Monday, 9 May 2005

Eulogy

This is a serious post, unlike nearly all the other 236 in this blog.
I have been diligently scribbling for more than sixty years. I enjoyed doing it (even the quarter of a million words of penny-a-line journalism) but nothing I put down was worth preserving, except for the piece I reproduce below.
In 1993 a man who had been my friend and mentor for eighteen years died. In 1975 I had taken over from him the administration of an international sports federation of which he had been the Honorary General Secretary; I became its Secretary-General and was not badly paid for doing the work he had done for nothing since the 1930s (all this time he had had a paid job as a local authority official).
Although the piece I wrote – not really an obituary, for it gave few biographical details – went out to around a hundred countries, it was probably read by only a few hundred people. But I am proud of it because my friend’s widow, who had been married to him for sixty years, said after reading it, “You got him right”.


Peking (now Beijing) 1972

Bill Vint, the least deceitful of men, had a deceptive personality – like his name, which was not Bill at all, but Arthur Kingsley.
It is true that he was, as he appeared to be, a gentle and kindly man, but in other respects he was not at all what he seemed. For one thing, his staid demeanour and the conservatism of his dress and habits might have led one to suppose that he was a fuddy-duddy, set in his ways and hostile to change. Not a bit of it – Bill was a radical, always dismissive of old ideas and receptive to new ones. The fact that something had always been done one way was, to him, a challenge to find a new and better way. For example, he had seen many years ago that computers would revolutionise office work, and was enthusiastic about their introduction; if they had been available during his day as General Secretary he would certainly have ensured that the federation had the latest and best ones.
Then again, the unchanging mildness of his manner and his desire to please everyone might have suggested that he was a trimmer, blown with any wind, easy to sway. This would have been a serious misapprehension, for underneath his diffidence lay a rock-hard integrity; he was not a stickler for correctness in the usual sense and would compromise on almost anything to find the solution to a problem but never, ever, would he compromise on decency or fairness, for these were his watchwords.
From these qualities sprang his skill as a mediator. Malice, impatience and contempt were unknown to him; he would never take offence or stand on his dignity. He was rarely angry, and then usually only with himself, for having failed, in his own eyes, to achieve the highest standards in some trivial matter. But he had enormous tolerance for the frailties of others and assumed that everyone’s intentions were as good as his, and that those he dealt with could be trusted. Of course, he was sometimes let down or deceived; but not often, for he seemed to bring out the best in people, who generally responded to his sincerity as they might not have done to someone who was merely conciliatory or subtle.
In 1976, having been instrumental in building up the federation’s administration and then acquiring and setting up its first permanent office, he handed it over as soon as it was ready to me, a newly-engaged employee with no experience in sports administration and no background in the sport. This was his choice, but even so a lesser man might have found it difficult; if Bill did he never showed it. Though he had to come to the office almost every day, he never sat at a desk or took his hat and coat off; this was his way of telling me that it was my office and he was there only to help.
For a year he gently inducted me into the world of sport, somehow without appearing to give any direct instructions. “Perhaps it would be good if …..”, he would say, or “I think I should feel inclined to …..”. Nor did he ever utter a rebuke; the nearest he came to it was on an occasion when I had committed a major blunder which would clearly cause a lot of trouble. “There may be some complaints”, he observed mildly.
Thus he passed into my inexperienced hands the fruits of his many years of unpaid work, and then retired after the 34th World Championships in 1977. Nobody wanted him to go, so he was never allowed to retire completely. He never gave advice unless asked, but naturally I and others all over the world did ask, frequently, and for years continued to benefit from his sage counsel.
The federation owes much to Bill’s wife Nora, whose devotion enabled him to indulge his obsession with the sport and its administration, and on whose support he became increasingly dependent in later years. And yet, on his last appearance at a major event, in Dortmund in 1992, he was, though frail, still busy doing what he was so good at – rallying the disaffected, counselling the perplexed, calming the intemperate.

It is good to reflect that in his last years he must have become aware of the affection, esteem and trust which he inspired in so many people all over the world. We shall all miss him very much; he is irreplaceable.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

There could probably be no greater validation of a life, than for a friend write such a beautiful, worthy tribute after it's over.


Great White North Boy

bonhead said...

Your Eulogy tells us a lot about Mr. Arthur Kingsley, Tony. But it also tells us a lot about you.