Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Chris's tribute to Graham

The text of Chris Saunders' tribute to Graham delivered at his Memorial Service on 7th December 2009

Take care.

Those were the words that Graham used to sign off our telephone conversations. And that one word - care - just sums up the Graham I knew. He was a lovely mixture of the careful and the carefree, he cared deeply about other people, and he loved caring.

The Graham that I first met in the late 90s was definitely a careful man. Anyone who helped him shift furniture around his house (which seemed to happen with astonishing regularity) would know that his garage was stuffed to the brim with things that he just could not throw away. His house – particularly for a single man – was tidy and clean and DIY projects were planned and delivered with painstaking perfection. Above all, he was careful in what he said. Our first conversation was actually a rather awkward one about seat belts in school buses, but he defused my passion with calm and grace. Serious conversations with Graham weren’t short, because he thought so deeply about issues from many perspectives, thought about what he would say and was then gentle and diplomatic in how he said it. His support, his counsel and his generous willingness to give time helped me through some difficult days and I am sure I am only one of many.

Serious decisions required time. When the newly-qualified Towe arrived at John Hampden School, and mentoring turned to friendship, friendship became romance, romance became love, it was clear that there was a serious decision to be made. He considered matters carefully and when he’d decided, that was a decision. The careful bachelor became the carefree betrothed. He showered her with his love and care, be it small notes left for her when he went away, a weekend retreat, far-flung trips abroad, a bottle of their favourite Veuve, the daily phone call that showed that she was uppermost in his thoughts, or just being there. He made her feel safe, allowed her to be herself; similarly she released in him a deeply romantic love, as well as ambition and purpose. They complemented each other perfectly and to us will always be just G&T.

He enjoyed being slightly and quietly different, embracing the Anglo-Swedish lifestyle with a Swedish wedding, Swedish holidays and frequent trips to Ikea at all times of day and night. He steadily became proficient in another language so he could have a private conversation with his family in a public place, or share a little joke. And he had a great sense of humour, giving fun at work and at home – playing Bruce Forsyth in the children’s talent show in school, hiding notices from colleagues for a bit of harmless fun. No pupil of his will forget Graham eating jelly babies – head first, with sound effects. One week he anonymously left two bottles of something different on our doorstep for us to find each morning – one day milk, the next wine, on the third shampoo. It was just fun, all positive fun.

And finally to Graham as a father. Given the number of children who had passed through his professional care, it is not surprising that he would make a wonderful daddy for Aila and Leiva. For them he attended every medical appointment and ante-natal scan; he sang to them before they were born (and after), he reconstructed their home in anticipation. Whenever there was a gathering, Graham was the one who went outside to play with the children; his party puppet shows – entirely impromptu – were legendary among the children of Thame. And who makes the best pancakes? Daddy. He was no reluctant provider – he loved them unconditionally and loved caring for them, while at the same time teaching them - to read, to swim, to ride a bike. We joked about the fact that the silver fox - as we called him - was a little older and greyer than the average daddy, that his retirement plans had changed somewhat, that his life had taken an unexpected turn, but the truth was he would not have swapped his new family for anything.

I sometimes wonder how much of Graham I really knew. Not because he was particularly secretive or personal, but because his selflessness meant that he focused on you first. And not just me but you, whoever you were, all of you. He put others at the centre of his life, made time for everybody, made us feel better about ourselves, made us better people. A teacher of all of us, young and old, he was the finest of men, truly a gentle man, humble, selfless, generous and, above all, caring.

Now Graham you are receiving the offer of care in another place. Take that care.

Take care.

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