A Tribute To My Father, Five Years On

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the funeral of my father, Jeremy Chavasse Alden Quinney. It was held in the Warwickshire town of Alcester, not far from the village of Sambourne where he’d lived all his life, a dozen miles from Stratford-upon-Avon.

I gave the address, or eulogy as it’s often called, and I’d written everything down in case the nerves got to me in front of the hundreds of people who had come to pay their respects. Near the start, I repeated a line from one of the readings: “For as long as we ourselves live, holding memories in common, a man lives.”

Bearing that in mind, I thought I’d publish my tribute to Dad for family and friends. Five years ago, some of his grandchildren were too young to really understand, and some hadn’t even been born. My stepmother Gel hosts a ‘Bluebell Day’ in his honour each Spring for close family – which we try to get to, with varying degrees of success. Anyway, here is the address I gave.

That was a lovely anthem by the boys and girls from my old school at Abberley and it’s good to see that the standard of singing has improved significantly since I left the choir.  Or rather, was asked to leave the choir.

As you will all understand, this is not an easy thing for me to do but it is a privilege and a great honour for me to talk about my father with so many family and friends here today.  On Gel’s behalf and the rest of the family, thank you all for coming and for the countless messages of support.

When Dad and I talked about this day, we agreed that it should be about celebrating his life.  And this desire has been confirmed in conversations with Gel, and with my sisters Lucinda, Rosanagh, Anabelle and Emily.

It is, of course, very sad and hard to let him go. But we can all take comfort from the thoughts expressed in the reading that follows shortly:

‘For as long as we ourselves live, holding memories in common, a man lives.’

So Dad will be with us for a long time to come.  What I would like to do is share some thoughts with you about Dad and just some of the memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Dad was born on 4th April 1930, the youngest of three sons of Esme and Alden Quinney.  My Grandmother Esme was called Sam, Grandfather Alden was called Pip, and Dad’s older brothers were David, who has always been known as John, and Thomas, who was called Robin.  Thankfully, my Dad didn’t require an alias so the name Jeremy stuck, although he was affectionately known as Jem.

It was a very different England then, but some things haven’t changed much: All three boys never moved home to anywhere outside the boundaries of Oak Farm and for the three of them to make the trip today to Alcester could be considered to be a bit of a journey.

For a man who lived all his life in two homes that are no more than half a mile apart, Dad had a strong spirit of adventure and a penchant for taking risks.

His early partner in crime was his schoolfriend Gavin Strang, and they got into hot water when they drove through France into Spain, not long after the war.  Perhaps they should have been less obliging when the border guards asked them to carry packages across the Pyrenees but they managed to stay out of jail through Dad’s innocent charm.  A few years later, Dad was deeply saddened when Gavin was killed in Africa but remained loyal to his friend’s memory by giving me his name.

My earliest memories of Dad were of him flying, A close shave hadn’t put him off, when, as a young novice, he was flying on his own to Cambridge and terrible weather closed in and visibility was non-existent.  Dad has always maintained that what happened next was nothing short of a miracle, as he felt a guardian angel take the controls and help him land the plane safely.

Which is just as well, because many of us wouldn’t be here if Dad’s guardian angel hadn’t pitched up at the right moment.

I remember the day with my father, when I had a brush with near disaster at Exeter airport.  I was four years old, and ran towards Dad’s plane as it was parked near the runway and straight into the low part of the wing, near the cockpit. And I have the scar to prove it, below my eye. Naturally Dad was very concerned but he must have thought that if I couldn’t work out where the wing was, there would be little chance of me following in his footsteps as a pilot.

For many years, he ran the Worcestershire Gliding Club, just a few miles from here, down the road near Bidford.  I remember when he flew us to Le Tuquet in France and when we arrived we went to buy an ice cream.  We were offered a range of flavours but the only one I understood was chocolat, so I chose that – even though I didn’t like Chocolate ice cream at the time.  Little did we know then that Dad was introducing me to a future life in France and that my children would have no such problems with the language of ice cream.

Regrettably, the only family film that exists of that period has nothing to do with our daring exploits together in the air.  It shows me as a little boy, sporting a handbag.  I have been shouldering this burden ever since – I don’t mean the handbag but as many of you know, Dad loved to tell, and occasionally embellish, a good story.

Flying might have been his passion but Dad always threw himself into his work.  Funnily enough, he originally wanted to be a civil engineer – and I think he would have been a very good one. He was creative, a good draughtsman, an excellent builder, very practical and he had a great understanding of how things worked.  But his father wasn’t having any of it and so he worked in the family business with his two brothers.

And because he wasn’t really into farming as such, but loved machines and selling things, he ran Quinneys Dairies.  It expanded dramatically and became a household name in the Midlands before it was eventually taken over in the 60s.

It’s fair to say that, after my father and my mother Diana separated, meals during our stays at Spinney Cottage were not ones of great culinary excellence.  Thankfully, Dad met Gel – I can’t believe it’s more than 36 years ago – and a high standard of service was resumed.

Looking back, after meeting the bronzed Adonis that was my Dad, on holiday while waterskiing with his friend David Higgs, Gel must have come down to earth with a hell of a bump when she met Lucy, me and Sannah.  But he still managed to win her over.  I guess it must have been the promise of spending their first night of their honeymoon together in a caravan.

Within a few years, Anabelle and Emily were born and Dad had to slow down a bit with some of his more dangerous pursuits.  I think all those girls were beginning to wear him out.  Really though, as a serial entrepreneur, he didn’t have the time.

After the dairy, he manufactured soft drinks at Oak Farm and then, because the sales were seasonal, he began producing toffee apples in industrial quantities each autumn.  He also started the travel company Trek, the original rough guide to discovering Europe in a minibus.

He has encouraged all of us with equally unconventional ideas – and he supported me when I started selling new fangled things called personal computers.  It sounds tacky now but I was lucky enough – exactly twenty years ago – to have one of those great father and son moments when I drove to Spinney Cottage in a shiny new German sports car.   Anabelle and Emily were keen to have me pick them up from school and although he disapproved of such ostentatious behaviour, his pack on the back meant a lot.  Without doubt, having Dad’s advice and winning his approval has been important to all five of us.

At that time, Dad wanted to make better use of the land near home.  First there was the caravan park, then UK chasers – which was a cross-country horse-riding circuit.  But it was the car boot business that really took off.  He and Gel have made it a huge success, along with Anabelle and Chris in support in recent years. On any given Sunday from April to October you’ll find more people there in the car boot field near Studley, than at most football grounds in the midlands on match days.

In fact, he was so attached to his walky-talky that he said the other day that he wanted to take one with him in the coffin, just in case.  Gel replied that at 300 pounds a pop, he certainly could not.

My wife Angela and I ran the boot sale once, in the early days, when Dad and Gel were away.  The day went well, until late afternoon when everyone made for the exit.  There was a minor car-crash at the main gate but inexplicably a car caught fire, with great palls of black smoke drawing a large crowd, but causing a massive tailback.  The police arrived, the fire brigade – I thought, crikey we’ll get closed down:  Imagine the conversation I had with Dad shortly afterwards.  ‘Everything was fine Dad, just one little hiccup….’.  Strangely, I haven’t been asked back to come and help.

Dad’s work was always close to home.  Of course, he had strong roots and he would remind us of his Quaker background from his father’s side.  He was devoted to his mother, who was staunchly C of E, and when I asked him recently if he had any personal regrets he said he wished that she had lived longer.  She died aged 83, which isn’t too bad.

Granny’s maiden name was Chavasse and her first cousin Noel Chavasse was a Captain in the Medical Corps and the only man to have won two Victoria Crosses during the First World War.  A couple of years ago Dad and I traced cousin Noel’s movements on the Somme, and at Passchendaele near Ypres, where he’d won his two VCs for saving the wounded, the second one posthumously.

The tour was a reminder of how lucky we all are – and it was a great, moving voyage with my father, whose middle name, as you can see from the order of service, is Chavasse.  As indeed is mine, and my little son Tom’s and my Godson and Nephew Bertie’s.  It’s a tradition that started with Dad and one that will continue, I hope, for generations to come.

What gave Dad most satisfaction was that, from these strong roots, he planted his own, not insignificant dynasty.  Four daughters – all of whom he was so proud to give away in marriage to four men with whom he has forged special relationships – along with Angela and me.  He has fourteen grandchildren – Nicholsons, Quinneys, Wilsons, and a Matthews – and I am sure we’re not done there yet.

Dad’s 75th birthday at Bauduc, 4th April 2005.

Dad was the head of the family – the core of the family – and even from a physical standpoint it’s hard to imagine anyone taking his seat at the table.  Dad was tall, charismatic and had real presence.  With his integrity and firm views you knew where you stood. He instilled in us a strong work ethic and we have all inherited his creative and entrepreneurial flair. Lucy with her restaurant and cooking empire in the Lake District, me and my vineyard in Bordeaux, Sannah’s personal styling consultancy, Anabelle’s outstanding talent for creating and teaching art, while Emily is studying for a Masters in Visual Arts.

I think what probably unites so many people here is our respect for Dad – I don’t know anyone who was so widely respected by so many different people, from all walks of life.  He was interested in other people’s lives and readily gave sound advice when it was asked for.  He had a great sense of humour, and loved to laugh.  Once in a blue moon he could get quite cross, with that Quinney jaw much in evidence, but the really scary moments were thankfully very rare.

He also had a very kind, tender side.  He stood up for the underdog, loved animals and had a soft spot for some surprising things – he collected delicate, small Coalport porcelain figures for example, and little silver pill boxes.  In recent years, he would buy these on e-bay.  And a few other items too if he could get them past Gel.   However, Dad had auctionitis long before the internet – he called them octions – and wasn’t deterred by the great value job lot of calculators he bought at a sale in the early seventies which, some time after decimalisation, turned out to be in pounds, shillings and pence.

I have no doubt that we will uncover a hoard of previously unseen items – hidden behind the catering vans and all sorts of machinery – in the many barns and outbuildings, and that same caravan, at Spinney Cottage.

In a life of good fortune, he valued some things above all. He was immensely proud of all his children and grandchildren and depended so much on the love and companionship of his wife, Gel.

Thank you Gel, for the loyalty and love you gave Dad on a wonderful journey, and to that journey’s end. With your unflinching support, he was able to face his illness with such amazing courage and grace.

We cannot even begin to take away your loss but I hope that it is some comfort to know how much he means to us all and how much you mean to us as well.

Of late, he would say, to stop anyone worrying too much, ’We’re alright, we’re alright.’ We’re alright too, Dad, and we wish you God speed to your next adventure.

And I hope that when I catch up with you next, you can finally teach me how to fly.


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8 thoughts on “A Tribute To My Father, Five Years On

  1. Paul Nugent

    Excellent! I remember meeting him at the farm many years ago, not long before we took our journey by car through France into Spain.

  2. Kate

    Thank you for writing your address, it was lovely to be able to read it. I know at the time my sisters and I were very moved by your words. I am hoping to be able to get to Bluebell day again this year .. Jem was my Godfather and will always remain a very special person in my heart. I will also remember my adventure across europe with a Treks tour to Turkey. Thinking of of you all on this day, much love Kate

  3. Simon Coan

    Gavin I am up at 4:30 ..couldn't sleep.Ordered a couple of cases and somehow stumbled accross your very touching address.

    It was so well written that it gave me an immediate insite into your family and especially your father.

    I will be taking my father out to lunch on the 11th April for his 90th Birthday.and I must say I relish every second that I am with him.

    Much love.


  4. Clair Bourne

    We used to have milk from Quinney's at home and at school. Those triangular cartons and the specially shaped crates they were delivered in were always a source of wonderment for me!