31.03.1930 – 15.08.2005
Opening music: Verdi, Sanctus from Messa da Requiem
Gerry Lafferty was not a religious man, and it would have been false to his memory if this had been a conventional funeral. It will be a Humanist ceremony, reflecting the life and principles of a man of character, wit and intelligence who made an impact on everyone who met him.
Humanists believe that we have to live on the assumption that the life we know is the only life we have, and that we have the ability to choose how to live. We are capable of good as well as of evil, and the world is full of examples of altruism and care for others. Each of us has the power to help make the world a better place. Each of our lives is flawed, untidy and sometimes disappointing, but each life is unique and valuable, each life is worth celebrating both in its own right and as part of the collective life of humanity. So today we celebrate the life of Gerry Lafferty.
Gerry was born in Perth, in Scotland, the youngest of a family of nine children. His father, Henry, was a carpenter on the railway. Gerry was very close to his mother, Jean. They were an ordinary working class family, but many of them went on to university and the professions, including officers in the forces, teachers and a lawyer.
Gerry was educated at Lawside Academy in Dundee and went on to gain a degree in English and a Postgraduate Certificate in Education from St. Andrew’s University. Having deferred his call-up he then joined the RAF and was chosen for officer training. He became an education officer at RAF Upwood in the Fens, where he was also Entertainments Officer. It was through this that he met Patty, who was teaching at the local grammar school and had joined the RAF Dramatic Society. Gerry stayed in the RAF for three years and remembered it as one of the happiest periods of his life.
After the air-force he went back to Scotland to look after his mother, who was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, and taught for a while in Perth. He and Patty were married in 1959 and Gerry thought he should earn more money to keep her in the style to which she says she wasn’t accustomed – anyway, he went to work for Guinness in Glasgow. His job entailed touring the city in his car and sampling the brew at each pub on his list to make sure it was well kept – a dream job for some. Gerry did it for a while but couldn’t stand the idea of it as his life, so he went back to teaching and in 1961 joined the staff of Harrow County School, then a Boys’ Grammar School. Gerry and Patty’s only son, John, was born in1965.
Gerry made a huge impact on many of the boys he taught at Harrow. It has been extraordinary to see the memories of him posted on the Harrow County website by men now in their fifties, full of affection and admiration. I shall read some extracts:
“Gerry Lafferty was a man whom I found inspirational as a teacher but who also possessed an infinite knowledge of the machinations of small boys and an approachable nature.”
“The only memories of Gerry Lafferty are good ones…his English lessons were a delight. He was always encouraging and interested in new ideas whilst making people think…I had the privilege of going to Lafferty mansions - ostensibly to do some gardening in the holidays. He picked us up from Uxbridge and when it rained we were gainfully employed cataloguing his library. Also encountered him on holiday - going the wrong way down a one way street. A great teacher and an inspiration - he will be missed.”
“Actually I attribute most of what I have achieved in life to Gerry Lafferty, if only because I don't think I'd have made it to Oxford to study English Literature without his encouragement (given liberally to all his pupils) and his skill in teaching us. He was one of those "captain, my captain" teachers. And better than Robin Williams.
Jock's encouragement to us to question authority, read a good newspaper and to enjoy art rather than fear it, was something we all took away with us into our future lives. As Jock would have said: am I right or am I wrong? It was nice to be asked - not every teacher did. And he was usually right, anyway.
“I was saddened to hear of Gerry Lafferty's death. For me, his lessons were the most memorable and the most fun. I can still hear his voice, and his anecdotes. He was exactly the sort of teacher that a teacher ought to be. In my experience he was never belittling or patronising, always encouraging and always enormously enthusiastic about the joys of reading literature and poetry.”
“Mr. Gerry "Jock" Lafferty - being taught Macbeth by a Scot, even if I couldn't understand a word, was a delight! Not to mention "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll - which until recently I thought was a Burns poem as I had only ever heard it read in the Scots style! The confusion probably arose because we did Burns’s "Tam O'Shanter" in the same year.
Gerry was an understanding and very human individual. “Tam O'Shanter” will never be the same again.”
“An inspiring teacher, and one of the very few at Harrow County that I ever "connected" with. Would that there had been more like him on the teaching staff. Respect.”
A letter from his former pupil Francis Matthews, who played Hamlet in Gerry’s production at Harrow County and later was a good friend:
“He was (by a long way) the best friend I had in the Masters Common Room at Harrow County. He wasn't like the others. He was fresh and direct and very, very funny and irreverent, and he really seemed to care about what he was doing. He never adopted a false pose. Other teachers were snobbish or grand or remote or authoritarian or blinkered or very much of the establishment. He was none of these things, and that made him very dear to us. I shall always be grateful to him: for lessons where we could unbutton enough to have a real discussion; for passing on a genuine love of books; for teaching me the word 'sesquipedalian'; for encouraging me to act; for directing Hamlet; for being just uncomplicatedly supportive. What a good man - 'a fellow of infinite jest'. I have only happy memories of him.”
Gerry stayed at Harrow County School till ill health forced his early retirement. In the delicate words of his obituary, in his later life there were great black patches, and his health was never first rate. More than most, he owed a great deal to the love and support of his wife and son. The family stayed in Buckinghamshire through John’s growing up and in the nineteen-eighties a move to Shropshire awakened Gerry’s love of the poetry of A.E. Housman. One of his favourites was “Loveliest of Trees”, of which he said “Who else but Housman could make arithmetic poetry?”
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now of my three score years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
After a sea-side holiday Gerry and Patty moved to Seaton seven years ago and called their house Upwood after the RAF camp where they had first met. They were married for 46 years.
Gerry was a man of integrity, with strong socialist principles. He read an enormous amount, loved nature and enjoyed walking. He was a wonderful raconteur who could always make people laugh. Like Ulysses, he is a part of everyone he met. John is now going to give his tribute to his father.
On behalf of my mother and myself, thank you for attending.
Gerry was a good man. Kind, honest, calm…………... Irreverent, funny, rude… Ferociously intelligent.
I was very close to my Dad. We talked for hours often all day. I was very happy in his company, he in mine. We had a great friendship.
I miss him.
As a little boy we would spend Saturdays together. Watching steam trains at Gerrards Cross, feeding the ducks or going to the swings. The fun normally ended with an exciting trip to the pub! I remember on one occasion Dad with a twinkle in his eye promised to take me to the best pub in Jordans, which if you didn’t know is a Quaker village in Buckinghamshire!
Unfortunately I didn’t appreciate his little joke but there was a happy ending and we did end up in the garden of the Black Horse at Fulmer. Good company, a coca Cola and a bag of nuts. Bliss!
Dad was very modest. He only told me recently that whilst serving as an education officer in the RAF he actually took off and flew planes on many occasions. I had absolutely no idea and am happy to add courage to his list of virtues.
A lot has been said about Harrow County where he taught for many years. This was a very happy time for Dad. He was clearly an excellent and much respected teacher. He spoke to me of the boys’ names and achievements. They were heroes to me and strangely still are.
Francis Mathews, Nigel Sheinwald, Jon Grunwalde, Jeff Maynard, Richard Salter, Clive Anderson, and Michael Portillo, the list goes on.
During these stately, plump days he wrote a book much in the style of James Joyce’s Ulysses. He unsuccessfully approached just the one literary agent before deciding he was merely going through the motions and gave up. I am sure that was premature.
Dad was a voracious reader and without doubt an expert on Joyce and of course Robert Burns. I thank him for passing this love of reading on and for sharing with me his encyclopaedic knowledge of Literature Philosophy and the Arts.
Dad loved classical music and was also particularly fond of Kenneth Mckellar. I remember one day when I was listening to music Dad came into the lounge and upon hearing Led Zeppelin nodded knowingly and commented that if ever he were to die and go to hell that is what it would be like!
I will miss my Dad’s intellectual honesty.
He always had time for me and counselled me wisely.
It was no secret for Dad that he was a reformed alcoholic of twenty years. Dad showed such courage, determination and strength of character to deal with this then helped countless others from all walks of life fight this pernicious disease.
At the end Dad was so brave. He saw what was coming. It must have been very frightening. He chose not to have a Priest. He stuck to his principles. I am very proud.
At this time Dad spoke to me a lot about Mum. As his health failed Mum cared for Dad with great love and tenderness for many years and especially towards the end. Mum, I am very proud of you too.
Dad was moved to tears by my Mother’s kindness. In the face of adversity Dad selflessly spoke to me about what he hoped for Mum when he died and promises were made.
Finally I would just like to list some of the things I would like to remember and thank my Dad for:
His ability of letting me come to the right decisions myself as a little boy without fear or coercion.
Supporting me during my Divorce.
His irreverence and wit.
His views on Religion the Monarchy and the House of Lords!
His insistence on bunging me a few quid for beer even though I was a successful Lawyer and not short of a penny or two!
For my love of sport and for letting me stay up in the 1970’s to watch Match of the Day and even Parkinson if Billy Connolly or Muhammad Ali were on.
And finally for being such a pivotal figure in my life from whom I have drawn so much strength from.
His epitaph, chosen by Dad himself comes from Adonais: An Elegy On The Death Of John Keats
“ Awake him not! Surely he takes his fill
Of deep and liquid rest, forgetful of all ill”
Officiant: This is a poem which Patty has written as her personal tribute to Gerry. She has given it a title taken from his beloved Burns, “A Man for All That”.
You stood against hypocrisy, intolerant thought,
Pomposity and greed.
But you always made us laugh, dear Gerry,
Made us feel alive.
You wept at all the crassness and the madness
In the world.
But you always made us laugh, dear Gerry,
Made us feel alive.
Difficult, you were, you wouldn’t compromise,
You made us think.
But you always made us laugh dear Gerry,
Made us feel alive.
You’ve left your legacy of intellect and wit,
You naughty Scottish lad.
You’ll always make us laugh, dear Gerry,
Those of us alive.
Your presence will remain in Devon lanes
And Perthshire glens.
And we will laugh with you, dear Gerry,
Those of us alive.
With all my love, Patty, your wife.
Everything changes. When we die our human lives end, but the matter of which our bodies are made stays in the universe. There is a constant interchange of matter, so that it is not fanciful to say that everything is interconnected, and that in dying we give back our bodies to become part of continuing life. In a tiny fraction of the life-span of the universe each of us will cease to be the individuals we now are, but the matter of which we are made will go on being part of the universe, and we will be contributing to the development of new life.
Gerry’s funeral would not be complete without some poetry by Burns, even read by an English voice. In these lines from Tam O’Shanter he touches on the brevity of life and the inevitability of change.
But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flow’r; its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river –
A moment white, then melts for ever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm.
As you entered the chapel you were given sprigs of rosemary from Gerry and Patty’s garden. Many will remember Ophelia’s line in Gerry’s beloved Hamlet: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray you, love, remember.” We shall now have a brief period of silent remembrance, when each person here can concentrate on personal memories of Gerry. It can help to try to recall a particular time he was happy, or a place or activity you particularly associate with him. Those who have a religious belief may wish to use this time for silent prayer.
Two minutes silence
We have come to the time for letting go, when we commit Gerry’s body to be returned to the fabric of the universe. Please stand.
In sadness for his death, but with appreciation for his life, we come to the end of the physical existence of Gerard Lafferty. The memory of his life and personality we have already committed to our hearts and minds, and we will cherish them with love and with gratitude. His body we now commit to be burned and returned to the elements of the earth.
Good night; ensured release,
Have these for yours,
While sea abides, and land,
And earth’s foundations stand,
And heaven endures.
When earth’s foundations flee,
Nor sky nor land nor sea
At all is found,
Content you, let them burn,
It is not your concern;
Sleep on, sleep sound.
(A. E. Housman)
There have been so many letters from ex-pupils. This one, from John Grunewald, sums up their sentiments:
“TO PATTY AND JOHN
Many’s the time I have thought about Gerry and the way his teaching enriched my life and the lives of so many other men. An extremely talented man, an entertainer, a wit, a man whose classes I looked forward to and savoured. How lucky we all were to have him while he was here. The thoughts of many hundreds of us are with you.”
Patty and John would like to thank Exeter and District Hospice for their care for Gerry at the end of his life. If you would like to make a donation to Hospiscare, there is a collection box as you leave the chapel. Everybody will be welcome to come back after the service to Seaton, where you will be able to go on talking and thinking about Gerry.
The last word must go to Gerry. This is his piece, A Place I Love.
Some way to the north of Perth in Scotland, straddling the banks of the wide, brown river Tay, lie the twin villages of Dunkeld and Birnam. Take the narrow road left out of Birnam, just before Dunkeld Bridge, and follow it for three or four miles past the tiny hamlet of Inver; not Inver-anything; just Inver. Watch carefully for an unmarked, unremarkable, un-gated field entrance on your right. It is vital that you don't miss it because it leads to Paradise.
The time was too many years ago. I was eleven, a Scout, recklessly squandering my tireless boyhood in the final years of happy innocence before puberty, that long-lasting, cynical confidence- trick played on us by our genes.
The occasion was a scout camp, and I was intoxicated by freedom, by whatever is the opposite of home-sickness, away from my loving but oppressively religious parents.
The place was - and is - a very beautiful and miniature glen, a gently sloping, protected clearing. On the left a rise of bracken led up to a low cliff-face. On the right, a narrow difficult track led down into a romantic, dark, slightly scary wood of ash, alder, silver birch and rowan trees.
It is probably foolish and perhaps even dishonest to try to recapture the exquisite, fresh sensations and inchoate thoughts of boyhood in tired, tarnished, adult language. Nevertheless, I still remember the feeling of actually breathing more freely, more enjoyably, taking in Highland air, the consciousness of feeling the earth, the great rolling globe pushing up at me through my groundsheet, at my legs, my bottom, my shoulders, my head, a flimsy stretch of canvas between my eyes and the unbelievable multiplicity of stars in the black sky. For the first time, I woke to the strange eerie hush that suddenly descends to anticipate the dawn. There was - I verbalised this later - a sense of rightness, of naturality, if there is such a word, in living as human beings had always been meant to, resting flat on the ground, breathing only fresh air and the exhalations of grass and bracken, moving around at four miles an hour.
Is it fanciful or did we sense the vanishingly delicate scent of falling water? Because if you followed the rough track a long way through the wood you came to the Falls of Brahan a small tributary of the Tay but happily in spate when I saw it. A thirty-foot wide slide of brown, peaty water slipped over a cliff-edge, then raged and tumbled some fifty feet in creams and ochres, down to a deep, black, mysterious pool. The noise was uproarious but somehow unthreatening.
At the age of eleven, I was innocent of sophisticated thought and certainly of pretentiousness. I nevertheless sat, my arms round my knees in a quiet ecstasy, for an entire afternoon, hypnotised by the sounding water.
I have been back to Paradise once or twice since, but I ration myself. It's still there, still magical, though the bracken has encroached as bracken will. Whenever I go there, it is always high summer, windless warmth under a blue-and-gold sky. I suspect it's like that all the year round. The last time I went, I sat down with my back against a tree and fell asleep for half-an-hour, like a character in a Shakespeare comedy-'Sits. Sleeps.' Sadly I did not dream of scout camps.
I hope, if I get any notice of my impending dissolution, to spend some time there before I die.
Finally let us listen to some more music, this time recalling Gerry’s Scottish heritage.
Closing music: Scotland the Brave