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RIP Peter Higgs

The Catholic Union attended the funeral this week of Peter Higgs who was Secretary of the Catholic Union (1994-2007). His eulogy, below, contains several references to the Catholic Union and also to Peter’s time as a patient of Lionel Logue (as in The King’s Speech!). We offer our condolences to Peter’s family and pray that he may rest in peace.

Eulogy for Peter Higgs    10.6.2024

95 years is a long time.

Dad’s life falls into 3 stages. The first 24 years until he married Mum.

The 59 years they were married.

And the 12 years since then.

Born in Hammersmith in 1928, he was the only child of Bob and Ethel. His father was a painter and decorator, his mother worked in a shop.

He had a place at St Clement Danes grammar school and was due to start on 1 September 1939.

He didn’t.

Instead, he was evacuated with a gas mask around his neck and a packet of ginger biscuits (which he always hated!).

He used to speak often of his time in Addlestone, with the kind, elderly lady he called Auntie. He remembered her garden, 3 fruit trees and a vegetable patch, and had a strong memory of when he first arrived, with Ronnie, his fellow evacuee from May Street school.  Dad picked up an apple and handed it to Auntie, but she said, ‘No, you keep that one, I’ll find another for your friend.’

His parents visited a few days later but not often after that as his father was an ARP warden. Auntie got him a job on a paper round, where he earned 2/6 a week.

But after a while he was sent to a camp school which he hated. Accommodation in tents, very few lessons and a lot of physical exercise.

He wrote to his parents and asked to go home.

Back in London in 1943 he attended St Aylwins School in Bermondsey which he enjoyed. He cycled every Sunday from Hammersmith to the news-stand in Sloane Square to collect papers for a neighbour, earning a little pocket money. He would have liked to become a doctor, but his father suffered from emphysema and chronic bronchitis and was often unable to work. Dad needed to be earning money straightaway, so he left school at 15, one of his teachers having found him a job with a firm of solicitors in Holborn.

The firm dealt with appeals to the privy council and Dad regularly took petitions to the House of Lords. Many years later he was amazed to find himself at a meeting of the Catholic Union in the same room he remembered from those days. In recent years on a trip to town he stood in the same doorway on the Strand where he remembered taking shelter during a bombing raid.

Dad had a bad stammer from the age of 2 which compounded his natural shyness. Gilbert Dold, one of the partners, arranged for him to see his friend, Lionel Logue, speech therapist to George the Sixth. Dad remembers arriving at his Harley Street practice with his Mum who asked how much it would cost. He said, ‘He obviously saw we didn’t have much.’ His Mum was charged 2/6, which she used to give Dad every week. But he was fairly sure that Gilbert Dold settled the fees. Dad loved the film ‘The King’s Speech’ and was excited to recognise the couch he remembered from these weekly sessions.

In November 1947 he joined the RAF. As he had a fountain pen his job was to write out ID cards, but 4 months later he was discharged on health grounds, and I quote ‘ceasing to fulfil RAF physical requirements although fit for civilian employment’.

He was not sorry to leave and returned home where, as he was a good footballer, he was invited to join the Catholic youth club in Fulham. It was here that he met the 15-year-old Yvonne. Despite breaking his leg playing football and being in plaster for 3 months, he remained in the youth club, and they were married in 1952.

I have been in touch these last weeks with his second cousin, who was one of his pageboys at the age of 3.

The early years of married life in South Croydon were not easy as Mum and Dad lost 3 parents within 18 months and my grandfather worked abroad. After working with several firms of solicitors Dad joined local government in Camberwell shortly before I was born.  They moved to Longfield in Kent in

1961 and then to nearby Hartley, in 1976, where they stayed for the rest of their married life.

Dad became a Catholic at the age of 40 in 1968 and we took the sacrament of confirmation together. He joined the Catenians and was one of the founder members of Meopham Circle. The organisation formed the basis of Mum and Dad’s social life and friendship group. Dad became President of his Circle and later Provincial President. They also formed strong friendships with Catenians in Malta, where they went at least once every year. In his late 80s Dad became a member of South London Circle and attended meetings in Victoria.

Dad returned to private practice in 1970 and worked with several different firms until he retired in 1993. He then became the Secretary of the Catholic Union and found himself commuting to Hammersmith three times a week. Mum, too, continued teaching into her 70s.

They loved travelling. They visited many countries in Europe, had several trips to different parts of the States, they went to Australia, Dubai, Bahrein, Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur.

In 1987 with the birth of our first child, Dad became Papa, and he remained Papa for the rest of his life.

In 1999 Mum was diagnosed with leukaemia. It was a treatable but incurable condition and Mum did not want to burden us with this knowledge. For 12 years they coped on their own with regular appointments at UCH and Dad gradually and unobtrusively took over the running of the home and Mum’s increasing care needs. He never asked for help, he never betrayed her trust, and he was with her to the end.

The last 12 years saw Dad back in London. He sold the house in Hartley and had the great fortune to find a lovely maisonette to rent in the road next to us. Three months after Mum’s death he travelled alone to Houston to stay with their oldest friend. Then he amazed us all by booking a cruise on the Rhine, on his own. His courage was rewarded by meeting a couple who were to remain very dear friends. Over the next few years he did another river cruise, had two trips to Malta, spent time with old friends in Germany. He would take himself off to Eastbourne, where he used to spend holidays as a child, stay in a hotel, sit on the prom, and eat in a local restaurant. He booked himself into the Clarendon, just 10 minutes from home, for a couple of days so he could enjoy sitting by the pond. He volunteered at the Age Exchange where he welcomed visitors at the reception.

He loved his flat, his new home, and this area. He loved the busyness and diversity of Lewisham, the beauty of the Heath and Greenwich Park.

Most days until March 2020 he would walk down with his 3-wheeler to Lewisham. Have a coffee in M and S, do his shopping and sit on a bench near the clock tower, just watching the world go by. He loved this, even if the walk back home and the steps to his flat were becoming more of a challenge. But sadly, by the time it was safe for him to go out again after Covid he had lost his mobility and his independence.

Right up until this April however, Dad prepared his meals, did his washing, ironed his handkerchiefs, made his bed, even though it was an increasing struggle. I have never seen such courage and determination as I watched him over these last years.

On 23 April Dad moved to Leah Lodge where he was welcomed with care and company, good food and a lovely garden. His stay there, alas, was to be barely 3 weeks.

I am happy to see so many people here today. Friends from the Catenians, our friends who knew Dad over many years and who are here to support us. Thank you all for coming. I am particularly happy to see so many people who enriched this last stage of his life, you took him to the park for coffee or to do some shopping, you looked after his flat and his garden, cut his hair,

you chatted to him as his neighbours and friends, you gave him a cheery greeting as he walked down the street. I can assure you, Dad took pleasure in everything and valued your friendship.

 Dad was always there when I was growing up. He worked hard, but never missed a school event or a family occasion. He was always gentle and kind and great fun, supporting me throughout every stage of my life.

He was delighted to become a grandfather and our children have so many memories of experiences shared, being shown how to use a typewriter and believing his claim that his garage doors were opened through mind control. He welcomed their partners and took interest in their lives and their friends as he had done for us.

To have three great-grandchildren, including a great granddaughter who came into the world just 12 weeks before he was to leave it, gave him the greatest joy. How wonderful that their lives crossed.

I have been overwhelmed by messages and tributes to Dad in the last few weeks. I am so grateful for these messages as I have not yet been able to find the words to convey what Dad meant to me and our family  The messages speak of his cheerfulness, positivity, a true gentleman, so warm and kind, a twinkle in his eye, a mischievous sense of humour, a good dancer, greatly liked and respected, so grateful for little things, made everyone feel welcome, fit and jolly to the end.

But there is one phrase that keeps coming up…what a lovely man.