A Tribute to Alan Ward – Gordon Gatward OBE

At Alan’s  Funeral Service the following Tribute was read by Kate Ward’s cousin – Gordon Gatward OBE

Alan was born in Leamington Spa in 1940, 

− I’ve actually got that wrong….  Alan was born in Royal Leamington Spa in 1940 (the Royal part of the name meant a lot to him!) 

− followed a few years later by his younger brother Gordon.  

– And it was there that as a youngster he joined the Scouts 

− and discovered a lifetime’s passion for the outdoors.  

At 15 he left school and joined the RAF 

− And it was this that brought together the two great passions that were to characterise so much of his life : 

aircraft and mountains

one as an engineer and the other as a climber and a member of mountain rescue

During his service career, he worked on a range of aircraft and served overseas as well as in the UK 

− and other than for a short period of time when he left the RAF and worked in industry, the rest of his professional life was spent doing what he loved 

ie working on aircraft and particularly helicopters 

▪ offshore on the rigs, on Shetland and then latterly for the Northern Lighthouse Board.

▪And in typical Alan style it was whilst he was on Shetland that he took the opportunity to walk the whole coastline of the main island.

I never did ask him which aircraft he enjoyed working on the most, but I’ve a feeling it was probably the Shackleton.

− And I say that because I remember one time when he and Kate were staying with us and he’d gone out to the Midland Air Museum to look at a Shackleton that was being restored

− He managed to get talking to the crew who were doing the restoration, and if I remember it correctly, he then spent the rest of the day helping them out.

What I do remember though, was him then coming back and telling Kate that they’d asked him to move south and become a member of their restoration team.

Kate can also remember another occasion when they were at an event in Africa where a restored Shackleton was being taxied on the runway.  

− Alan had already met and talked with the person who’d sponsored the aircraft but hadn’t been able to meet the crew

You can therefore, imagine the pleasure and pride he and Kate felt 

▪ when there was then an announcement over the tannoy to say the crew would like him to join them in the cockpit of the taxiing plane.

And this passion for all things to do with aircraft and flying was obvious to any visitor to the house in North Ballachulish

− You just had to look at the bookshelves and the impressive collection of books on different types of plane and the history of various aircraft, etc that filled them 

It was a collection that always seemed to be expanding to the extent I felt sorry for Kate 

▪ as space for her own collection of RLS books seemed to be constantly under threat.

But I mentioned that he had 2 passions : aircraft and mountains

And moving on to the second of the two 

− I first want to read Psalm 121 

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Reading those opening words, it’s not difficult to understand why Kate and the family chose that particular Psalm, ie

‘I lift up my eyes to the hills –

Where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,

The Maker of heaven and earth’

As you can imagine there are a number of opinions as to how those words can be interpreted and understood

− and one suggestion is that the writer is describing an experience that many here will know only too well

of being so moved by the majesty and grandeur of the hills that you feel a sense of spiritual oneness with Creation and Creator.

Now I know, Alan didn’t have a religious faith and would probably find those words I’ve just said difficult 

− but he did love the mountains and often did speak of them as being his religion.

He was also very fond of the writings of John Muir, the engineer, naturalist and mountaineer

− (In fact, he was the one that first introduced me to John Muir’s works and especially his environmental philosophy)

And as those of you who’re familiar with his works will know, Muir would frequently write in words reminiscent of those that introduced the Psalm, eg:

‘Oh these vast, calm, measureless mountain days 

in whose light everything seems equally divine, 

opening a thousand windows to show us God.’

‘Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, 

places to play and pray in.

Where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.’

And especially :

‘I’d rather be in the mountains thinking of God

Than in church thinking about the mountains.

Whilst Alan might not have embraced the religious wording, I think he’d have appreciated Muir’s sentiments and thoughts 

− for like John Muir he spent so much of his life on or amongst mountains.

It was during his time in the RAF that his love of climbing grew and his skills as a climber matured and developed.

− As most of you will know he climbed all over the world

and was a committed member of RAF Mountain Rescue

▪ So much so that he received a service commendation for his mountain rescue work.

▪NB such was his modesty that Kate knew nothing about it until after it had been awarded!

I imagine that some of you will have visited the RAF Mountain Rescue Facebook page over last few days.

− and you’ll know that it contains some very moving tributes to Alan with regard to the positive influence he had on the lives of many team members.

It also contains other very different memories of various incidents in which he was involved

− and from my own memories of being a member of cave rescue

they’re the ones that the team really treasure

▪ There’s one for example about an expedition to Skye when there was a major disaster –  the beer pump had been left behind on.

▪ Alan dealt with the problem in his typical down to earth and practical way

He punched the point of his ice axe through the side of the barrel. 

▪ As good excuse as any for finishing the barrel before the contents went flat

Or there’s another story told of when the team went into a bar in Kintail. 

▪ Informing everyone that it was his birthday Alan then bought a bottle of Newcy Brown for every team member.

And this love of climbing – and the climbing fraternity – continued to be a major part of his life after the air force

When he and Kate came home to Lochaber he became an enthusiastic member of the local climbing and mountain rescue communities

− and forged friendships that have continued right up to the present

Friendships that are well-represented in this congregation and that became increasingly important to him during his illness

A few minutes ago I said he had 2 passions : aircraft and mountains

− But that’s not exactly true for there was a third passion

that was of even greater importance than the other 2

▪ and that was his family.

His greatest passion, his strongest love, was for

− Kate, Iain and Martin, Jenny, Freya and Maggie, Gill and Lewis, and of course his brother Gordon

And as many of you will know wherever he went a photo of the grandchildren went with him

That passion and love was (and is) of course reciprocated.

To be with the Ward family is to have an insight into what family life and love really means

− and it’s on them that our thoughts and prayers really focus today

especially Kate

She and Alan shared so much

− their home, their family their friends, their interests

although I don’t think Kate ever got him to pick up a golf club!

They travelled the world together

− and Kate is left with some wonderful and incredible memories

− not least of their trip to Samoa to RLS’s graveside.

They also shared a common readiness to be there for others

− and Alan was always there to quietly and modestly do what he could to help – usually in the most practical of ways.

And that quiet strength, modesty and thoughtfulness characterised the way in which he coped with his illness.  As Kate wrote in an email to me:

− ‘He fought his illness so bravely and never complained.  He always had a smile and a word of thanks for everyone.  Sadly, he never got to ride his new mountain bike which was his one goal throughout his long battle.’

And then she goes on to quote some words from one of the many letters she’s received

− ‘I’ll remember his impish grin and his infectious chuckle, he always seemed to be laughing or joking about something.  He was a lovely guy, great fun to be around and to spend time with.’

And that’s the sort of memory he’s left all of us with 

− Memories which for me personally were summed up in something I came across in a book which I’ve just started reading again, having first picked it up back in the 1970s 

▪ for the author seems to find just the right words to describe Alan’s character to perfection :

‘A friend described himself ‘as a Christian agnostic’(and) the phrase stuck in my mind …….  I have always been attracted by those lovable men and women who rarely have anything to do with organised churches but who would never act dishonourably or meanly, who are full of generosity and helpfulness if ever one is in trouble or need, who bear their own troubles with magnificent courage, who never complain or grumble or gossip or run other people down.  I want to write for them.’

I can’t think of any words that could describe Alan better.

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