The first farewell

Very few people – painfully few – could be present at Ian’s funeral, which took place on May 4th, 2020 at the Basingstoke crematorium, conducted by Ailsa Davies of the Humanist Society. On this page we can give the many people who could not be present a flavour of the words and music that were shared.

And for those who would like to hear the music as they read on, here are the links:

Madrugada: Majesty

Ian singing Farther Down the Line (orig. Lyle Lovett)

Ian singing Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat (from Guys and Dolls, Frank Loesser)

Beyond the Sea, sung by Bobby Darin:

Nicky Willmore gave the eulogy. She gathered together her own memories with Oliver’s, Paula’s and Stephen’s, as well as those of Ian’s nieces and nephews, and some of the comments that people sent in messages or on this site. She held it together, and spoke for all of us:

I have always found it difficult to describe my brother Ian to other people – maybe that is often the case when you have grown up with someone – but I found it particularly true of Ian.  He defied categorisation.  This was partly because of his prodigious ability and talents – they set him apart from the rest of us. 

The surreal situation we are in means that everyone listening today is family, and well aware of Ian’s talents.  But because we are so proud of him, I’ll list a few of our favourite extra-curricular achievements.  Singing the solo in a carol service at the age of eight, winning the national Observer Mace debating championship, revelling in Oxford student politics, moonlighting at weekends as a pianist in a wine bar, twice a Labour parliamentary candidate, finance chair and then deputy leader of Haringey Council (the finance element of that seems a bit improbable when I think about it now!), avid chess player and competitor, antique collector (with a maverick eye), bon viveur, , expert on nearly everything, and the quintessential uncle….

But I think Ian was also difficult to describe because he was like no other.  He was consistent in his refusal to bow to convention, even if that meant taking a more difficult path.  One of his main attributes – occasionally irritating, but oh so impressive – was the fact that he was so uncompromising. 

There are many tributes to Ian on the memorial website Kathy has made in his name, with new, warm – but very recognisable – anecdotes. 

Paula, Stephen and I particularly like this one:

“When I first started working for ASH, I didn’t understand why a small charity with limited funds would employ a man to show up when he fancied and play chess online. It soon became clear that under the chaotic exterior lurked a brilliant mind…”

And another, from his friend Owen:

“He was always there. Even when he was delayed. Or didn’t turn up.”

And someone else said:

“Every one of us has an Ian story and I hope when the time is right we can come together and tell them. Haphazard, brilliant, and generous, the world is poorer without him.”

We will come together and tell those stories when the time is right.  Kathy, Oliver, Paula and Stephen and I are making plans.

What struck us most when we read the outpouring of comments and tributes online was how the same adjectives just kept coming up.  

The reason for this, of course, is that Ian was consistently Ian.  Reading these comments has been very comforting – we all knew and loved the same Ian.  It also means he leaves behind a terribly distinctive, Ian-shaped hole. 

(This is an aside, but no-one mentioned his obsession with the American Civil War.  This is a strange omission.  Ian famously became the world no. 1 expert on the civil war on one quiz app – before deleting it because he decided it was too addictive and not good for him). 

If pushed to select just two defining characteristics of Ian, I would say his strong principles and ideals, and his warmth, love and kindness. 

Ian was all about justice and fairness on a personal and a social level – he lived his life according to these principles.  He wouldn’t do anything he disagreed with, and he would let you know in no uncertain terms if he disagreed with you.  It was this commitment which led to Ian’s abrupt departure from the Department of Employment when he fought government plans to curb the power of trade unions – an event I first knew about when I read the front page of The Times one morning. 

Ian’s articles attacking the Climbie affair, the subsequent enquiry, and the establishment’s success in once again finding convenient scapegoats, are still incredibly powerful and sadly relevant.  Ian was also an excellent speechwriter – one speech he wrote for Ron Todd, general secretary of the TGWU, again made front pages – the papers reducing it from memory to something like ‘moderniser Kinnock is accused of selling out Labour’s roots to  Filofax -wielding yuppies’. 

Ian’s ideals explain his early involvement in politics – both with Haringey Council and the Labour party – and his lifelong commitment to social justice.  His list of employers says it all – YouthAid, the T&G, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, Friends of the Earth, and ASH, amongst others.

I worked with Ian several times over the years – and quickly learnt that success lay in giving him a very tight deadline with a buffer built in.  He ghost-wrote articles for me when I was editing a health magazine and on maternity leave, we swapped stories about London’s Labour councils when I was covering local government, he was massively helpful to Markus and I in our current jobs.  We had just started a new project with him. 

The work Ian did as a ‘professional troublemaker’, or head of campaigns and public affairs, at ASH, was probably the high point of his career. The successful introduction of a law banning smoking in public places is recognised one of the most successful social change campaigns in recent years.

Ian was brilliant at that job.  He brought to it his understanding of politics, politicians, and of the media, his love of argument and a good fight, an unerring ability to sniff out cowardice, insincerity and venality.  (If Ian was here, he would definitely slip in a reference to Trump at this point). He was a brilliant strategist (honed at chess and poker).  He had a sharp trouble-making instinct.  He also understood, and told The Guardian newspaper, that ‘campaigning of this kind is literally a confidence trick’.

Once smoking was banned in public places, Ian then went on to address the illegal global trade in tobacco products and also played a key role in bringing in plain packaging legislation, which extended the ban on tobacco advertising to cover all use of branding, including on the cigarette packets themselves. The Marlboro cowboy was unseated. Ian gleefully celebrated this destruction of brand value as the biggest single act of corporate theft in history.

All these are evidence of Ian’s strong principles. Ian’s music, both his music choices and his own music, says all there is to say about his warmth and soul.

For the last few years, during Ma’s illness, Ian – despite being, as we know, famously erratic – turned up every week without fail – electronic keyboard, mics, sheet music in tow – and spent an afternoon singing and playing to her and Oliver.  When Ma died, he didn’t stop, but came every week to do the same for Oliver – at the same time bringing with him his sharp and perceptive take on the world, and his favourite YouTube outtakes. 

How can someone who takes so much delight in the Stella clip – where a dog repeatedly takes a running leap into a giant mound of crisp autumn leaves – not bring a sense of life and fun with them?  Pa will miss Ian – his ‘boogly boy’ – dreadfully. 

The same is true of Ian’s nieces and nephews – Eliot, Jess, Monty, Jamie, Hattie, Martha, Phoebe and Charlotte.  Ian loved them all dearly and delighted in their company.  Each one of them he met on their own terms, taking the trouble to find out what interested them.  He stimulated their interests – sharing films, sending music recordings and books. He bought jewellery, watches, handbags, posters, paintings, fossils.  He travelled the length of the country to visit them and treated them to legendary lunches – he was extremely generous when he was feeling flush, going downmarket and Dutch when he wasn’t. He was so very proud of them all, of their individuality.  They, we – including Ian’s ‘in laws’ Markus, Michael and Grace –  are absolutely devastated to have lost him already.

Ian’s eulogy to our mother 18 months ago was predictably brilliant, but also very revealing of Ian and what made him tick. He praised what he saw as some very important qualities in Ma, but which apply equally to him:

  • Realism and strength.  The ability to see the world as it is, but still have the gift and the will to act in it. 
  • Empathy, both personal and social. 

I think this is his legacy to the nephews and nieces he loved so much: See the world for what it is, and then roll up your sleeves and get stuck in to make it a better place.  And have fun doing it.

Ian set a high bar in showing what could be achieved – the rest of us will find it hard to match his work to protect people and the planet.

As one tribute said: “I think a little bit of all of us hope that we have made the world a slightly better place.  I think that Ian definitely did.”

Or as Pa said, referring to himself and Anne, our mother: We loved Ian as a young boy.  We loved and were proud of him as a youth.  And we love, are proud and honour him as a man.

We wish Ian’s end could have been different.  It was far too soon, and far too abrupt.  We tried our best to save him that night, but it wasn’t to be.  We take comfort in the fact that he was in Little Haven, which he loved so much.  When he arrived down there to self-isolate, he sent me this message: “this has to be one of the best places in the UK.  Well done the parents”.  

And there is at least something peculiarly Ian-ish in his exit.  He was a master of abrupt departures – getting up from a table the minute he grew bored with the conversation, or just walking out of a room, with a cursory ‘Right, I’m off now. Bye”. 

Ian’s tribute to Ma’s strength and her love ended with his own wonderfully hopeful and inspiring idea which he given to us all now to hold onto. He said, with a nod to Martin Luther King: “True strength and true love roll down the generations, and they swell and multiply as they go.  If the long arc of the universe truly bends towards justice, this must surely be the reason why”.