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Alan Byrne – a tribute

March 16, 2014
Alan Byrne 9 Feb 1927 - 24 Feb 2014

Alan Byrne 9 Feb 1927 – 24 Feb 2014

At my father’s funeral, I read a eulogy that I’d written.  I thought that I’d share it with you all as a tribute to a man who inspired me to live life the way I do.

I always knew that this would be perhaps the most difficult piece of writing I ever did but the challenge was almost too much. Not just because it is an emotionally difficult thing to write about your dead father but also in how to tackle the summary of a life less ordinary into a package that wouldn’t leave everyone with bad backs because of the length of the thing. I wrote one piece that would have taken me three quarters of an hour to deliver and still only have skated over Dad’s life but it wasn’t what was needed. So what I’ve decided to do is rather than tell you all the story of Alan Byrne, which most of you know anyhow, what I would do would be to try and think about what he meant to me as a father and as a man, illustrate that with the odd story and hopefully leave you with my impression of my Dad. I think that if I can do that, I will have achieved my objective; forgive me if there are things you think I should have said and didn’t and equally if there are things in here that I shouldn’t have said! This is my take on my Dad, I hope you will find it helps to celebrate his life.

My Dad was the rock on which much of my own personal philosophy was grounded. Now, that sounds like a fairly pretentious statement, as if I were in need of a severe dose of debunking, something Dad was quite good at. I’d better explain what I mean by it before you all dissolve in laughter at the thought of Dad being in any way someone involved in contemplating his own navel. Dad was never one to shy away from a problem, retreating into never ending discussion; he would listen to the points of view, he would look at the problem itself and then he would come up with a course of action. Then he’d tell everyone involved what their role in the solution was and expect them to get on with their bits of the solution.

So there you have it; a personal philosophy. No problem is too great to avoid. Find a way to tackle it, get help if required, give help where needed and then expect people to stand on their own to sort the thing through. This was his way of doing things; it took me many years to realise that this is what Dad had done as I grew up, especially in those awkward years between school and the Army. He didn’t throw me out as a useless layabout but quietly pushed me to think about what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go, all without any real drama – well perhaps the odd name calling – but never alienating me as I struggled to decide what the hell to do with my life. I can now see, as a father myself, what a relief it must have been when I finally decided to do something positive with my life by joining the Army.

So what else did my Father teach me? Well, to be reliable; if you promise to do something, it must happen. No if and buts, you promised therefore it is set in stone and you will see it through. Indeed, this characteristic of Dad is so strong that my earliest memory is connected to the only occasion that I can say: Dad let me down. Only the once in nearly 60 years can’t be bad, so let me tell you the story. There are mitigating circumstances but nevertheless, he did fail that once. It was in December 1956. Christmas that year had come and gone but Boxing Day brought snow clouds and a heavy fall of snow; it lay in the back garden deep and unbroken. I must have driven Dad near to distraction, as he promised me that the following day we would build a snowman in the garden. The next day, 27 December, I discovered that by some mysterious means I had a new sister, Jinny. She wasn’t much use, just a loud noise surrounded by grown ups, all going …. well you know how grown ups go round new babies. I kept expecting Dad to break away from all this foolishness and get on with the important job of the day, ie building a snowman but it didn’t happen; he was too wrapped up in my new sister. So there you are; the one time I got let down by my Dad. And yes, it does still rankle, although no where near as badly as it did 57 odd years ago.

Because of this reliability, Dad also learnt to ration the promises. It is a lesson I learnt as well; you knew that if he said we’ll try to do something, that’s what he meant. It also meant that no meant no and there was little point arguing about it, although appeal to higher authority (ie Mum) would occasionally work. This meant that Dad became adept at the delivery of surprises rather than long held promises; somehow so much more satisfactory to have a treat you don’t expect than being a bit let down by one promised for ages.

Dad also taught us the value of the ordinary and how to make the ordinary extra ordinary. I remember a long hot summer holiday in the New Forest with the caravan, in the days when you could camp almost anywhere. We had camped near a lake with a little island in the middle of it, which some of us had got to. Dad stood on the shore and tossed burning branches from the fire to us on the island so we could have our own fire; a Swallows and Amazons adventure created in moments. Walking up in the Welsh hills and finding a wonderful pool fed by a mountain stream and spending the day there, swimming and picnicing. Being shaken out of your sleeping bag, bundled into the car and climbing to the summit of Cader Idris to watch the dawn. All things that taught me to value experiences involving the outdoors and ourselves, which served me well in life. It also taught me to seize the moment; you never know when the opportunity to do something will arise again, so just do it.

Where else did my Father touch my life and change me? Well, he taught me that your start in life should never define who you are. He, after all, was one of 5 children of a Birkenhead docker, who should have been destined to work in a similar job. That he didn’t was down both to the support he was given by his parents and by sheer hard graft when it came to it. I was luckier than he was because he gave me a head start in life but none the less, I took my work ethic from him. The idea that the world didn’t owe him anything but it was up to him to stand on his own two feet and face the world. That saw my Dad move from being a dockers son through a degree in chemical engineering to being an early exponent of computing to managing information technology for a multinational company. What better example could a man have?

What else made up this man? Well, one of the things was love and tolerance. The relationship between Mum and Dad is one of those things that you could set your watch by it was so reliable. Yes, of course they bickered and growled at one another but underlying it all was a deep abiding concern and love for each other. Dad never sat me down and told me the secrets of their relationship; that wasn’t his way at all. Rather, he simply took it as read that you’d understand that it took two sides to have an argument, that often it was better to compromise than to win and that if you really didn’t like something, then to look for another solution rather than confrontation. I’ve taken that as my own way of maintaining a relationship: a balance between what I need, what Julia needs and what we both need. Never an easy thing, it has to be worked at all the time; so far, things seem to be hanging in there for both of us, and Mum and Dad lasted for ages, so perhaps there something in there for us all.

Tolerance is so important too and again, Dad never actually said this, just lived his life by the idea that people were all different and that they had their own way of doing things. That didn’t make them wrong and you right; rather, just different. The only time tolerance would slip is when there was some direct threat to something he held dear; like not having a trout farm built just under their noses at Byrgoed. Oh what a fight that was and a demonstration of how to get on the wrong side of Dad and what a formidable opponent he could be once he had the wind in his sails. Needless to say, the trout farm didn’t get built but this was one of the few times when there could be no bridge building afterwards, almost the exception proving the rule.

Dad was never a man to turn down a challenge, even when it appeared hopeless. His fund raising for the church in the village of Llandderfel was an impressive demonstration of how he tackled problems. Not for Dad the shaking of the bucket under peoples noses, whist drives and the like. No, a direct approach to the local great and good, extracting a promise of money over a few years which he then talked into enough money from grant giving bodies to do the needed work.

So, we have a picture of a tolerant man, who lived up to his promises and fought hard to preserve his family. What else was there in the man? Well there was a enormous sense of humour. He loved to laugh and to make others laugh with him. You could never be glum for long in the presence of my father; he would always find the funny side to any situation, no matter how grim it might be. I’m sure you all have your own memories of him. My own include a practical joke he played on some nurses about 45 years ago, when he fed them chocolates with the centres removed and filled with soap as a revenge for an earlier prank they’d played on him…. The sheer effort of doctoring the chocs as well as keeping a straight face whilst dishing them out would have been beyond me but Dad, well, he giggled like a school girl for days.

One of the other components of this man was his love of music; he learned early how to make music and enjoyed playing it until late in life. His own innate ability combined with his work ethic made for one of those little irritating bits in his relationship with Mum, who was always a little critical of his ‘tootling’. His perfectionism with his music led him to repeat phrases of music when practising that, in a less tolerant marriage, would have resulted in murder. The end result however was always worthwhile; his playing of Stranger on the Shore at our Silver Wedding party is something that neither Julia nor I will never forget; nor will our friends who even now ask after Aker Bilk’s stand in.

Well, there you have I think. My father was a man full of life, who lived his own as he wished others to live theirs. He taught me to stand on my own two feet, to fight my own battles but never to be afraid to ask for help. He taught me to love unreservedly and to offer that love to any who need it. I missed him dreadfully as Alzhiemers took his mind but strove to remember him as he was rather than as he became.

One last memory before I stop. We had a splendid dinner at the mess in Regents Park Barracks to mark the 25th Anniversary of the Falklands War in 2007. At the time, Dad had been sworn off alcohol for some time – never figured out why – but he jumped off the wagon with a vengeance that night. He had a terrific time and wound up surrounded by two generations of female relations in the lovely warm glow that just the right amount of alcohol produces. Watching him as he made his somewhat erratic way towards the taxi rank, surrounded by the rest of the family seemed to sum the man up perfectly; centre of attention, enjoying life enormously and doing it all without conscious thought; how could you not want to enjoy yourself as much as he was enjoying himself.

Thank you for reading this blog: it gives you a feeling for the man my Father was and why I will miss him terribly.

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4 comments

  1. That was lovely Dinky, so good to read it in full as I missed bits on the 10th, it was our Dad to a “T” XXX


  2. Well Duncan, that was a fitting and very loving tribute to your dear Dad as well as an insight into his and your own take on life. Who says that we don’t get wiser as we get older and Jinny, you have got a lot to answer for … but I’m sure you won’t let that bother you! xx


  3. Dear Duncan and Julia, We’re so sorry for your loss. Duncan’s tribute describes an amazing man who I wish I could have known. I do know he raised a son that exemplifies the same characteristics for living the right kind of life. You and Julia are already role models for David and me…now I know why! Much love, Ruth and David


  4. May his memory be eternal!



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