Goodbye Brian

Brian with the Summerhayes girls at Olli's Christening, 2008
Brian with the Summerhayes girls at Olli's Christening, 2008

I write this post with a very heavy heart.

Late yesterday evening, we said goodbye to Brian, my father-in-law, who've I've known since 1989, when I first met my wife, Allison.

He died at home, having, thankfully, been able to leave hospital after a fall at home, some two and a bit weeks ago. He and the family were determined, especially in light of the Covid19 restrictions, to get him home because they knew, as did he, that he didn't have long to live and hospital would be the last place he'd want to die.

I want to say a massive thank you to the huge team of people — carers, nurses and doctors — who made his last few days and hours so peaceful. They were all fantastic.

Brian was an amazing man. Larger than life in so many ways. 

He was born in Totnes, Devon in January 1936 and never moved away. He trained as a carpenter but almost as soon as he'd finished his apprenticeship, he started his own business and never looked back. He was a very canny businessman; and where others saw just a field or old house or rundown funeral business, he saw potential. Bags of it. I could say the same about his children. He managed, don't ask me how, to privately educate all four of them — three girls and one boy — and was, or so he told me, often chided by his friends for wasting his money on something that they (more than likely) thought would be of no use to his children. Not to Brian and his late wife, Anneta. He knew that they would all benefit and even though only his eldest son went spent all his time in the independent system, nevertheless his support for their education was designed to make sure that they all had the best start in life that he (and Anneta) could give them. His son subsequently went into the building and funeral business and his other three girls trained and qualified as an architectural technician, a solicitor and a nurse (Allison).

Brian was a rock. Yes, he could be a little chaotic in the way he went about things, but it didn't matter how difficult things got with the business, his family or anything else that came hurtling in his direction, he always knew what to do. Ultimately though everything he did was for the benefit of his family.

To say he loved life is an understatement. Golf, entertaining people, good food and wine and generally being the centre of attention was where he really came alive. Sure he enjoyed business but I don't think it was ever more than a means to an end.

When I first met him, I'd lost my business; I was about 21 or 22. He didn't judge me — ever — and gave me sound advice that helped me navigate some choppy waters. I know he thought me a tad reckless in proposing to his daughter after three weeks of meeting her but we waited long enough to get married that I think he forgave me. Not having had a close family or, frankly, parents who were much interested in me, it came as a bit of shock to find that he and his family accepted me for who I was and when I did, in 1992, make the decision to go back to University, he and Anneta offered us part of their house for well over a year so that I could attend without the financial burden of us renting and subsequently they helped us with our first property. Those days, as well many others to follow, will always be very special to me because I got to know more about Brian's gifts and bore witness to his countless acts of selfless love and devotion to his family.

Sadly, when Anneta died, Brian's world fell apart. He did remarry soon after, but I always felt that his spark was dimmed and diminished that day.

Brian's health and mobility has been compromised over the years by dint of too many operations. Mostly, these have a come about as a result of his early days of playing rugby and working as a builder. Neither forgiving of the body. Having been diagnosed over a decade ago with heart failure, he never once complained, moaned or looked for sympathy. If anything, he was frustrated that he couldn't do the things he loved most — golf and gardening. But he made the best use of his energy and mobility right up until the end.

As well as his children, he had nine grandchildren. He loved them just like he loved his children, if not more so. The feelings were entirely mutual. He played with them — not rough and tumble but in the best way he could. He also took them out to various places. Fish and chips or tiddlers and chips were always on the menu. But most of all, he was always interested in them — deeply. He was present and listened and that's a rare gift. I know they'll all be deeply upset by his passing, including my own children who I had wake up last evening to give them the very sad news. They were distraught.

One last thing. Brian loved Christmas and would always dress up as Father Christmas in an ill-fitting and comedic outfit and make a big thing of giving out silly presents (e.g. he gave me a set of steak knives when he knew I was a vegan!) and taking great delight in watching everyone unwrap his little offering. I very much hope that that tradition doesn't stop. I'll certainly carry it on, even though I may have to put on a bit of weight — haha.

I'll miss you Brian, BTP, Captain Chaos. 

You were an amazing man and someone who showed me how to love and be loved.

May you rest in peace. 

Your memory will live on forever and I'll make sure I carry on your legacy of being one of the awkward pack in the best possible tradition.

All our love

Alli, Ju, Evie, Hetty and Floz



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