are so many things I could say about Aelfthryth, my wonderful mother, that
it’s difficult to know where to start. Since this is not an occasion for long
speeches, I’ll just confine myself to a couple of brief memories and anecdotes.
mother certainly never missed an opportunity to tell us how proud she was of me
and my brothers. I well remember how when I got a place at the University of Oxford
30 or so years ago I was a bit embarrassed to discover that she was so proud of
this that she had told absolutely everyone—even including our postman!
she died there were a lot of letters and cards of condolences. Many of these
were messages from family and close friends. But there were also many others from
casual acquaintances. And, in some ways, those messages were the most revealing
of all. Reading through those messages what struck me again and again was how many
people —sometimes based on only occasional acquaintances with her—were struck
by how strongly Aelfthryth always put her family far ahead of everything else.
up, I was often told by others that I was lucky to have such a good family. I
think like many things, when you have something good you don’t really realize
how good it is until part of it is gone. It’s not until she’s gone that you
realize how much Aelfthryth was the glue that held our whole family together.
You look for instance at those lovely summer gatherings she organized year
after year on the lawn of the Gatehouse, the house that she and John shared in
Shipton, to bring together family members who sometimes hadn’t seen each other
for many years.
was, of course, terrible to watch her go. But I also feel privileged to have been
with her in those final days, and especially to witness the incredible determination
with which she faced them. Never once did I hear her bemoan the fact that this
cruel disease was taking her from this world well before her time, although she
would certainly have had every right to do so. Instead she spent literally her
last days of consciousness telling us over and over again how fortunate she had
been in her life. I’ll never forget how almost the last words I ever heard her
say was the phrase “I’m so lucky”, repeated time and time again. It showed
incredible fortitude and was symbolic of the way she led her life that she
would end on such an upbeat note.
of the few sadnesses which she could not hide—and which greatly saddens me as
well—is that she will never get to see her grandchildren grow up. I’m glad that
my children could bring her at least a little happiness in her final days. I’ll
never forget the wonderful look of joy and surprise on her face when my son Mark
paid a totally unexpected visit to her in hospital—unexpected because she thought
he was still in Hong Kong and had absolutely no idea that he’d rushed back to
Britain with me.
although her time with my children was all too brief, it was enough to leave an
inedible mark. For proof of that, look no further than the moving tribute
Rebecca and Mark have recorded to explain how much they already miss their
Granny. And in bringing up our children in coming years, my wife Candy and I
will always remember the incredible contribution Aelfthryth made during the all
too brief years she shared with them.