Francis William Sawkins (13 April 1907 - 15 October 1997)
Eulogy read by Roger Sawkins at his funeral
I remember my father as a nice man. Then I remember my mother saying I should not use the word ‘nice’ – "it doesn’t mean anything."
So I remember my father as a kind man, a gentle man, a caring man. A quiet and unassuming man – I didn’t inherit my assertiveness from him. A constant and faithful man who was always there; always willing to help and to care. A self-contained man who liked his own company and tended to be quiet in groups. But get him on his own and he would chat willingly on the subjects that interested him.
I did inherit from my father the urge to see what is round the next bend; to find out what is on the other side of the next hill. I remember him striding out ahead of everyone else, happy to explore on his own.
When he left our house in Australia to explore the local area for an hour or two, he came home eight hours later. He had decided, he said, that after driving over 100 miles perhaps it was time to turn around and come home.
Both my brother Alan and I also inherited from my father his love of mathematics and of music – although we have never actually played an instrument. His choice early in life – to make a living as a mathematician and to play the piano as a hobby – was probably wiser than the reverse.
In his working life he was not an ambitious man. Working over 30 years for the same company, he was happy to be the ‘backroom boffin’ rather than the public figure. In his "retirement" he was able to turn from the mathematics to the music, and spent 15 years or more playing the piano for scores of hopeful young dancers. That constancy – over 30 years of work, over 15 years of piano-playing – was also typical of him. Demonstrated most outstandingly, of course, in the over 60 years that he and my mother have spent together. My father was always there. Quietly, you could be sure that he was doing his best.
I remember my father’s wonderful sense of fun that occasionally came to the surface. That is probably what endeared him most to children – that and his gentleness. He loved to be with children. It was the opportunity to be child-like that I think he enjoyed, and he was constantly amazed and proud of the cards and other messages that the children from the dancing classes gave him.
My father lived over 90 years. Almost several lifetimes, really. Life as a child and a young man, which I know almost nothing about. Life as a husband, father and breadwinner, caring for both my brother and I. We remember his presence, his music, his dedication and his quietness. Then there was life as what might be called a "travelling pensioner". On one occasion I remarked that my parents’ favourite hobby was "burning petrol". It was an outing to Tesco’s, the trip each afternoon to a local beauty spot or country house (complete with a walk and with afternoon tea, of course). Or it was a trip to Europe – up into the mountains (what is on the other side?) or down to sunny Spain, Italy, Yugoslavia – anywhere a car could go.
My Quaker involvement tells me that one can learn as much of the God within a person from their faults as from their virtues. So I try to think of Frank’s faults, and get nowhere. What were they? Occasionally irritated, perhaps, but usually with himself. Sometimes stubborn. And anyone who experienced his driving will remember it for life, of course. But it is hard for me to find anything difficult about him or his character.
Frank was bright, inquisitive, quiet, active, self-contained, right up to his death. If he complained of failing memory or the need to use a stick, it was soon forgotten. He died alone. He died peacefully. And I like to think that he was not unhappy.
In the Quaker tradition one "gives thanks for the grace of God" in the life of a deceased person. Frank’s life was full of the grace of God. And I give thanks for that grace and for his life.