Over 70 neighbours, former neighbours and family members gathered together at St Mary’s Easton on Wednesday 20th March 2019 for the Thanksgiving Service for the life of Gerald Symes known to so many as ‘Bunny’, and to his 6 nieces and nephews and 13 great nieces and great nephews as ‘Uncle Bunny’.
A major character in the community Bunny moved to Kent about six or seven years ago having lived in Easton for many years. Those who attended the service had very fond memories of the huge number of things that he did in the community and which are referred to in the tributes below.
The service opened with John Dover the organist playing ‘Sheep may safely graze’ by J.S.Bach to the Sentences and we left the church to Fugue in E flat major (by J.S. Bach). We sang Praise my soul the King of Heaven, Abide with me, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind and Jerusalem. The reading was ‘Not how did he die but how did he live?‘ read by Peter Symes (Bunny’s nephew) and the Bible reading was John 14:1-6 read by Douglas Symes (Bunny’s nephew)(see below).
Charley Symes (Bunny’s nephew) gave the following tribute.
Gerald Symes was Uncle Bunny to me and to my two brothers Dougie and Peter and to my three cousins in the USA, Meg, Richard and Chris.
Birth and Divorce
He was born near Regents Park in London on 9 November 1924, the youngest of three children of Graham and Margaret Symes. His father left the family when Gerald was 6. it was a serious blow to the family. By then he had acquired the family nickname of Bunny by which the family and many of you knew him.
School and War
After prep school he went to Clifton College in Bristol. Clifton College moved from Bristol in 1941 because of the war, so Gerald moved back to London and finished his education from home in Marylebone with a view to studying science at University. A daily diary he kept at the time has a casual mention of “a slight raid 9:00 to 10:30”. This must have been an air raid.
During this time, he joined the Air Training Corps. While there he met Leslie Wall, who became a very good and longstanding friend; in due course so did Megan his wife and Andrew (Andy) their son. They kept up with each other for the rest of their lives. Leslie sadly died many years ago. Gerald continued in close contact with Megan and Andy, including going on holiday to various villas in Portugal together. I am happy to say they are here today. Andy is Gerald’s godson.
Although he passed for service in the R.A.F. he enlisted in the army in November 1943 just after his 19thbirthday. He worked in the Army Pay Corps in Manchester. He told me once that it was an eye opener for him. He met people from very different back grounds to himself who he would not have met otherwise. He valued this experience.
He was discharged from the army in August 1947 and then went to Kings College, London University. where he completed a science degree in 1950.
After university Gerald started work in London as an engineer draftsman with Saunders Roe designing aircraft including helicopters. In the middle 50s Gerald and his mother, our Granny, moved down from London to Chandlers Ford, He continued to work for Saunders Roe at Southampton Airport in Eastleigh. After Sanders Roe were taken over by Westland his work was transferred to Bristol. He retired to remain with his Mother, our Granny, in Easton and so became a gentleman of leisure.
Douglas, Gerald’s elder brother, our Dad moved to Dymoke House opposite this church in 1952. At the time the property included the land next to this church where Willowmead now stands. My father sold the land to Gerald and Granny, who then built the first Willowmead. They quickly became part of the village scene and developed a wonderful garden.
Hope Cottage, Pantomimes and Dogs
After Granny died, Gerald sold Willowmead to Russell and Margaret Hellier and moved to Hope Cottage in the village where he lived for over forty years. He was an active member of the community, an example of village living. He played excellent bridge, gardened, was Treasurer of the Easton and Martyr Worthy News until he left Easton in 2013 and wrote, with Polly, our Mum, the annual local pantomimes. I understand that the scripts are still on occasion used though no doubt updated to make them topical. He also was a key member of the stage management team as lighting guru. He continued his interest in stamp collecting, including taking part in local competitions and winning cups. He passed this interest on to my brother Peter.
He had wide ranging intellectual interests, including science and technology. He bought the early personal computers and wrote programs for them, continuing to do so as they developed. Among other things he studied Egyptian hieroglyphs.
He owned various dogs and was a familiar face out and about walking them. That did not stop after the death of his last dog as he then took on the care of various dogs whilst their owners worked. At one stage he even had a donkey! But I cannot remember the full history of that.
He never married but he was integral to our family life, always around at special family occasions and often at regular family meals. He had apt and funny remarks, for everyday life and specialevents. He was particularly good at helping Mum and Dad do cryptic crosswords.
He also enjoyed many happy holidays visiting his sister,our Aunty Betty, and her husband Rab in Akron, Ohio where he got to know his American nephews and niece.
He enjoyed young people and children. He was sympathetic with them and helped them learn and develop. They include:
Andy Wall his godson
Patricia, Charles and Bernadette Fox
Valerie Dufay and Adeline Tisseyre from France, and
Magda (Magdolna) Zarnóczay from Hungary, and
His great nephews and niece especially Nicholas, who shared his interest in computers and was helped with his mathematics.
They all enjoyed and liked Uncle Bunny.
In 2013 Gerald was finding Hope Cottage a little too much and wanted to move, even though he did not want to leave his friends. After a family discussion with him, he moved to sheltered accommodation in Wadhurst, East Sussex near my brother Peter and his wife Mary. Eventually he had to move from his sheltered housing to a nursing home, where in typical fashion, even with deteriorating health, he joined in all the activities.
He loved a good party. The parties he gave to celebrate his big birthdays were always grand and well organised events. He insisted on a party for his 90th in Wadhurst after he had moved. This was attended by many of his friends from Easton. He kept the list for his 100th birthday.
At the age of about 80, Uncle had an operation on his back which left him with a walking disability in his left leg. However, he did not let this hold him back. He used to visit Ann and me in London and France. In London we used to go to the theatre, and I persuaded him to get a free bus pass for Hampshire so he could and did travel free on London buses with us.
He did however have a disabled parking badge, valid throughout the European Community. We found this very convenient when he came to visit us in France which he did until the age of 90.
His love of parties, easy sociability and surprisingly good French meant he was popular with our French friends. At one barbecue they organised he was the centre of attention and they very much enjoyed him and thought he looked like Prince Charles.
Uncle was a very good ballroom dancer and jiver. He was the last man dancing at his great niece’s, Harriet’s wedding.
Late in his life, just before he went into Wadhurst Manor Care home he took Ann and me on an upmarket cruise down the Danube. Most of our fellow travellers were Americans. For all the excursions Uncle needed a wheelchair. However, when back on the boat for the evening dinner and relaxation, he was persuaded to dance by two wives who had been abandoned by their husbands. It was no problem for Uncle to cast aside his walker and dance with skill and energy.
Last Years and Dementia
In his last years his health deteriorated with the slow but steady onset of senile dementia, but he was always gentle and good tempered to the very end. This meant that he and his carers liked each other and treated each other well.
Uncle was highly intelligent with a lot of intellectual curiosity. He was kind and gentle with a good sense of fun. He brought a lot of knowledge and happiness into many people’s lives. I would like to close with one of the farewell remembrances given to him when he left Easton for Wadhurst.
’I always remember at one of your birthday parties, [Bunny], a nephew said ‘Every [family] should have an Uncle Bunny’. Well the same could be said about every village or community. You have enriched so many lives here and you will be greatly missed
Charley Symes (nephew)
Revd Alex Pease gave the following address:
It’s always a shame when people who have lived in a community for so long need to move closer to their families as they get older but these decisions are always taken with love and, even though painful, in their best interests, as was the decision in the case of Bunny moving from Easton to East Sussex.
Sadly, this meant that I did not get to know him….but his reputation lives on and numerous people mentioned him to me when I arrived here five years ago. He is remembered in the community as: the brilliant bridge player, with a seriously mathematical mind, the stamp collector, the gardener and barbecuer of sausages at the Easton Fete and, although never married, as someone who had friends across the generations, and had the greatest of affection for his 6 nieces and nephews and 13 great nieces and great nephews.
Despite a stutter (which really kept him from acting), he had been a driving force behind the Easton Panto for so many years both in script writing and behind the scenes, a supporter of the church but with a private faith but, importantly, the sort of person who helps turn a group of random people living in close proximity into a community….he was, in his generation, part of the human bricks and mortar of making Easton the sort of village that it is today, a place where people know each other and learn to look out for each other even if they are not at the same stage of life.
People like Bunny (and there are many of them in the Itchen Valley) give a practical outworking to what it means when Jesus says that we must love our neighbours as ourselves.
But why is it appropriate when we are at a funeral to talk about how we treat our neighbours? Doesn’t death make what we do, how we spend our time irrelevant futile?
Well, doing the sort of things that Bunny did while he lived in Easton does of course make our lives in these villages richer and more enjoyable even now but also as we make the effort for the Panto, or the Fete, or the Cricket Club, or the Church (when we could, instead, spend our time just doing things for ourselves); as we look out for our neighbours; as we give up our time, and use our talents for the common good, we are following a path which Jesus has set and upon which Jesus goes ahead of us.
A path which starts now but actually transcends death and goes on into eternity.
So we should not worry about whether death makes insignificant everything that we do today. As Jesus says: ‘Don’t worry’ ‘do not let your hearts be troubled’. In other words: It’s all going to be fine because, I am going ahead of you, follow me, do what I call you to do and trust in me….
Wonderful Thomas, who may doubt, but is no fool, says very reasonably as we might say: ‘Lord we don’t know where you are going, How can we know the way?’
Jesus replies: ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’.
When we as Christians cross over that final barrier we find that we are and have been following a path which transcends death; a path upon which we have been set all our lives; a path of following Jesus
Jesus says the way to live our lives today and the way to cross this final barrier of death, the way to die, is to trust in Jesus and follow the way he has set for us.
But what does ‘trusting in Jesus mean?’
We can only trust someone that we know and getting to know Jesus is undoubtedly life’s most important task and its greatest privilege.
If we want to get to know the way, the truth and the life then the time to start is now.
Jesus the Way to the Father
14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 14:1–6). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.