Anthony Feely (1946-2020)

In preparing this eulogy, I consulted one of Dad’s notebooks in his study and found a typical lament from one of our family holidays in France, so quintessentially Dad that I could hear his voice saying it. You might recognise the tone:

Mark didn’t sleep until 3.30am; Catherine’s just thrown up in her room. Breakfast was not a success.

As you’ve already heard today, Dad was a writer. He dreamed of having a novel published. But – reading these notebooks – his real talent lay in small everyday observations, capturing revealing details (not all of them so disparaging!) He was watching us and taking notes. His laptop is full of photos of us caught unawares doing ordinary things. He found people – and life in general – frustrating and often maddening, but always, always fascinating.

Dad’s greatest loves in life were Mum, who, despite the bickering, he absolutely adored and could not bear to be apart from; his own family, to whom he felt a deep sense of debt and gratitude; and his children and grandchildren, of whom he was very proud. Underpinning everything, though, was his love of literature, music and creative expression in general. Most of us know the story about Dad becoming an accountant by accident at 13 when he put up his hand for book-keeping thinking it was librarianship. But Dad’s own head was a library of an incredible range of both high and popular culture, from Proust to Dennis Potter to Pointless. Dad was eclectic in his influences and took inspiration wherever he found it. In turn, he taught us, more than anything, about the power of words and rhythm. He gave us songs to sing (and drum) that bring us together, poems to recite for personal solace, and the unshakeable belief that our voices should be heard.

As everyone in this room will know, Dad did not shy away from making himself heard. His ability to communicate with a wide range of people was at the heart of his career as a trainer but also latterly in a range of interesting jobs in his 60s, including digesting the news and current affairs for Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw, a 100-year-old mathematician, and giving basic IT tutorials at DIB, a charity where he was lovingly dubbed ‘Sir Anthony’ by his colleagues, whom he also clearly had a lot of affection for. At home, Dad didn’t always get the same response, or not the one he wanted, which could lead to him feeling misunderstood.

But we did understand. We absorbed the words and rhythm and it became part of who we are. One of the last times when the five of us were together was when we went to see Paul Simon on his farewell tour, just over two years ago. This was a few months before Dad was diagnosed with the brain tumour but, looking back, there was a sense of this being the last chance to share the music that had always united us as a family, whatever our differences. The photographs from that night show joy on all of our faces, as we lost and found ourselves together.

Dad spent much of his life searching for meaning. But in one of his notebooks written shortly after his own Dad died, he drew on religion and philosophy to express his debt to him:

I don’t think Dad would have wanted to think of himself as a Hindu. But what did he say?

“You can’t repay me for what we have done for you – the only way you can pay us back is to do the same for your children.”

If you do enough good to other people then sooner or later – perhaps in another life – the good will come back to you – shades of reincarnation.

Our last exchanges with Dad were about things we had each shared with him: a play, a song, a poem, a joke. In the end he knew that we understood. He wasn’t, and nor are we, perfect, but he taught us how to be human, how to make ourselves vulnerable, and the incredible strength and love that can come from that.

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