This tribute was read out by John Hoskins at the funeral of Geoff Stevens at St Mary’s Avington on Tuesday 8th July 2014.
9th July 1923 – 22nd June 2014
How ironic this sad occasion is, tomorrow Geoff should have been celebrating his 91st birthday, but here we are today celebrating his life.
When Geoff was only eight years old his mother, Edith, died after she and his father, Alfred, were both hospitalised after contracting pneumonia. His sister, Marge, who was only thirteen at the time, took on the role of his mother and the love between them lasted all their lives. Sadly he lost his sister only a short time ago.
Geoff’s father worked as a farm hand and had to move from one farm to another to find work to feed his family. His expertise was often called upon to help cure the ailments of animals on these farms. Geoff followed his father onto the land, and often said how hard this work had been. He described working with the heavy horses – ploughing, sowing, harvesting and haymaking. He was always up by 6 a.m., sometimes having to cycle many miles to his place of work, and not finishing until dusk. He also had to turn his hand to a variety of tasks including milking, calving and lambing. Later he worked with George, as a woodcutter. His brother continued to work in forestry when he emigrated to Australia.
On the 3rd February 1941, when Geoff was seventeen, he enlisted into the 70th Battalion Royal Hampshires which was a youth battalion, and then on the 2nd July 1942 he transferred over to the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry with which he did his active service.
Geoff never talked about the war years very much. He recalled fantastic stars and freezing nights spent in camps in the North African deserts; his horrendous voyages on the troop ships and time spent in Gibralter. Geoff’s military background stayed with him all his life; he always stood very straight and upright and was very disciplined in his approach to life, nearly always wearing a collar and tie and looking very smart. He would often stand to attention when you walked into a room where he was working and if he had a broom in his hand at the time he would ’present’ it onto his shoulder as if it was his rifle! In later life he rode his bike to work sitting in the same military upright position! Indeed in continued to ride his bike well into his eighties and when he was ninety would still walk the mile or so to work at Avington when he thought the roads became just too busy for him to cycle on. He was very proud that he had served for his Queen and Country and am sure he thought the youth of today would never have survived what he and his comrades had to go through.
He worked with the Electricity Board after the War as a line repair man, climbing up pylons to make repairs; he often said that nobody realised just how cold it was up there and how heavy the wires were when covered in ice.
We all know that Geoff was a very private man and would not divulge much about his life, but he did like company and was always very happy to chat over a cup of coffee. His life has been quite a difficult one and, in the latter years, quite lonely.
He married a Portugese lady, Euphrasia, and had many happy years travelling and holidaying in Portugal before sadly she became ill and bedridden. He devoted himself to looking after her until her passing in 1990.
Many of Geoff’s happiest times were spent of cruise ships. He went by himself on liners mainly around the Mediterranean and loved talking about his dinners on the Captain’s Table and showing photographs of himself dressed very dapper with the Captain and crew. His last cruise a couple of years ago was to the Baltic where sadly the views were obscured by fog, but this didn’t detract from his enjoyment of being spoilt for two or three weeks and enjoying the company of his travelling companions.
Geoff didn’t seem to mind travelling alone and in his eighties would make the daunting journey to Australia to see his brother, George, and niece, Joan, and see for himself some of the country they had spoken to him about. George had also travelled back to England several times to see the family he had left behind.
When most people would be enjoying retirement Geoff came to work at Avington. He came for the odd day a week in the summer of 1997 and ended up staying for seventeen years. He was still coming to clean the brass until a few weeks ago because he knew he was the only one who had the time to do it and make it shine as it should. We always knew when he was polishing the front door bell as he would come and warn us it would be ringing for the next few minutes and not to rush to answer it as he made it gleam. His main and most important task at Avington was to lay the fires. He was totally convinced that no-one, including Sarah and Charlie, had any idea how to lay a fire properly or as well as he did it. Woe betide anyone who questioned how much paper or coal he used! He would brandish his sooty hands and woefully moan with a glint in his eye! His friends at Avington were very fond of Geoff, for his feisty spirit and dry sense of humour and amusing way of talking to people– almost as if he had an exciting secret to impart.
Liz had an ongoing joke with Geoff that went on for many years and he never tired of it – she told him when he first began laying the fire in the hall that he looked like Cinderella, he was delighted with such an improbable comparison, and from that time on he would corner Liz every time he saw her and say in his uniquely humorous way that he would “never get to the Ball”!
Geoff was a very dear man and we hope that now he has finally got to the equivalent of ‘The Ball’. We all have our own memories of him and will miss him very much.
Pat and John Hoskins