Anthea Kaan spoke about her late husband to those gathered for the Bishop Spong Day Conference organised by PCN-Britain on October 24th 2009. With a few minor changes, this is the text of that address.
“I am grateful for this opportunity on behalf of myself, Fred’s three children, Martin, Peter and Alison and my two daughters Rachel and Joanna and the rest of the family to thank all the loving wonderful friends around the world who have supported myself and Fred, including our lovely Dutch Alzheimer’s nurse Ons Epskamp and the caring, sensitive staff from Yanwath Care Home through these last difficult months. I can only say Alzheimer’s is the cruellest of diseases to destroy memory and personality. The real Fred died some time ago. Others can speak better than I can about Fred, his work, his hymn writing, his passionate belief in working to make peace.
But I can speak about Fred as a passionate husband, a loving father and grandfather, a man who loved travel, a man with a great concern for using simple good language and not abstruse, meaningless, religious, old–fashioned words and a man with a good sense of humour. Also a man who could always relate well to children and as increasingly the Alzheimer’s took over his thought processes a man who made a point of engaging with children when we were sitting on a plane, or a bus, or a train and during endless hospital visits would stoop and bend down and share a smile with a small child we might pass in a corridor.
During the Nazi Occupation of Holland the Scouts were banned, but after the war they started up again. One evening The Scoutmaster came in with his Baden Powell hat and asked all the scouts to pull out a name because scouts in England wanted to be pen-friends. Fred pulled out the name of Peter Hayward who received his first letter on Christmas Day 1946. He invited Fred to come and stay with him and his family and Fred discovered the Congregational Church, liked their democracy and after reading theology in the Netherlands came to read theology at Western College in Bristol.
Speaking of his passion for language he said he had to write simple English when he felt the need to write a hymn to illustrate a sermon, because he couldn’t find anything appropriate in the hymn-book and his understanding of the English language and its colloquialisms was still slightly limited when he first came to England. Vivian Buddle – a colleague of his when he was training at Western College in Bristol told me he came into the common room one day to find Fred poring over a book of English phrases saying he couldn’t anywhere find the meaning of ‘Blow you Jack’ whereupon Vivian told him it meant to ‘get stuffed’.
Before retiring to the Lake District we were living in Birmingham. Fred had already retired before me and I knew I was about to retire from the inner-city practice, where I was working and knew we could not possibly afford to keep our Birmingham home and the Lake District bungalow we had inherited from my parents. I was secretly longing to go to the Lakes, but had already discovered that having been born in the Netherlands Fred did not have a good head for heights and probably would want to stay in Birmingham. One day he said to me ‘Why don’t we retire to the Lake District whereupon I said ‘But you are doing it for my sake which isn’t fair. Fred then said ‘You enjoy climbing mountains. What makes you think I can’t enjoy looking at mountains’! And so we came and Fred loved it here and said it was one of the best decisions he had ever made.
I would sometimes on a lovely day go out and have a climb on my own. When I got back Fred would always ask me how I had got on. I often choose to go to a quieter mountain and would say on returning ‘I haven’t seen a soul all day’ to which Fred would ask me ‘What does a soul look like?’
I don’t know what a soul looks like either. Fred always felt that life was in the here and now and I do not believe in life after death, but all I can say is that whatever soul means I hope a bit of Fred’s soul can live on in you, as it does in me, remaining a precious part of me.
In Fred’s words:
Pray that at the end of living
of philosphies and creeds,
God will find his people busy
Planting trees and sewing seeds.
It has been good to share this day in London with you all and to hear Jack again. Fred felt so at one with all that PCN stands for and aspires to.”