000th time and the same wry smile that when on family days he sat in his corner chair surveying his family; Christine, his children, partners and their Children. Can I suggest this is a lasting memory we should all keep of him.
John was a truly remarkable man, a loving and loyal husband, father, father in-law, grandfather, brother, brother in-law, uncle and a loyal and faithful friend to many – he will be sadly missed. Would you please be upstanding and join me in reciting an Irish blessing in the memory of John.