BEN KENNEDY 

This tribute to Ben, who died after a short illness on 26 February, is by his daughter Ruth, who delivered it at Ben's funeral in Chislehurst on 21 March.

His mother always called him dependable, which he didn’t like as he said it made him sound boring – Dad you were anything but!  Born in Fulham, in May 1948, Dad was the second of five siblings and part of a much wider family of aunts, uncles and cousins.  His father, who was from a farming family in County Sligo, came to Britain at the age of sixteen and was a construction worker. His mother came from Yorkshire.  Named Brendan, he was universally known to his friends as Ben.

Dad read French and Spanish at University Hall, Buckland, part of the University of London, graduating with a good honors degree and it was here that he met Mum, who was reading French and English.  They were married in August 1972 – Dad sporting a now-legendary maroon suit and turquoise shirt.  Parenthood beckoned with the arrival of me, then Claire and, once Dad had honed his parenting technique, Frank.

Ben in 1971 - best man at his friend Frank Treble's wedding

We all remember Dad reading chapters of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings aloud of an evening and family holidays, where Dad was always willing to build sandcastles and jump waves.  He encouraged us to try local food whilst abroad – often at Royan in France – and although his pleas were usually met with stubborn resistance, none of us will forget when Frank tasted, and finished, Dad’s fish soup, offering a plate of cold meats in return – something Dad gently teased Frank about regularly.

After university, Dad joined the Immigration Service, using his language skills – having added Greek to his repertoire.  Living in a small village in Kent, Mum needed the family car and so Dad settled on an alternative form of transport to work.  I have a vivid memory of Dad, on a petrol pedal bicycle, peddling off down the road until the engine sputtered into life.  He told me, many years later, that his journey on that small motorbike, down Jubilee Way into the port of Dover, with the HGV lorries passing him at speed, was what prompted him to invest in a “proper” motorbike – he continued to own and ride a “proper” motorbike until last year.  Working at the port occasionally enabled Dad to speed the journey of family – his brother remembers returning from Paris in the early 70s, waiting at the back of a long line of cars, when he was directed to the Special Treatment lane by a stern looking Immigration Officer – who leant through the window saying: “Tell Sue I’ll be home in time for dinner!” before sending them on their way.

In 1980, it was Dad’s new posting – he was in the enforcement division, based initially at Adelaide House by London Bridge – that brought us up to Orpington, close to where he grew up, and where he lived for the remainder of his life, not counting three months spent at the High Commission in Lagos in 1985 and a three-year liaison posting in Paris in 1995.  He retired from the Immigration service after 37 years, having made many friends along the way.

Dad took up golf as a way to encourage his father out of the house following the death of his mother.  He called himself a streaky golfer and we have many, many memories of listening to stroke-by-stroke accounts of Dad’s rounds over the years – usually told with good humour even when describing sometimes numerous attempts to get out of a bunker or recounting the number of balls lost in a round.  A casual job in the shop at a nearby golf course in his early retirement not only kept him busy, but led him to make new local friends, with whom he could enjoy 18 holes.  He also enjoyed several golfing holidays at Myrtle Beach in South Carolina with his brothers and friends.

Ben during the choir's Norwich tour in 2014

Dad returned to another of his passions in retirement – music.  After singing with the Snowdon Male Voice Choir during his years in Dover, Dad’s family life and shiftwork patterns conspired to limit his opportunities to sing, but he never lost his love of music.  He taught himself to play the guitar and encouraged us all to listen to a wide range of musical styles as we grew up – from Elvis and the Beatles to Edith Piaf, as well as classical composers such as Fauré, Strauss and Rodrigo.

As a family, we developed a Christmas Eve tradition of singing Christmas songs and carols before bedtime, Dad on his guitar, accompanied with tambourines and bells or our own instruments as we grew older.  Dad rekindled his enjoyment of singing as part of a choir when he joined the Croydon Male Voice Choir.  With a tenor voice, Dad enjoyed the challenge of learning new pieces, as well as rediscovering those pieces previously sung.  In addition to regular concerts in local venues, choir tours and events took Dad to sing in many iconic places such as Bath Abbey, Winchester Cathedral, and the Royal Albert Hall, as well as overseas to Belgium, France and Holland.  Such was his commitment to the choir that he became a committee member and held the post of Treasurer for the last seven years.  The choir provided a new source of friends for Mum and Dad, and when I would enquire about potential babysitting duties, I would need to fit in around choir socials!

Dad took to the role of Grandad with relish and he was actively involved with his grandchildren from the start.  A huge source of support and wisdom during our early years as parents, he would offer quiet encouragement or a shoulder to cry on, as well as practical help – he helped lay a carpet at our new house, as I was in hospital after the birth of our first child.  Always willing to support his grandchildren at school events, he would join in singing Elephants Have Wrinkles with as much enthusiasm as Handel’s Messiah. He was extremely proud of his grandchildren as he watched them grow up, and Dad was always delighted to hear of their achievements.  A thoroughly modern Grandad, he would exchange WhatsApp messages with his granddaughter, and talk with his grandsons about their successes over Skype – such was my Dad’s influence, that he converted his youngest grandson, James, to the Tottenham Hotspur’s cause, even though James’ dad was a lifelong Chelsea supporter!

Honest, sometimes to the point of bluntness, Dad could be relied upon to give you a truthful opinion when you sought his advice – even if it wasn’t the answer you wanted to hear.  We all valued his counsel on major decisions that we have made in our lives – he was rarely wrong!

Dad, you will be missed.  The advice and wisdom you passed on, through our lives, will guide us all going forward.  Your presence will always be felt and your spirit will live on through your children and grandchildren.

I’d like to finish with a poem by David Harkins, which reflects how I think he would feel today:

You can shed tears that he is gone,
Or you can smile because he lived,
You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back,
Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left.
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him
Or you can be full of the love that you shared,
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember him and only that he is gone
Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on,
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back,
Or you can do what he would want:
Smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

Tribute by Ruth Rea, with additions by Sue Kennedy

 

Ben's funeral was at Chislehurst crematorium on 21 March

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