My father died a little over two weeks ago. Like so many people he finally died of a myocardial infarction but that tells so little of the story. He had vascular dementia. That was the defining illness of his later years, robbing him of himself. He missed this year’s six nations rugby union tournament in its entirety.
I won’t go on.
I just want to post the tribute I wrote for the vicar to read at his funeral. It’s far from a work of literary genius but I hope it will give a sense of the man and his life.
JOHN RICHARD EVANS
John was born on the 14th of July 1932.
He had an eventful childhood and indeed an eventful life. During the second world war he and his mates swam the river to the army camp to equip themselves with weapons in the event of an invasion. They may still be hidden somewhere around Builth Wells.
The US army had a base near the town and John made enough money selling the G.I.s newspapers to enable him to pay for his own education, including uniform and books at Llandrindod Grammar School. He even flew in one of their spotter planes.
On one memorable occasion he saved a local girl from an assault in a barn by dropping a bale onto her attacker, who chased him up a hill where John evaded him in bracken and set the hillside ablaze to make good his escape.
There were many memorable stories, from fighting off dogs when delivering boots for his father to meeting Lord Baden-Powell who spent summers in Builth. Some of these stories are unsuitable for this occasion.
He was a keen rugby player and became a regular in the Grammar School’s first team in his first year there, after filling in for an older boy who fell ill, and scoring the winning try.
Having acquired a bicycle from a trainer of boxers, John thought nothing of cycling to Aberystwyth and sometimes back in one night.
After school he worked his apprenticeship in his father’s boot and saddlery shop in Builth. Drawing the, seemingly never ending, apprenticeship to a close himself, and without his father’s knowledge he contacted the authorities to declare himself ready for national service and joined the 52nd Locating Regiment of the Royal Artillery in January 1954.
John was soon playing rugby the first team in both the regiment and the garrison. He also boxed as a light heavyweight remaining undefeated for his two years in the army.
Having learnt to drive before the army, John impressed the assessors by being able to drive their biggest truck, not mentioning that he’d been taught to do so before joining up. This led to him driving for the regiment’s officers and occasionally the Brigadier. Driving for the Brigadier though had its drawbacks. On one occasion having been urged to drive faster, they were stopped by the police for speeding. This led to some time in the cells before the Brigadier eventually rescued him.
Another time, while driving the regiment’s, rather portly, second in command in a landrover with a faulty door he saved the officer’s life by grabbing him when the door opened on a bend and threatened to tip the man out over a precipitous drop.
John also saved another officer, who against his advice, insisted on driving a landrover across a morn pool. The vehicle did not survive.
On leaving the army, as an acting sergeant, in January 1956, John was offered a commission and also the opportunity to play professional rugby league. He turned down these opportunities to return to run the family business. It soon became clear that the business was failing and his father’s promise to hand it over would never happen. This led John to work as a representative for a footwear and clothing wholesaler in Liverpool where he played the occasional rugby match for Waterloo who were then one of the leading English clubs.
John was re-called by the army to go to Egypt during the Suez Crisis, but fortunately the crisis ended just as he was preparing to board ship.
John married Coris Elizabeth Bufton on the 12th February 1958. Janet was born the following year on the 20th of March. Soon after the family left Llandrindod for the wilds of Shropshire, otherwise known as Meeson, a tiny hamlet which appears only on the more detailed maps. Their son Huw was born in July 1962. He has turned out to be a scientific and literary genius, who coincidentally wrote this tribute. Meryl was born in April 1966.
For many years John travelled for a variety of companies, mainly in the shoe trade, but also in fashion and as a land agent which led on to him managing a department store in Market Drayton for some time before it was sold. These jobs took him across the country, covering the Midlands, Wales, the West Country, Lincolnshire, Lancashire, Yorkshire and London. He was a Chairman of the the North Wales Federation of the Commercial Travellers Association and was Chairman of the Shrewsbury and Shropshire branches of the British Benefit Society.
After that his previous military experience led to a career at the Ministry of Defence in Donnington where he rose to a civilian rank equivalent to a Colonel on retirement. Among his accomplishments during that time were:
- Overseeing the preparation of the Green Goddesses to provide emergency cover during the Firemen’s strike in 1977
- Recommissioning all manner of materiel for the first Gulf War in 1990 in the absence of his senior managers who went on sick leave.
- Becoming the depot’s Radiological Protection officer
- Organising equipment for D-day Commemorations in Normandy
Later in his career he specialised in packaging becoming a member of the Institutes of Packaging and Industrial Managers. In his last year with the M.O.D. his manager awarded him top marks but his manager refused to accept that anyone approaching retirement could possibly work that hard. His ex-colleagues have said how much they enjoyed working with him.
After their retirement John and Coris moved to Deuddwr. Sadly Coris succumbed to cancer in 2004. John busied himself with gardening, learning Welsh and was a high tenor in the Offa’s Dyke choir until it disbanded, a highlight being a performance with them at the Royal Albert Hall.
He represented this church at the Diocesan Council and, until his health prevented it, enjoyed running the skittles at Penrhos sports.
One of the greatest regrets of his later years was that his failing eyesight meant that he was unable to drive as so much of his life and career had involved driving. Sadly this meant that, despite the help and support of his family and friends, continuing to live in Dol Awel was no longer possible and so in the autumn of 2015 he moved to Caergwrle near his youngest daughter Meryl where, with her particular help, he was able to enjoy independence for all but the last few months of his life.
John broke his hip in a fall at home in October past, and despite a good recovery from the operation to repair it, that nevertheless precipitated his final decline.
The Vascular Dementia which assailed him over the last few years failed to dim his humour, intelligence and love for life until close to the end. He died on the 30th of January after several weeks in hospital.
His children Janet, Huw and Meryl, and his grandsons: Christopher and George will cherish their memories of a generous, witty and loving, father and grandfather.
Copyright 16th Feb 2017