Eulogy given by The Rev’d Dr Gordon Giles at Les Fish’s Funeral on Friday 12th February 2016
On this day we gather with many emotions as we give thanks for a man we loved, a man we debated with, a man of great care, pastoral sensitivity, and indeed of humour. Which is why I want to begin with a funny story, which Les would have enjoyed. After Les died, Jackie had to go to the Register Office – and did do, I believe, with Brian. This is their anecdote really – but I have Jackie’s permission to tell you! Apparently, during the interview reporting Les’ death, Jackie tells me she was asked: ‘were you pregnant at the time of death?’ Finding this a rather odd question to be asked, she replied ‘was I pregnant? – I think not!’ To which, I’m told, Brian tapped her on the arm and said ‘no, he asked if you were present at the time of death’!
Now I hope you will forgive me for making you laugh – but we think Les would have laughed a lot at this. And of course, the point is that Jackie was present when dear Les entered into glory, and I have to tell you that I was too – and Pam – and that, in fact, Les actually drew his last breath between the words ‘Son’ and ‘Holy Spirit’ of the blessing. Quite remarkable. It was a profound privilege to be present – and Les’ passing was indeed pregnant with meaning. Les died full of blessing. And I think he would have said so himself. So let me tell about his blessed life, in words Jackie has written:
Les was one of four children born in Enfield, to Alice and William Fish; sadly his older brother John died at the tender age of 18 months, before Les was born; he also has an older sister Eileen and a younger brother Trevor who are both with us today. Les’ Mother was Welsh and his Father came from the Old Kent Road area in London. Les was Baptized at St George’s Church, Freezywater and as a child he would spend many of his summer holidays in Abergaveny, Wales on his Uncle John’s Farm, helping with the animals and generally enjoying the good life outdoors. However, back home in Enfield, Les was a child growing up during WW2; as a young boy he found it all quite exciting, sleeping in the cupboard under the stairs, and looking for shrapnel with other children, in the mornings after the raids. But of course, the war, meant that Les also missed an awful lot of schooling. Les was educated at Bush Hill Park School. Worship and Church Parade for the Scouts were at St Mark’s Church, Bush Hill Park, but Les taught himself so much more after leaving school, by reading books from the library, and by attending evening classes; and throughout his long life he never lost the great thirst to research and learn.
He eventually wrote an autobiography of 198 pages and called it “A Journey Through Life”, it makes for interesting reading!
After leaving school Les had several jobs: He delivered bread for a local bakery, later upgrading to become an electrician’s mate, but he never quite settled, and one day at the age of seventeen he decided (much against his Father’s will), to join the RAF. However, his Dad did give him permission in the end to enlist, and the two grew very close (Les always kept his Father’s letters that were written to him whilst he was in the RAF). Sadly, within six weeks or so of diagnosis, William Fish died of Cancer, and this had a severe affect on Les… After his Father’s funeral Les had to return to his barracks in St Evel, Cornwall to finish his three year service, and at the age of 18 there was no bereavement counselling of any kind; and on his return, fellow airmen didn’t even know that his Father had died…Les held the silence, but always sent part of his income home to help his widowed Mother. After three years in the RAF Les returned to the family home at 281 Southbury Road, Enfield, or as Les’ put it in his book, “Back to Civvy Street”. Back in Civvy Street he took up employment at Belling and Lee in the Special Products Department. He also took on a Fatherly role helping Trevor to obtain a tool making apprenticeship, and supplying some of the books he needed for his studies. He also gave his sister Eileen’s hand in marriage to Frank in 1963.
But it was walking to work alongside the A10 that Les first met Jackie who was cycling home in the opposite direction. However, one evening a week there was a disco held at Sangamo Western and per chance, Les and Jackie were both there, so at last he was able to ask to take her home, invited her to a party the following Saturday and the rest as they say is history… And what a stunning couple they made – look in the service sheet!
Les and Jackie spent 4 years getting to know each other! And after a holiday with Auntie Nellie and Uncle George in South Wales, Les proposed and they were married, on the 17th August 1963 at St Andrew’s Church, in the Market Square. Les is wearing his wedding suit today. As Jackie calls it: ‘The Italian job’, with white shirt cuffs and cufflinks deliberately showing below the jacket sleeves!! And a white carnation in his buttonhole. A quote from his book says that:
“…the suit cost 20 Guineas!”
Their marriage celebrated many happy anniversaries, and only two years ago on their Golden Wedding Weekend, Les and Jackie renewed their wedding vows together here in St MM. with champagne and cake in the hall after. Apparently everyone had said, “It wouldn’t last!”
Living over Jackie’s Dad’s Hardware shop in Winchester Road, Edmonton and continuing Evening Classes, Les began to look for a better paid job, with the view to buying a house. Les had an interview with a company called Elliots in Elstree, Hertfordshire, and he eventually got the job as a prototype wireman and worked on a government secret project called the “Blue Streak Missile”. Les had taken to riding a Scooter by this time, but even so a friend he met at work, used to take him to work in his “Bond Mini Car”, it was a 3 wheeler which put the fear up Les on wet and windy days, and especially through the snow in winter! Later the firm moved to Rochester, and it was then Les returned to Belling and Lee once more… and with a good reference he was able to get a mortgage to buy his first house, at 406 Southbury Road, Enfield. Sadly Les’ Mum died about that time, and Les invited his younger brother who was still at home to come and live with him and Jackie. After Trevor’s marriage to Elaine, Les’ thoughts then turned to having a family of his own, and yes, it was to be:
New house new baby! But Les was one of the first Dad’s of that time to see the birth of his child. A very rare occurrence in those days! A quote from his book says:
“I’d just had the opportunity to witness one of the greatest events that man could see in the world… We now had a son, and we named him “Ian”.”
Along with another move to 28 Southbury Avenue, Enfield came another new job: Les now worked for an American firm called Tektronix, they manufactured oscilloscopes (electronic fault finding equipment). Ian was growing up fast and Les got involved in running a children’s football team with Ian and his friends for the 5 aside Police matches. Les was never happier than when involved in live sport or watching it on the TV. And he was very pleased when Ian gained a place at Enfield Grammar School.
Ian sang in the St Andrew’s Church choir, and Les began to make friends with church members who were all meeting their children from choir practice. He then gradually got more involved attending Services and helping in practical ways, (often using his DIY skills that he also used at home). After many years it was a very special day, when Les finally made the great step of Faith and became Confirmed… A quote from his book says:
“I’m really glad I took the decision to be Confirmed when I did, Jackie, Peter and Ruth fully supported me throughout; it turned out to be a very memorable time for me… it was like being welcomed into a large family, and that was only the beginning of my commitment to Christ… just a small step of a long Christian road forward which one never stops learning or growing through Faith”
Tectronix decided to move their company back to USA, thus making Les redundant! He used his pay off to start up his own decorating business, called “Decorous”. His excellent standard of work over the first year, soon gained him lots of customers, and he had 6 months work booked ahead! It was while Ian was away on holiday abroad, that Les became very ill and was taken into hospital in an emergency, and was diagnosed at the age of 55 with COPD, (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) this was a great shock for Jackie, and Ian on his return, but even more so for Les, and it meant he would need to give up work and use oxygen therapy for the rest of his life. A quote from his book says:
“I must admit I found it really difficult in coming to terms with not working, in fact I think it was easier to accept my illness than not working; at times I was quite unpredictable, sometimes happy, other times miserable. I suppose this was normal taking in to account what happened, very much like grieving, which of course it was,… after a few weeks I began to think differently wondering what I could do in life. I continued to have Jackie’s love and support and Ian was also a great support to both of us, I believe the Fish family gained a lot at that time”
But once diagnosed, and forced to retire; with the use of medication and oxygen therapy, it didn’t stop Les having no less than 6 silent parts in the Son et Lumiere celebrating the 800th Anniversary at St Andrew’s Church, where the family now continued to worship regularly. Les took an active role on the PCC; he also became a St John’s School Governor; and worked for Meet-a-need with Christian Care for a time. He learned to bake and made the most yummy cakes! (Winning prizes at the Fellowship’s Annual Produce Show!) It was while working for Meet – a – Need, and interacting with folk who came into the office, Les could see there was a need for more Counsellors. So, he applied for an interview and secured a place on the Westminster Pastoral Foundation Course for 3 years. Les wrote his final essay on “Loss”, gained a pass and received his Certificate.
The Course and his commitment to an eight week Ignatian, Open Door Retreat held in the Parish, changed his whole outlook on life, he learnt so much about himself and others… This enabled Les to join St Andrew’s Pastoral Team and put his new skills into action. Les also took a Bereavement Course and then joined the Enfield Bereavement Service, serving for 10 years locally. A quote from his book says:
“The Bereavement Course went very well…it gave me the chance to join the “Enfield Bereavement Service” which was staffed by volunteers, this was going to be a new start for me, which I hoped would help me achieve several things; firstly, to help people, giving me the chance to use my skills; it would give me the chance to meet people from other Churches; and last but not least, it would make me feel that I was doing something that was worthwhile, there was no doubt in my mind, this was something that was badly needed in the area.”
During the earlier years of taking oxygen therapy, Les was still able to take family holidays in Stratford Upon Avon and his beloved Southwold, where he and Jackie saw the most wonderful picture postcard sunsets together, from the pier at Warbleswick. Moments like that were treasured!
But Locally, Forty Hall and its grounds was one of Les’ most favourite places, he loved the warmth of the family home, the beauty and spaciousness of the grounds, and the secludedness and sereneness of the rose garden. (That was before it was all redesigned recently.) And it was there where Jackie first told Les about herself, feeling “Called to the Vocation of a Priest”. Les was delighted with this news… In Les’ words:
“We could all see it coming, but Jackie was the last one to know!”
There was no hesitation, Les was willing to support and uphold Jackie in prayer, in her studies, (he prepared an office specially for her) and later (at great cost to his health being away from home so many hours without oxygen) was there to witness her ordination at St Paul’s Cathedral and Deacon’s ministry at St Mary Magdalene, until the day came for her Priesting here in this Parish Church. In so many ways it has been a joint ministry that Jackie and Les have shared here! So it is no surprise that during the past year Les has benefited enormously from having Holy Communion at home, when he was no longer well enough to get to Church.
The Church came to him! He has said on more than one occasion: “The people of St Mary Magdalene are our family now!”.
Les had a strong personality; he always held an opinion about most things! He loved a good discussion, and putting the world to rights. And at such times there was always a touch of humour thrown in for good measure! Life was never dull with Les around!!! On the other hand, Les had a great sensitivity and a listening ear for the weak and vulnerable, and those in distress. Marriages have been saved, and captive minds have been freed, under his care. Les will be sadly missed by Jackie and Ian, and all who knew, loved and respected him in this life… Until we meet again, may he rest in peace now, and rise in glory! Amen.
Gordon Giles/Jackie Fish 12/2/16