Sunday, 3 January 2010

Tribute to an Ordinary Man

In Memoriam
Donald Daniel Simmonds
7th May 1931 - 13th December 2009
My father died on the 13th of December 2009: he finally succumbed to cancer at about 6.00am that morning. It was expected, just not this soon. If anything can be considered good about someone’s passing it is this: he never got to the point where either the cancer or the drugs could cause him any pain – physical or psychological.

Born 7th May 1931 in Fulham, South East London, he spent most of his childhood dodging the best the German Air force could throw at them. First a cub scout, then a scout, he and his contemporaries acted as the communications for the emergency services of the day, and as extra man-power for the LDVF and ARP, erecting table shelters in people’s houses. This was on top of a full day at school remember. He first met Mum in the scouts and guides (Her first name was Marion actually, but she preferred her middle name, June), who would later become his wife.

After school, came an apprenticeship with the North Thames Gas Company (Bad Smell and Smoke Company to the employees), and the re-acquaintance June.

WWII not having been over for that long, most if not all young men in the UK were still subject to National Service: Dad served in Klagenfurt; Austria, near the border with what was Yugoslavia. He fell in love with the country and the people and vowed he’d come and visit the place again. After National Service, it was back to work, and a change of direction, becoming an instrument maker for St. Thomas’ Hospital in Central London.
On 30th April 1955, Mum and Dad tied the knot at St. Mary-le-Park Church in Battersea, literally a stone’s throw from the Park, and three years later they were safely delivered of a son: yours truly.

By this time, Dad had taken on a new job as a service engineer for the fledgling service division of the BOC’s medical equipment division. Based at Brentford, his “patch” was most of South London, Kent, Surrey and Sussex: I remember the days when he would take me as company on the long trips to the furthest calls, including a nursing home in Brighton run by a group of Nuns. I always seem to make an impression on them as Dad told me of the frequent trips up and down the long corridors on a trolley pushed by a giggling group of novices!

While I was still young, Grand-dad Simmonds died of diabetic complications causing gangrene, and Dad inherited the four-story Victorian terraced house in Clapham where I spent most of my young life. The top two floors were given over to flats and two Tongan’s lived there. Daniel worked at John Lewis’ In Oxford Street and David worked at the Ritz. Tongans are an outgoing race and many times we were invited to “do’s” around London. Invariably we would end up back home with 20 or 30 of the community back at the house in Clapham with the food, drink and music flowing into the night.

Eventually, we had to move as the house was costing just too much to maintain as flats. We said a heart-felt goodbye to the Tongans and moved on. We settled in Surrey and stayed there until Dad became an instructor at the company’s training department in Harlow. We moved as a family to St. Margaret’s, near Stanstead Abbotts and immediately became actively involved with both the church and the Scouts and Guides in the area. It is amazing how quickly news travels in the Scout Association…. within two weeks of moving in, the District Commissioner for the area was on the door step welcoming us to the area.

Both Mum and Dad threw themselves into the life of the community and fund raising for various restoration jobs that the beautiful little Church in the village, becoming church wardens, and Dad becoming Crucifer and server at the Church.

Shortly after Dad retired, they decided to move on and settled in Hickling, a small village right on the Broads in Norfolk, again becoming actively involved with the community and St. Mary’s – the parish Church in Stalham – the nearest town, but as Dad put it ”….having a rest from the Scouts.”

In 1996 he became very ill very quickly, losing somewhere in the region of 70lbs in less than a few months. Diabetes had finally caught up with him. As usual, his attitude was, “OK, how do we cope with this and get back to normality?” It didn’t take long before Dad was Dad again.

We lost Mum in 2005, again to cancer – this time it was an un-diagnosed problem, not the cancer that eventually took her. Dad in his usual way outwardly took it in his stride, but you could see the pain of loss: suddenly being without someone you have been with for 50 years is not easy.

Even at this time last year the cancer still had not shown itself. Only at Easter was it noticeable that something was wrong, so wrong that he actually went to the doctors. His weight had started to drop again, losing his appetite and he was constantly tired. Initially the diagnosis was anaemia and he was sent for tests to try and find bleeding in his intestines: the classic way it hits someone of Dad’s age. After several sets of tests – including colonoscopy – they couldn’t find any bleeding, but he was still losing red blood cells. Regular transfusions kept him going and a CT scan was conducted. The results were clearly visible to see and the reason why he was anaemic was there for all to see.

The cancer had started out at the base of the oesophagus, where it splits into two for the lungs. It had finally spread to the lymph system and carried to the adrenal glands, and it was this that was causing the anaemia. It had been slowly spreading for quite some time: it was only Dad’s lifestyle and constitution that had hidden it for so long. It was now just a case of not IF but WHEN.

On the 2nd December, he had a fall at home as his legs were getting weak and was admitted to Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital. As he’d been preparing a meal when he fell, we as a family went up to try and get the house tidied up for when he came home. As I had to come back home for work, the last time I saw my father was the Sunday before he died.

My father wasn’t famous, he wasn’t one of these people that does something heroic, he was an ordinary man who could never turn away if someone needed help.

He had time for everyone.

He was slow to make friends, but he made them for life.

He was always ready to “muck in” and get his hands dirty. If you were stuck, he’d be there to help.

To the best of my knowledge he never held a grudge to any soul, living or dead, no matter what he thought of their character.

The one thing I will say about him is what he once said to me:- “Father by Birth, Friend by choice.”

No comments:

Post a Comment