Last Thursday at 3pm the phone rang, it was an unknown number and I toyed with not answering it. However I did.
Hello it’s Tim (my old sergeant).
Me: Oh hello Tim, how are you?
Tim: I’m good thanks, are you going to the funeral tomorrow?
Me: Whose funeral?
Me: What time and where? I’ll be there.
Tim: 1130am at St Paul’s, the procession is leaving Corner Garage at 11am
Me: See you there
You see I couldn’t not go as Dougie had been one of the characters from my youth, one of those people you met and never forgot.
Dougie was a local boy who was born in a cottage in what was once fields in Woosehill, he was related to William Charles Arthur Smith who later became town mayor and who Smith’s Walk was named after. A close knit family with huge links to the community.
Back in the day Dougie was at Reading Collegiate and when he was offered an apprenticeship at a big garage in Reading he stayed loyal to his roots and worked in the family business. Dougie had 2 sisters Mary and Henrietta and his father gave them each a plot of land where they built homes and raised a family. Dougie was married twice and I only knew his second wife Lorraine because they owned the field next to us in Hurst where they first kept goats and then ponies.
Imagine as a child meeting a man with flowing locks, sideburns and an ill fitting t shirt, in a field with his wife and small son, a blonde cherubic little boy whose eyes never strayed from his father when he was talking. Dougie was so unlike anyone I had or have ever met. He always had time for us. He would park his car in the drive next to ours and would always say how you getting on? He mended the fences that were beaten down by the golfers eager to retrieve their stray golf balls. One day he ran across the field with us children struggling to keep up with him and he shouted at the errant golfer, one such golfer had a hooped earring and he said that real men don’t wear jewellery. This from someone with a ripped and oiled t shirt.
As the years went by we spent less time hanging around in trees and ditches but Dougie was always there, he would greet us with a smile and tell us tales, reminding us of a slower pace of life. I mentioned we had goats in the field next door belonging to Dougie to a friend who was a PC in Twyford and he said oh yes Dougie, everyone knows Dougie.
Everyone did know Dougie.
When I joined the police and a tow truck arrived to remove a vehicle out jumped Dougie, with his trademark smile and no nonsense approach the vehicle was loaded up and off it went. My crew mate asked who that was, my response was simple. That’s Dougie. Nathan his son joined the business in 1998 and in 2001 he became Dougie’s business partner. Father and son.
Over the years I heard news of Dougie but I didn’t see him much. When I was told by Tim that he moved to a residential home nearby I should have visited him, but I didn’t. When I was told he had died there was no way I could miss his funeral. I changed my plans and apologised to my daughter that we would still go out for lunch but it would be at 1pm and not noon. She nodded and said that’s ok knowing that my past is a treasured part of my life and ultimately shapes her future.
Turning up to the church in very good time the car park was full so I parked on the road. Walking back to the church car park I was met by people who were walking down to the Corner Garage. For Dougie. In the car park I met Tim and a number of long retired officers. As I stood in the car park with people who inspired me to join the police I felt a sense of community. We were all there for one reason. For Dougie. It was therefore a fitting tribute to Dougie that he had a police escort on his final journey, it was equally fitting that people stopped what they were doing to turn and watch this local community character on a stretch of road that he knew so well.
Walking into the church there was a sea of faces, some I knew by name, some I knew by face, some I had no clue who they were but like us they were there to celebrate the life of this unique man who had time for everyone. For Dougie. The order of service had photos of Dougie with his beaming smile and one with his trademark t shirt, the hymns were perfect All things bright and beautiful, Guide me oh thou great redeemer and Abide with me. When Nathan his son stood up to speak the congregation all turned to see him. I’d not seen Nathan for years and the cherubic blonde haired boy had been replaced by a proud man who so resembled his father and whose words said it all.
How you getting on?
The favoured salutation of an exceptional man.
A man who had NO acquaintances only friends, even if he hadn’t met them yet.
A man whose arms’ power could persuade the un-persuadable yet provide the warmest most gentle sanctuary for whomever needed.
A man whose mischievous behaviour proved most infectious. A man with hands big enough for his “thumbs up” to near rival the warmth and sincerity of his smile.
A man with devotion and loyalty to motivate risk to flesh to protect family or friend.
Infact a man with strength multiplied by the need or vulnerability he found himself witness to.
Step near this man and feel the warmth of the summer sun, realise then it is just the warmth of his compassion and this man shone brightest amidst the company he loved.
How you getting on?
The favoured salutation of my father. To hear him say it was to watch him glow, once in his company he’d beg “don’t go”.
How you getting on?
My father’s salutation – now favoured by many.
Yet my father favoured no valediction and I leave it so.
A friend to all, a father to three, a brother to two others, a man to be admired and I’m so proud, all of those to me.
Nathan’s cousin Andrea also gave a tribute and I learnt more about Dougie. I never knew he had stood over the body of a dead girl to protect her from passing traffic. I have goosebumps writing that. That was just the kind of thing Dougie would do.
I left the church and headed home. Calm and grateful. When asked how the funeral had been I said it was beautiful. I couldn’t think of what else to say. Nathan had done his dad proud. The next day I sent Tim a text saying I wanted to write about Dougie and Tim sent me Nathan’s number. I duly sent off a text to Nathan and was thrilled when I got a reply. On Tuesday afternoon I went to the Corner Garage and chatted to Nathan for hours (we could have chatted more!). Nathan showed me old photos of Dougie, of Wokingham back in the day when the pace of life was slower, of Nathan’s ancestors, of the community we live in and yet for some have no idea how it’s all linked to in today’s fast moving world, of the field next to our house. I had no idea that Dougie’s family were such pillars of the community. Dougie was never boastful. Dougie didn’t demand respect yet everyone respected him.
I’m very privileged to have grown up in a community that had local characters like Dougie and I am honoured that Nathan has shared his photos and memories with me. To me Dougie was a man who had the field next to our house, a man who everyone knew and a man who hundreds turned out to say their final goodbyes to and I am privileged to say I was there.
Thank you Nathan for sharing your photos and memories with me – your dad was a special man.