Eulogy for my Dad


15 JULY 2011


I am here to honour my Dad on behalf of all of us who loved him dearly, worked alongside him and enjoyed his company.

Jonathan Wigham was born in July 1944 and died this time last week. Nothing could have prepared us for the sense of grief and loss we experienced when we heard he was gone.

Yet again, I add a layer of respect to that which I already had for the generation ahead of mine in Zimbabwe – a generation who in their lifetime braved a new land, a bloody war, a fresh start, disappointment, the exodus of their young to pastures greener, a different kind of war, shortages, power cuts and the passing on of work mates, friends, loved ones and pets.

My Dad – like many of you or your parents endured all of this but never ever delegated any suffering or reflected on any personal discrimination. His fighting spirit endured right until the end when he chose to escape a terminal illness, even then he had done everything possible to ensure that we had answers to our inevitable questions.

The courage my Dad showed in his final hour is something which steels me as I prepare to march on without his footsteps to lead the way.

Dad – thank you for letting me take for granted your seemingly infinite knowledge of pretty much anything. Thank you for saying that when I ran you expected me to win. Thank you for sending Paul and me to the best school in the country even though it was a financial stretch – it set us up for life. Thank you for all the times you collected us from airports, rugby matches and the occasional farm party in the middle of nowhere. Thank you for letting us play music at 100 decibels until dawn when you had gone to bed. Thank you for giving us the freedom and confidence to choose our careers with your blessing and encouragement. Thank you for being so interested in what we do and thank you for embracing our wives as your daughters when they came along.

The loving support received from all of you here today, and many more, has reminded us that our family is not alone in this tragedy – we are protected by a huge cushion of compassion.

My Dad was born and raised on a ranch in Kenya. There began his love of Africa, the outdoors, the sunshine and simple pleasures like a beer with a view.

He was sent to school in England where he demonstrated a significant intellect, one which earned him a place at Oxford University.

On returning to Africa he studied languages at Wits University and by 1970 could fluently speak French, Spanish, Portuguese and of course Swahili.

Dad married and had us two boys around the time he moved up to Zimbabwe for a job opportunity. He worked at several places in general management and tried his hand as an entrepreneur.

His interest in correspondence and storytelling started with fantastic short stories from the bush when he was on call up and developed into a couple of unpublished novels which he wrote in the last 5 years or so. Dad’s letters and subsequent emails to family and friends were unrivalled in quality and frequency. He was also unafraid to apply red pen to our letters in order to improve our language and grammar!

Dad could solve a cryptic crossword before most could understand 1 across and his house is littered with completed crosswords even now.

He was very interested in all matters military and he loved his call ups back in the day. I often used to joke when I was in the Royal Marines that he remembered more of my training than I did!

Dad was very principled. He didn’t believe in breaking the law, he didn’t believe in corruption and he always believed in doing the right thing.

Some of the condolence messages received in the last week have been outstanding in their clarity and reflection. I feel that reference to them is the best way to illustrate some of the attributes of my Dad and some of the special traits which made him unique.

My Step Mum reflected as follows:

Jonathan’s sense of humour was legendary. He started off with the Goons and Tony Hancock through the Monty Python years to Black Adder and Kevin Wilson. He knew all the scripts by heart and just quoting one line could bring on the giggles as we all knew what was coming next. His laugh was infectious and once started could continue to break out hours later as the joke was mentally replayed – this could be disconcerting if the conversation had moved on to more serious topics!

His illnesses were borne without fuss or drama: While being rushed into hospital to deal with a blockage that turned out to be colon cancer in 1999, he phoned Fawcett’s to say that he had a bit of a problem with his stomach. He was so laid back when phoning this in, that I was called a few hours later (while he was being operated on) to ask if he would be back at work the next day. Fawcett’s had no idea of the seriousness of the situation.

He nearly managed to give up smoking during that hospitalisation but within a couple of days, I was reluctantly helping him outside, complete with drip on a stand to have a quick smoke. When I gently asked if this might not be a good time to quit, the response was that he was a bag of nerves at the best of times and that he just would not be able to cope without nicotine. He always lived on his nerves, and would probably have been impossible to live with in the absence of his little white helpers.

As a true colonial, he was brought up to always keep a stiff upper lip. He very seldom showed much emotion and words of love and praise did not come easily to him. Because of this, when praise was bestowed, we treasured it all the more.

Dad’s father in law, John Greenwood sent this message:

I admired and respected Jonathan enormously. He was always a fount of good humour, full of good stories, and never allowed any of us to get away with shoddy English. He was an excellent raconteur of the ‘old school’, always meticulously correct and an avid researcher of correct English usage.

We will all miss him greatly.

John Grimwood is a relative and close friend:

I knew Jonathan for well over 40 years and when my Ship was in Mombasa in the 1960’s his parents invited me to their lovely house in Kenya where I stayed with them all for a week.

He was a splendid man, clever, positive, forthright and an excellent friend. He was supremely honest and accordingly did not suffer fools gladly and would quickly explain to them precisely why they were idiots.

A patriot at heart, he was a brave and loyal man and, as I know from talking to his old colleagues, a very good soldier.

I have lost an excellent and special friend.

Leslie Crockett who was in Paul’s year at Falcon represented all of our contemporaries with this message:

While eternally respectful of your Dad’s caustic wit and always careful to avoid the lash end of it I was from the beginning well aware that he was at heart a genuine man with real strength of character. He was also in his own way really kind and I remember getting genuine, frank and very useful advice from him as a teenager; world wise and practical to those who took the time to listen.

He will remain truly famous for his penmanship as much as for the laughter he shared, and his legacy through you guys lives on in many every day sarcastic phrases I find myself often using – he was the true architect of the quintessential “George Grey” humour of the early 90s.

Rest in Peace Jonathan after a race well run.

Tony Shave was in the Royal Marines with me and subsequently worked in Harare for a while. He sent this message…

The best way I can share my memories about Jonathan is through this story of a typical Friday night back in 1999 when I was living in Harare.

After a few beers at Reps we would stock up on Castle and then take the ‘off road’ route back to Christon Bank in order to avoid Road Blocks. It felt like some kind of undercover military operation back in the 1970s!

On arriving back at Christon Bank, and having apologized to Ginny for being late, we would of course settle into our usual positions at the bar. Jonathan holding court as “landlord of the bar”, and myself as the “pub local” who never leaves the place. Therein would start a long evening of recounting stories about the old days, and about the latest political comedy / tragedy that was unfolding at the time. Ginny would cook us all a wonderful dinner, and then we would continue putting the world to rights back at the bar. At some very late hour I would crawl my way back to bed.

Whilst such an evening would be rather boring to many people, we loved it; just simple blokes at the bar having a drink and chatting.

I will remember my friend Jonathan for the rest of my life.

Yes he was stubborn. Yes he probably drank and smoked too much. And yes, he could be the most direct and amusingly unsubtle man I have ever met. But none of that matters to me. None of us are perfect.

I will remember him for his friendship, for his humour, for his principles, for the love he had for his family, and for the pride he had for his boys and the way he stayed in contact with them.

He loved Africa. He loved Zimbabwe. He loved Xenia.

Adam Fletcher sent me a piece from which I have extracted a paragraph which resonates:

The gap Dad left is not a vacuum, a void, a soft area of low pressure to be filled. The gap is hard-edged, chiselled by him into my life, measured by his worth, and ineradicable.

With this realisation has come another: that this sorrow is not itself a cause for sorrow. Regret is not a cause for regret. We ought to be sorry. We ought to regret. Death is not a ‘wound’ to be ‘healed’ or a ‘scar’ to ‘fade’. Once someone has been in the world, they have always been in the world; and once they have gone their absence will be in the world forever, part of the world; in Dad’s case part of mine. This is a good thing.

My brother Paul summed Dad up thus: “Whilst not being a great people lover, he loved spending time with the people he loved, talking, spinning yarns and swapping anecdotes (of course with beer in hand!). He was the best listener I know, and I will miss him so much.”

At my pre wedding bachelor party which some of you attended, we had a circle where everyone was invited to tell a story about me. Many things were said by many people but I will never forget the pride I felt when my Dad’s turn came. He simply said “I am very proud”.

Now it is my turn to say the same on behalf of all that knew my Dad for the straight talking man he was…


5 Replies to “Eulogy for my Dad”

  1. Hello Tim I am Bruce Levin I grew up on the farm on the other side of the river to where your dad lived we basically grew up together until he went to St Mary’s and I went to kenton college we went our separate ways until 1964 when he arrived in johannesburg and we lived in the same boarding house until I got married and left.I have some photographs when we were younger if you would like them I could stnd them on to you.

    1. Hi Bruce – great to hear from you and thanks for making contact! Yes – I would love to see the photos you have. Where do you live now? All the Best, Tim.

  2. Hi Tim, I recently came across your eulogy for your dad and thought how well it described Jonathan (or Jonnie as I used to call him). My dad and Jonathan were first cousins and dad went to work for your grandfather Wigs at Dandora in Kenya. Jonathan was a few years older than me but as young kids we saw a fair amount of each other before going off to boarding school. I lost contact with Jonathan but when my father died in 2001 we reconnected and I always enjoyed receiving his interesting emails. I guess that makes us second cousins. I now live in Canada and my brother (also Tim) lives in Huntington in the uk. If you feel like connecting with some long lost cousins, please contact me! My maiden name is Berridge.

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