THIS IS NOT AN OBITUARY; an ‘obit’, usually (although not necessarily) written by a journalist, is a specialised literary article whose format demands a wealth of facts, figures, dates and historical anecdotes that will recreate a lifetime and thus memorialise its subject.
I am a journalist but when it came to putting on paper the required catalogue of events and dates and achievements I realised I possessed only fond memories of my late, great friend John Walton, a fellow Warringtonian whose recent funeral I sadly attended. For although our intense friendship endured more than a half- century, it survived and flourished at great distances with only occasional reunions which required no rekindling.
Having travelled 300 miles from my home in north Northumberland to the town I left half-a-century ago, I was mildly shocked that of the hundreds of mourners filling the pews of St Matthew’s Church in rural Stretton I recognised no more than a handful. Friendships endure the years while faces grow dim in the memory.
John Fenton Walton, one of Warrington’s best-known estate agents and a man who built as well as sold houses, was described in a beautifully crafted eulogy by Des Appleton, his friend since childhood, as an outstandingly kind human being. The word ‘kind’ only begins to do justice to my friend.
We met when he came to the offices of the Warrington Guardian to complain about misprints in his regular ‘Homes For Sale’ ads: he the successful middle class estate agent and I, the pimply teenage trainee reporter, deputed by a toss of the newsroom’s double-headed penny to ‘take the flak’ from an aggrieved advertiser.
As I explain in an actual obituary I eventually cobbled together for ‘THE’ Guardian (which you may read by clicking anywhere in this link), our friendship – and those with his first wife, Jean, and children Susan, Mark and Simon – took off to the extent that they became almost a second family to a working class lad from a council estate who had nowt in the way of money (salary for a trainee on the weekly was pitiful) but much ambition to get on in the world.
Essentially, they sponsored me: I was always included in every excursion, every meal out at flashy Cheshire rural restaurants, every party. . . every activity. That was just the material extent of the kindness John and his family and a growing circle of friends showed me. Without such a leg-up I might never had achieved the success that later came my way, editing newspapers in New York, Sydney and London.
Because, like ingrates the world over, I eventually abandoned my birth family and my ‘adopted’ family and went off to seek fame and fortune with barely a backward glance. Such a harsh weaning from the street’s of one’s birthplace – commonplace now but still relatively rare in the mid-Sixties – packed those wonderful years and experiences and friendships to the bottom of my suitcase. But that did not mean they were forgotten.
Now, in my seventies and decidedly lucky to still be here, most of my social life is lived at gravesides and in crematoria and at funeral receptions paying homage to departed friends; the newspaper industry particularly, with its legendary long nights and short drinks wreathed in tobacco smoke and the glamour of hard living, is notorious for easing its heartiest exponents into early coffins.
But John was different: golfer, musician, proud family man whose blissfully happy marriage to Anne after his first wife died tragically young, deserved a dozen more years at least to the 81 which fate allotted. Before he died I managed only brief visits to attempt to repay through friendship the years and the confidence he and his family had given me fifty years earlier.
But oh! What times. What laughter, however brief. What joy to have known my friend John Walton!