Eulogy for my Dad

Words are inadequate to capture all that my Dad was and all that he meant to us but I have tried my best to do him justice. The eulogy below is what I wrote for his funeral.

Ian Douglas Rowbory, the youngest of four siblings, was born on the 30th April 1953 at the British military hospital ‘Rinteln’ in Germany. The family lived in nearby Herford, a large British garrison where his father had been posted. After this, his father was stationed in Singapore, where Ian then spent a couple of his early years and went to kindergarten, before returning to the U.K. at Catterick Garrison, near Richmond, Yorkshire, living on Whinny Hill, which was inhabited by a close community of military families. Their garden backed straight onto a moor, where Ian often used to go for walks by himself and imagine a world of walking trees. A neighbour had once told him a story of trees that could tell if you were good or bad by how their branches moved in the wind. As a result he used to stand there for ages telling a tree to “make up your mind!”. He loved the area and Richmond always remained one of his favourite places and he was devoted to Darlington Football Club his whole life. He had an amazing singing voice and auditioned successfully to sing as a choirboy in several cathedral choirs while living there. His siblings remember his beautiful solo in ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ at St Mary’s Carol Service in Richmond.

When Ian was 9 years old, the family moved to the next posting: to Seremban in Malaya, as it was called then. He immediately loved it. He loved the heat, the people – Malay, Chinese, Indian, Gurkha – and the whole feel of the place. It seemed a paradise full of wonder to him. The sprawling bungalow with a long curved drive, with banana trees and a rambutan tree in their garden, of which they ate the fruit, the house geckos called chit-chats that quickly gobbled up all the insects that ventured inside and the sound of them running upside down on the ceilings inside the bungalow. He loved it all. It was also the first place that he made real friends and school was a revelation, with teachers who evoked a love of learning and encouraged Ian’s voracious love of reading and kindled independent thought. He became accustomed to speaking to adults as an equal and speaking his mind. His imagination was incredible. He lived in his own world and in imaginary games that he used to create in the garden, which became his adventure playground. When it was very hot he used to lie face down on the cool red tiles of the sitting room that opened onto the veranda, where he often used to sit with his parents. They had an amah – Amah Tini – the family employed her to cook, clean and babysit Ian (his older siblings were away at boarding school in the UK). Things got amusingly confusing when the family bought a Great Dane, whose full name was Bettina of Flevoland, Tina for short. The names Tini and Tina sounded so similar that when either one was called for, both came running at the same time. When Ian’s parents were still out at the Sungei Ujong club in the evenings, he used to sit outside Tini’s rooms and just talk with her. The social focus of family life was the Sungei Ujong Club, a mock Tudor, half-timbered building with a great swimming pool. Whole days were spent there. They would settle in for the day at a table poolside at 8am, with a banana leaf roof canopy overhead, be served toast and marmalade at breakfast while reading newspapers. Ian spent a lot of time in the swimming pool with his friends, competing to see how far they could swim underwater and also having splash fights. At lunch he loved the lamb cutlets, which were a treat because such a luxury was rare at home, and he adored one of the puddings that they used to serve that was a Malayan dish consisting of coconut and rice. While the adults were snoozing after lunch or playing tennis or billiards, he would go to the club’s library and read there before going for another swim.

Seaside trips to Port Dickson on the west coast were a favourite because of the nearly-deserted, endless silver beaches, shaded by palm trees. One memorable holiday, they travelled up the north-east coast of the country, taking a massive tent with large living quarters and extensive luggage in a minibus, including a typewriter at which Ian’s mother used to sit writing her weekly missives on a table outside the tent in a straw hat and long, flowing dress. They camped as close to the beaches along the coast as possible. In more remote places, a highlight for Ian was watching turtles dig a hole in the sand to lay their eggs at night and he even got to pat one turtle on her head before she returned to the sea; he always said it was a spine-tingling, transcendent moment as he looked into her eyes. Other memories of this trip were avoiding the Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish stranded on the beach, elephant rides and tea with a Sultan. One Christmas was spent on the island of Penang staying in the luxurious Officers Leave Hotel, where he received his first ever watch as a present. He then proceeded to tell everyone the time every few minutes, which wasn’t annoying at all! It was also where he first read Great Expectations while everyone else was at a grand Christmas dinner in the evening because he was considered too young to attend.

There was a holiday in the Cameron Highlands, in the north of the country, where army officers were sent for Rest and Recuperation. There were waterfalls, lakes and dense unspoilt rainforest. Ian vividly remembered having to cross over a 70-foot ravine deep in the jungle by walking across a very narrow water pipe, in order to reach a village. Close to the holiday house he saw a python which had just swallowed a wild pig; the evidence was clear to see. There was also the unforgettable moment in the Cameron Highlands when they got a warning that a tiger had been spotted and were told to stay indoors. Tigers were rare and it must have travelled a great distance. Ian was relieved that they hadn’t brought his beloved Tina, their Great Dane, on the trip because the next morning, it was found that the tiger had killed and eaten one of the other dogs. Theirs was one of the only houses in their area back in Seremban that never got burgled because Tina was such a good guard dog and was trained to bark on command. The postman was not such a fan of hers though!

In the back of his mind, Ian knew that secondary school was fast approaching and was dreading it. He didn’t want to leave Malaya, or his parents. Ideally he wanted to go to the co-ed army school in Kuala Lumpur but his parents wanted him to go to the Duke of York’s Royal Military School like his brothers, which he was dead set against. Even at that age, Ian was a non-conformist, who was very independent and had got used to the freedom of Malaya and the company of adults. He didn’t like authority and was a pacifist. Not qualities that were appreciated in British boarding schools at the time! He had heard dreadful stories about the Duke of York’s school and his parents thought that he might sabotage the entrance exam so they told him the test he was sitting was just a practice test. He wasn’t too happy when he found out it was the actual exam! But he managed to get out of the situation when in the interview for the school, the first question he was asked was “so why do you want to come to the Duke of York school?”. In typical Ian fashion, he responded “I don’t.” And that was that.

He definitely wasn’t allowed to go to his first choice of school in Kuala Lumpur after that performance! So he ended up being sent to board at Richmond Boys Grammar in North Yorkshire, where old family friends were nearby and where his sister Viv spent her school holidays. It was quite a shock coming from Malaya. He was used to a diet of mostly fresh fruit and vegetables, which was very different to British school food. And everyone was white and talked funny! There was also a culture of bullying from both pupils and staff. It was a miserable time but he just had to make the best of a bad job. He made some friends, who regarded themselves as maverick rebels like himself and befriended the Scottish matron Miss Henderson, who told him “there are many different ways to be a rebel”, and he used to sit and talk to her as she did her knitting and the crossword. Everyone else was terrified of her but she was a big softie really. He also made friends with the dinner ladies. He used to go down early to the dining room and set out all the breakfast things, put the hot water on and sausages in the oven for them. As a result, they let him into their staff room and sat him down in a comfy armchair, fed him toast, brought him a cup of tea and let him read the newspapers there. He also made friends with the gardener, who used to bring him strawberries, to the amazement of the other children.

The following memory from his school days always made him smile. There was a rota that meant a different pupil sat next to the headmaster James D Dutton, or “JDD” as they called him, each day. The day when it was Ian’s turn, he was the first to take a bite of the jam sponge and custard pudding and promptly spat it out. JDD bellowed so that the whole school turned to look “Rowbory! What’s wrong with you?!”. He replied calmly “taste it”. The headmaster tasted it and he had a far more dramatic reaction, eyes bulging, standing up and spitting it out forcefully, yelling “boys! Quick, don’t pour the custard on” but it was too late, the custard had been poured, and all the school was proceeding to imitate the headmaster’s dramatic spitting out of the pudding. One of the cooks came running out and said that the salt had been emptied into the sugar jar. “But Mrs P!” the headmaster bemoaned, wailing “it’s jam sponge day!”

One time, after Ian discovered that all the boys’ post was being opened and checked, he stormed to the headmaster’s office and gathered quite the crowd, banging on his door, yelling that it was illegal to open other people’s post. After that he was known as being “difficult” by the teachers but he gained a sort of respect for not being intimidated. To his surprise he was made a prefect and was instrumental in the mini revolution, where pupils walked out of lessons, which led to the cane being banned there. After his friend ran away from the school and Ian was asked why, he told them how bad the bullying was in the boarding house, which led to some changes being made. However, he was aware that things were falling apart at home between his parents and it affected him deeply and the feelings of abandonment were pretty strong for a number of reasons. He always thought he would be rescued from that school. So although very intelligent, he didn’t do well in his O Levels. He was great at cross country though and loved running through Richmond and the countryside and by the River Swale; he was a fast runner and would also win the 440 yard and 880 yard races on Sports Day. He could have won the mile race too but two of his friends on the sidelines laughingly offered him a bottle of Coke on one of the laps around and he dropped out of the race, chuckling, to drink it.
“ROWBORY! What are you doing? You could have been Victor Victorum of Sports Day” the headmaster asked.
“I don’t care about that” Ian said.
“Well I do! I loathe that insufferable boy who’ll win it now” JDD replied.

Ian loved poetry and started the bardic society at the school. He also spent time at a day pupil’s house at lunchtimes with his group of friends and they used to write stories together, as well as songs and poems.

After leaving Richmond Boys Grammar, he only saw JDD once again, after he married Ann and brought her to Richmond to show her around. It was amicable and JDD couldn’t stop laughing upon hearing the news that Ian was now a teacher himself. “But you hated school! You hated the teachers and your time here! You hated us all!” the headmaster said.
“Yes. That’s why I became a teacher” Ian replied.

After leaving Richmond at 16, he was at a major crossroads in his life. He was very close to his sister, Viv, who was the one constant in his life throughout his childhood and teenage years, and she became his main support during that time. At her suggestion, he went to stay with Mrs Ferris, Viv’s mother-in-law, whom everyone called Mrs F., not far from Viv and her husband Phil. Those next three years living with Mrs F were bliss for him and he loved her very much. Her steady care and love gradually built up a bit of the confidence that he had completely lost after being called “the failure of the family” by his parents, who were now living in Germany. He worked various jobs all while taking evening classes at Slough College, retaking his O Levels and then taking A Levels. Mrs F was the first person from whom he’d ever heard the words “well done”. He moved to classes during the day at Slough College and found an inspirational mentor in his English teacher, Sue, the best teacher he ever had. She also cast him to star in the musical ‘Oh! What a lovely war’ in various roles, along with his friend Cheryl. After he came off stage he heard a strange sound like running water and asked puzzled “what’s that noise?, to which Cheryl replied “they’re applauding you, you idiot!”. They went back on stage to a standing ovation. It was a triumph. Mrs F was beaming in the audience and Viv had persuaded his brothers to come and watch too.

With good A Level results he rang up Bristol Polytechnic, as it was known then, to see if they had any spaces on their Law course. There were no places left for law but they offered him Economics instead. Although based at Bristol, it was actually a London University degree, because at the time Bristol awarded University of London University External Degrees. He loved being a student at Bristol; he loved studying, his lectures, his friends, and worked at the Student Union bar. He also got heavily into politics and activism; he picketed Rolls Royce and also power stations to stop coal being delivered to them, in support of the miners’ strikes. He became a student representative, site officer and got elected onto the Student Union Executive.

After completing his degree, Ian went to work for Western Ice for four years, at first as a trainee manager but then rose through the ranks to become the company statistician and credit controller. They wanted him to become an accountant and financial officer and he was on the path upwards so they all thought he was mad when he decided to become a teacher. He thought his business experience would be of value in the classroom and thought he could genuinely help students. Which of course he did over his career. Western Ice had to employ three people to replace Ian, as it took three people to do the work that he’d been doing all by himself.

It was also after graduating that he started going to church. John Smith, to whom he had often referred students who were struggling when he was a student representative, and who regularly had Ian round for a meal, suggested that he go to Christchurch Clifton. So he began going to evening services there as well as something called Tuesday Club. It was through John Smith, as well as Ian and Mary Carson who ran the New Christians Group, that he realised for the first time that Christians could be loving, unassuming, gentle and fun. It was at breakfast at the Carsons where he first had the combination of Marmite and peanut butter together on toast, which became a lifelong favourite.

It was at Tuesday Club that Ian first met Murray Hennell, who popped up in front of Ian and said “I’m Murray, like Murray Mints”. After learning where Ian lived, Murray invited him to church at Easton Family Centre for Sunday morning services and to play badminton. Although they were very different in many ways (for example Murray was always immaculately dressed, whereas Ian was a scruff), they became inseparable and great friends, meeting up several times a week and getting involved in helping with the youth work at Easton Family Centre.

Ian’s decision to become a teacher set in motion his meeting Ann on the stairs of Redland College, where they were both doing teacher training. Ann liked his green jumper, which was a favourite of his. They came together further through Easton Family Centre, through the church and also the badminton club there. Ian became ill one time and was surprised when Ann popped in with some soup for him. After she left, Ian, bewildered, said to Murray, “that was very kind of her but why on earth would she do that for me?”, to which Murray replied “because she likes you, you idiot!”.

Within two weeks of meeting each other, Ian took Ann to his sister’s house, where they ended up doing the washing up together. As they were doing this classically romantic activity, Ian proposed. And the rest is history. Murray was Ian’s Best Man and Ian was also Murray’s Best Man at Murray’s wedding.

Their honeymoon was in Blue Anchor Bay by Minehead. They fell in love with the area so going back there with Simon, Jenny and Keith for Spring Harvest at Butlins every year and seeing their excitement was a joy for them. After Ann and Ian were married, the next few years were crazily busy with becoming teachers and the workload that it involved. Ian’s first teaching job was at Ferndown Upper when they lived in Corfe Mullen and then Eastleigh. They also ran the Outreach Youth Club at Corfe Mullen together, which they loved.

Then along came three rascals of children – Simon, Jenny, then Keith – and several house moves, including Sunbury where he taught at Tiffin’s Girls School and then on to Shebbear College in Devon. At Shebbear the family lived in close community with other families of teachers there and it was a very happy time. Ian also got his Masters degree in Education through the Open University while at Shebbear.

Ian was the best storyteller. He could launch into any tale at the drop of a hat, whether it was making up a fictional story for his children, on the fly, on long car journeys when they were younger, whether it was recounting memories from his youth, whether it was making a narrative out of any subject you asked him about. For example, if you said “who was Trotsky?” he could immediately launch into an entertaining and fascinating story, if maybe a touch embellished. He had an immense repository of knowledge on so many subjects. This served him well as a teacher. He taught Business Studies and Economics and at Saint Felix School, he was voted best teacher. He was phenomenal and put everything that he had, all his time and energy, heart and soul, into helping his pupils and making a difference in their lives. Since his death, former pupils of his have been in touch about how inspirational, kind and humorous he was, how he had time for everyone and how he was the reason that they went on to study Economics or Business at university. From so many different sources, especially fellow teachers, that same accolade has been repeated, that he was the best teacher, the best lecturer they had ever heard.

He loved to be a showman and was in his element presiding over both family and more formal occasions, whether it was a birthday speech or a staff room prize-giving of made-up awards or giving Assemblies at school. He and Ann threw the most amazing birthday parties for their children. Particularly memorable was Simon’s 6th birthday space party, with papier machée astronaut helmets sprayed metallic gold and silver, and spaceships made out of boxes with tin foil around the outside, with buttons drawn on. Ian was the alien baddie Ug. He devised a whole story that everyone was completely immersed in, with all the children at their spaceship consoles, and when all the children at the party defeated Ug together, they were given strawberry jelly, which Ian gleefully announced was Ug’s blood.

There are so many memories of birthday parties and fun races in the garden that he put together, made-up games, water fights and bike rides.

Ian and Ann read to their three children all together at bedtime every night with long sessions of Lord of the Rings when they were still really young and then later Malory Towers, and many other books. Ian lit and stoked the fires of his children’s imaginations and he has left a legacy of love for stories, reading and writing with all three of his children. All three love stories and all still read and write for pleasure to this day. Ian made up stories and songs all the time and joined in with Simon, Jenny and Keith’s Lego games. They all could just disappear into the make-believe worlds they were playing, with their characters interacting within the joint story that they were making up. Sometimes, if a bedroom door was ajar, a soft toy or two would suddenly appear over the top of the door, moving around and speaking in a silly voice to Simon, Jenny and Keith, putting on a little show.

On a camping holiday to Lyme Regis, Ian and the children would greet the morning outside with a towel dance and song that Ian made up. “Good morning! Good morning! Lyme Regis Lyme Regis!” they chanted while waving their towels around them and over their heads. The other campers were surely thrilled at the early morning antics.

Whenever taking the children to a playground, Ian would always dramatically be The Monster and would try to catch Simon, Jenny and Keith as they ran about trying to evade capture. Ian regularly took the children swimming and also to the park, especially at Colchester and Sudbury. At the park they played a lot of football and cricket together. When playing cricket, nobody could ever get Jenny out, so Ian had to institute a rule that they could only have 20 bowls thrown at them each, so that they each got the same amount of time batting!

There were many places in the country to which the family moved and lived. They didn’t have a specific place to call home but they became each other’s home. Ian loved their time in Shebbear, in Colchester and of course at Saint Felix School in Southwold. In each of those three places there was a special close community. Special people and precious times together having fun in community with each other. As Ian said in his leaving speech at Saint Felix, with apologies to Tina Turner, it was “simply the best”. Saint Felix School was the most magical time for Ian; he treasured the memories of the fun and happiness there and the wonderful staff who became his friends. They all had high standards and expectations of the pupils and worked together well to get the outcomes they wanted.

It was at Saint Felix that the golden retriever, Harry, arrived into the family and graced them with his presence for 16 years. My goodness, Ian loved that dog and vice versa. On family walks, if any of the group fell behind or ahead, Harry would circle them all in a big arc, gradually rounding them up, bringing them together again. Harry loved all the family being together. Ian and Harry will be reunited now, Harry’s tail wagging, tongue panting, making the happy squealy sounds he used to make whenever they were reunited after being apart.

After Ian left teaching in 2002, he went on to work for the examination board Edexcel, which was later taken over by Pearson. The commute was brutal; leaving at 5am and not returning until 7 or 8pm, though he made several regular friends on the train, which made it better. He also enjoyed the work, made a huge impact and loved his colleagues. He was the man who could make things happen, get things done, had all the knowledge and big ideas. He wrote several textbooks of which he was proud, including one in Economics.

After leaving Pearson, he was so well regarded by the senior management there, especially for his world leading knowledge of curriculum development, that they unusually continued to employ him as a consultant for their national and international business. He was so successful in this that he eventually set up, with some outstanding associates, his own business, Crystal Education. He proposed, negotiated and delivered, often in conjunction with Pearson, curriculums (academic and vocational qualifications as well as innovative apprenticeships) for a large number of governments from Brazil to China, from the Middle East to former Soviet Republics. He did this while working from home and being the joint carer for Jenny, along with Ann.

These last few years while the family have been trying to fundraise the money to get Jenny lifesaving surgery in New York, Ian and Ann have been caring for Jenny so very well and dedicatedly as she’s deteriorated the longer that she’s been without the surgery. Ann has a bad back so Ian has been doing the jobs that involve lifting or carrying, including all the cooking, shopping and going to the launderette, while Ann did the personal care. Ian found it amusing that he seemed utterly bananas to others while he sniffed all the washing machines at the launderette one by one to find the one that smelt the least fragranced, for Jenny’s sake, because she can react so badly to many chemicals and smells. On his journeys, he loved the beautiful scenery and mountains where they live in Wales and used to take his camping stovetop and brew peppermint tea and cook porridge in spectacular spots.

In the last decade, he also wrote a series of 14 short stories for young children about a Severn class lifeboat called Henry and a D class lifeboat called Gertrude. They are fun, marvellous and gentle stories of sea rescues, which are definitely worthy of being published. His brain was so creative and his imagination so vivid and enveloping.

Ian also adored being a Grandad to Caspian and Felix. He loved it when he saw them in the window looking out for his arrival, and then them running to excitedly greet him, with “Grandad! Grandad! Grandad!”. He was great with them and made up games with them. He was so happy when he, Ann and Keith were sitting at a table with Caspian some years ago, and unprompted and unexpectedly Caspian just piped up with “I love you three”. That made him very happy. He was astounded by Caspian’s intelligence and knowledge. Felix has an incredible imagination and you can see Ian’s legacy within him in that way, and even sometimes in the way he stands and moves. Ian would have wanted to be around longer to see both of them grow up and be there for them and continue to give of himself to them.

Ann and Ian were polar opposites in many ways but they both shared the same sense of humour and playfulness. There were never two people who could love as much as they could; growing up, Simon, Jenny and Keith never doubted how much they were loved, unconditionally. Ian and Ann would do anything for their children. Everything they did was for them. They were matched in the power and force of their love for their children. Ian was so very proud of all his children and the adults that they grew up to be. He was in awe of them.

Ian’s death was sudden and unexpected. Nobody got to say goodbye to him and he didn’t get to say goodbye to us. He wouldn’t want to be gone. His absence is unbearable and his death too big a thing to comprehend. It doesn’t feel real that we won’t get to see him again in this life.

One of Jenny’s favourite memories of her Dad, was finding him lying on top of his bed in Ashbocking, looking up out of the window into the fading summer light. She went and laid down next to him and rested her head against his shoulder. It was a quiet moment but felt so peaceful. In a condolence card from Ron and Anna in the wake of his death, was written the Bible verse “underneath you are everlasting arms” and Jenny just had an image of her body lying cupped in the palm of massive gentle hands, with Ian lying right next to her, relaxed and peaceful, like he was in that memory of hers. So although, more than anything, he would want to be here with us, she has a feeling that he is at peace, safe in God’s hands.

5 thoughts on “Eulogy for my Dad”

  1. Thank you for this fascinating account of Ian’s life. I was stunned to hear his early years were like looking in a mirror. I too was a child of army parents, born in BMH in Germany. Lived In Singapore, visited Malaya, holidayed in the Cameron Highlands – seeing snakes (small luckily!) and chit chats. In Singapore we had a precious guard dog who was also my best friend. We also had an amah. I then went to boarding school back in the UK and found my own way to rebel!
    And found our way to Suffolk!!
    We are both so sorry for your loss but really appreciate you sharing Ian’s eulogy.
    With kind regards and praying for peace and strength in Him
    Nicola (and Anthony Lumley)

  2. Even though I don’t know you all, this eulogy really struck a chord with me. My own father died suddenly long before his time and I know how hard it hits. My thoughts are with you all and I hope the artwork auction raises plenty of funds.

  3. Jesus gentle hugs of comfort for you and our family , Jenny.
    I am so sorry that you miss your precious Dad now.
    Thank you for all the huge effort you put into writing his eulogy.
    So fascinating and special like you all are.

    I will keep praying for you all and for your healing.

    Much love and thanks always you are so inspiring to me , especially to keep going too xXx

  4. Thank you for this beautiful tribute, Jenny. What a wonderful man your father was, and how fortunate you are to know so much about him and his life. I knew very little about my own father’s early life as he didn’t talk much about it, and some recent quite shocking discoveries may have been the reason! But I have precious memories of him and my very loving and stable childhood, and his support continued throughout my often difficult adulthood. I just wish he and my mother had lived long enough to see how blessed my life is now! As believers we know we will eventually be reunited with our loved ones, but it is so hard to be without them meanwhile. I trust others will step up to help your mother, and not just with the practicalities. You seem surrounded by love, as well as being cradled in Father’s arms. He will never fail to uphold you, and your family, until you all meet again. With blessings in Jesus’ Name, Jo Potter.

  5. A very beautiful eulogy for a much loved man. It spoke to me in many ways – as a child of an army family, I too lived in Singapore, we went to Penang, had an amah. And my Dad died suddenly one day when I was 14.

    I hope the auction goes well. I am sending love and strength and (very gentle) hugs.

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