Monday, October 12, 2015

Tribute to an Unknown Cousin

Cousins. Most of us have 'em. I have, or had, 15 in all, from both parent's sibling(s). I didn't know any of them well, even in my younger years, and one or two of them not at all, due partly to the scattered nature of my father's nine siblings, partly to the rather reserved nature of his family members. Four of the 15 cousins have already passed on, 3 of whom were quite a bit older than me, one was 10 years my junior. This piece is about the latter, Stephen, who died in late October last year. Today would have been his birthday. This is my way of honouring him, for although I never knew him I shall, eventually and very surprisingly, along with many other cousins, benefit from his estate.

Stephen, like me, was an only child. I saw him just once, when he was a student. He was with his parents and visiting the East Yorkshire town where our paternal family grew up. He and his parents lived a long distance away (by UK standards). My only memory of Stephen is of a "geeky" young man in horn-rimmed spectacles sitting alone at a table in my uncle's pub, away from the group of family members gathered at the bar. His parents told us that the aim of Stephen's university studies was towards a career as an actuary. That evening, far from where I stood, I recall that he seemed intent on reading or writing something. Information I've received recently, from a friend of Stephen's, suggests that he could have been pondering over a crossword puzzle. He was, I'm told, quite a crossword whizz in his young days, able to solve quite easily even the most horrendously difficult of puzzles. If I'd had the self-confidence then that I have now I'd have approached Stephen, opened a conversation, and tried to get to know him - perhaps I'd even have made a friend.

The information about his love of crossword solving came to me from a longtime work friend of my cousin. I discovered this gentleman in a rather strange way. While looking around my genealogy stuff on one day, intent on tidying a few bits and pieces, I noticed that someone else had started a separate, single-line family tree, of my recent paternal relatives. I wondered if it had been part of a solicitor's research in relation to Stephen's death, or perhaps the recent death of an aged aunt, my father's youngest sister, whose estate had been distributed among we cousins earlier this year.

Now, I shall do one of those "flashbacks" beloved by makers of film and TV drama:

9 months earlier :
In my regular Christmas card to a female cousin in Yorkshire, I'd enclosed a copy of my family history blog posts. In cousin's card to me was a note informing me of an aged aunt's death, and that my address had been given to the lawyer dealing with aunt's estate. She also told me that cousin Stephen had died. At the time I was shocked, but knew nothing more. Solicitors dealing with aunt's estate, in due course, informed the cousins that as Stephen had no spouse or sibling, and had died intestate, we as his next of kin would be beneficiaries in his "not insubstantial" estate, being dealt with by other solicitors, in the south of England.

Flash forward a few months from there:
I, ever curious, wanted to know more about the circumstances of cousin Stephen's untimely death, so wrote to the solicitors asking for information. I was sent a copy of the death certificate, along with a photograph of Stephen which had formed part of the order of a funeral/memorial service. I noted the name of the person who had reported Stephen's death. It was the same surname of the person I'd noticed searching my family members at I sent a note to this person via the messaging facility there. I received a response from Bill, a person who, it turns out, had been a longtime work-friend of my cousin. We have now exchanged several e-mails. The mists of not knowing my cousin Stephen have cleared - somewhat.

After university Stephen worked in Central London for Legal and General, a major insurance company, from 1970 for 30 years. He began in their Pensions Actuarial Operations section, later became a member of the Investments Team. For much of Stephen's working life, his friend has told me, he was a fund manager who specialised in investing in a specific area for clients of Legal and General.

From an address given at Stephen's funeral:

....His life revolved around his work and the friends he made there. His easy going nature meant that he was well liked by his colleagues, clients and contacts. He was always available to answer questions without ever forcing his views on anyone. He was reliable and conscientious and, ironically, you could count on the fingers of one hand the number of sick days he had while working at L & G. He was an ever present at the regular Friday night, after work, drinks sessions. Indeed, his towering presence in a crowded pub was a blessing for late comers as they were searching for his group of friends. Inevitably, he soon earned the nickname, “The Beacon”.

His tastes in life were simple and, from an early age, he took great pleasure from days out at horse race meetings and as a long standing member of Surrey County Cricket Club. He set himself the target in retirement of visiting every race course in Britain and, although he was well on the way to completing this task, a few venues will now never be blessed with his presence (and losing bets!).

His enjoyment watching cricket was never quite matched by his own playing ability. He was a founder member of the Legal & General Investments cricket team, “The Shambles” whose title, I’m reliably informed, perfectly described the team’s performances on most occasions. Like so many things, he was happy to be part of such groups, including “The Old Lags”, without perhaps realising that it was him that set the tone and standards for the group. A number of you are wearing your Shambles club ties today and I can inform you that Steve is wearing his too.

And from letters to me from Stephen's friend:
Steve's sudden death, a fortnight after his 65th birthday, was so unexpected. A (select!) group of us totalling 11 in number, all previous employees of Legal and General, had formed a Retired Gentlemen's Lunch Club which met 7 or 8 times a year although we were often in touch at other times. Steve had been the only ever present at all the previous gatherings so when he didn't turn up for our drinks and lunch on 28th October 2014 and hadn't informed us that he wasn't coming, we tried contacting him without any success. By the following morning, no-one had heard from him so we called the police in Ealing where he lived and asked them to check his flat. They had to break in and found him dead on the floor in his living room. It is unlikely that he had been dead for more than 48 hours. As a result, the post mortem gave his date of death as the day he was found (29th October) and listed his cause of death as congestive cardiac failure due to coronary artery atheroma.

So, as I ponder on the strangeness of finding myself one of several beneficiaries in two family estates of which I was previously quite oblivious, I send grateful thanks out into the ethers, to my aunt and to my cousin Stephen. In one, or perhaps both cases the unexpected windfalls inherited by me and my cousins may, or may not, have been the conscious intention of our relatives, we'll never know this for sure - which does emphasise, even further, the strangeness of it all. Lawyers are still dealing with my cousin's "not insubstantial" estate and the several complexities arising, likely to further delay distribution.

During the time I was preparing this post, some days ago, I read Rob Brezsny's Weekly forecast for Aquarius at Free Will Astrology (LINK).
"I haven't planted a garden for years. My workload is too intense to devote enough time to that pleasure. So eight weeks ago I was surprised when a renegade sunflower began blooming in the dirt next to my porch. How did the seed get there? Via the wind? A passing bird that dropped a potential meal? The gorgeous interloper eventually grew to a height of four feet and produced a boisterous yellow flower head. Every day I muttered a prayer of thanks for its guerrilla blessing. I predict a comparable phenomenon for you in the coming days, Aquarius. "

Those words could act as a nice metaphor, I reckon, for my cousin's "not insubstantial" estate being spread to the four winds (in months rather than days though) - a guerilla blessing, like Rob Brezsny's sunflower, (in this context guerilla being used as secondarily defined in The British Dictionary: "a form of vegetative spread in which the advance is from several individual rhizomes or stolons growing rapidly away from the centre, as in some clovers".)

Normally it's Music Monday here; not forgetting that tradition, a lovely song by Joni Mitchell which is kind of apt: The Circle Game


Sonny G said...

What a lovely tribute to your Cousin..
From reading this I believe ya'll would have been great friends and lively discussions would have brought you both joy.
Today was also my Dad's birthday.. He was a wonderful man.

mike said...

Happy birthday to Stephen (and to your father, too, Sonny)! I don't believe that a person ceases to exist upon their demise, so I'll assume that Stephen is enjoying his quasi-biographical, anniversary-of-birth celebration here at Twilight's blog.

We never know when or how our appointment with Neverland will find us. It always seems so pitiful when I am made aware of someone's extremely early fate. At least Stephen had made it to his 65th, yet that seems a bit cruel to have made it to the edge of freedom from the career-world, only to be denied the frolic of free days, or race tracks galore from his perspective. I suspect it only appears pernicious from our Earthly perspective...catching the outbound train may be the loveliest and most invigorating of all adventures we'll ever have.

Interesting too, that we never know the interconnections within each life. Twilight, way back upon your once-meeting with Stephen, I highly doubt that you ever thought you'd be writing a tribute to him...a tribute written in your home state of Oklahoma...and anticipating an inheritance as one of his beneficiaries.

mike (again) said...

P.S. - And pleasantries on this Columbus Day in a Lemony Snicket sorta way...the demise of so much with that and other explorers' entry into the New World. An intense Libra New Moon today, also, with a T-square to Uranus and Pluto. What could possibly go wrong?!

Twilight said...

Sonny ~ Thank you. Yes, I think we could have been friends. Maybe politics would have caused a few friendly arguments, but maybe not - I'll never know. ;-)

Enjoy those happy memories of your Dad today, Sonny!

Twilight said...

mike ~ It'd be nice if you're right about what comes after, mike. Stephen had semi-retired I think, so had enjoyed some freedom from career, but certainly not enough.

The strangeness of life's twists and turns never ceases to amaze me. How the heck did I come to be living in deepest Oklahoma? I often ask myself this, and though I know the answer I still remain amazed.

This time last year I was unaware of cousin Stephen's whereabouts. He, and my other cousins, had crossed my mind while I was working on the family tree, pondering on how some of our ancestors' lives had to be lived, and how we, the later branches have experienced a much improved life style.

(again) ~ Re Columbus Day - I guess if Christopher hadn't done it somebody else would've! Sad for the land's inhabitants, but it was going to be inevitable - just as inevitable that man will eventually reach another planet and begin again their destructive ways.
As you said- "what could possibly go wrong?"