Roy George (Peter) Jecks – A Son’s Perspective
Even knowing what to call him is fraught with difficulty. He was known as “Peter” for most of his life; in the Army he was known as “Lieutenant”, before a brief stint as “Private” (we won’t go into that), and rising later to the dizzying heights of “Captain”. But to the family, after seeing Eric Morecombe call Ernie Wise a “Funny little man with short, hairy legs”, it seemed only natural that our father would be named “Funny Little Fat Man”. And he liked it, I think. In recent years he became TOM, for “The Old Man”, when he turned into a slimmed-down version of himself, or “Grumps” by many of his uncountable grandchildren, but for me he was always FLFM.
The Fat Man was always a delightful, outgoing character. When a toddler, he would wake in the early hours and demand that his parents should play with their only child. They were modern parents. They believed in indulging their young son. So at three a.m. and earlier, they would play. Naturally, after a while, they wondered whether they had a hyperactive child. They took him to a child analyst, who cost them the then appalling sum of twenty one shillings for an hour’s consultation. At the end, he told them gravely that the only thing their son suffered from was a lack of parental discipline. “What should we do?” his father asked the consultant. “If I were you, I’d give him a good smack on the bottom,” was the cheering advice.
RG Jecks’s father used to say gleefully, so I am told, that the next time The Fat Man tried appealing to his parents to play at three in the morning, his father got the full guinea’s worth.
He achieved a lot in his ninety six and a half years.
With impending war, he was one of the first to be called up. This was one of his less intelligent moves: you see his best friend, Don Morton, and he were convinced by someone that the safest place to be at the outbreak of war was in the Territorial Army. They would be the last to be called up. How the two could have been convinced of such a daft line, I do not know, but the two duly joined up, and naturally they were in the thin green line that was called up in the first mobilisation.
The Old Man was soon spotted as a bright spark, and was lucky enough to be stationed far behind any danger in the new Regiment, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, of which I believe he was a founder, and was soon an expert in RADAR.
When he was demobbed, he quickly decided to become an Actuary, having heard that the pay was good. He qualified in 1951, and started employment at the Legal and General for the princely salary of £1,000. He was rich. Soon he was noticed by the L&G: with his wartime experience in REME, he was selected to learn about computers, and was the first Actuary to be trained on an IBM System One. He was the nation’s first Data Processing Manager of any insurance company, and he retained that until his retirement.
Not that he believed in working overly hard. Although he only ever took a total of three days off sick from work in the whole of his career, he also took every single day he was entitled to in holidays, and was keen to advise others to do the same, including those working for him. Workers in those paternalistic days were fortunate. His methods of management were based on the systems of leadership he learned in the army: he would eat his lunch in the staff canteen so he could hear the gossip and learn how the staff felt about the company; he knew all his staff by first name, as well as knowing all their wives’ names, children’s and any interesting aspects of their lives, and would walk through departments daily to speak to staff. Many thought that it was because he had a marvellous brain. No. But he did have an efficient card index system. Each day before walking to a specific department to speak to staff, he would read through his indexes first. He knew the importance of motivation.
He was, of course, an Actuary’s nightmare. He lived to enjoy more years taking his pension than he did paying into it. Still, he found time to keep busy. Although he retired at a younger age than I am now, he took time to work as a consultant with other companies. He hugely enjoyed his two years spent in Nairobi, setting up a new computer system for the Kenya National Assurance Company, and loved sitting in his back garden in the sun, drinking ice cold Tusker beers, or putting on a jacket and tie and going to the Muthaiga Country Club.
But he was happiest with his four real loves: his wife, his family, his Rhodesian Ridgebacks and his pipes – until he gave up smoking. He felt that at the age of seventy five or so, it was better not to tempt fate any longer.
He was always utterly devoted to his wife, Beryl, our mother. They were married for sixty six happy years, and even after her death, he remained independent, self-reliant, and a contented supplier of gin, dubonnet and whisky to anyone who visited.
It says a lot for him that, on the day of our mother’s funeral, he went to her celebration and mingled with the guests, gave an oration that had everyone laughing, ate and drank to her health, and then, when he returned to his flat for a snooze, fell down and had to have a medic called to patch him up. Yet after all that, he was still keen to go out for supper with Clive and others.
He lived life to the full, utterly convinced that this life was the only one on offer. He intended to hold onto it for as long as was practicably possible, and as with most things he set his mind on, he achieved that too. After all, how many people can say that they went skiing for the first time in 1935, and the second in the mid-80s? He was hopeless, but he enjoyed himself, as always.
And now he’s gone.
When remembering people who have died, it is often the fact that those left behind will have sadness. It could be that things were not said that should have been; that the end was traumatic; that a grudge was allowed to fester; that an apology was neither given nor asked for.
I am sad that when my father was ill in the early months of this year it grew progressively harder to speak to him – my deafness and his slurring made FaceTime a boon and the telephone an instrument of torture. Although I tried to hurry up the motorway to see him, I did not manage it as often as I would have liked. And yet, there was nothing we needed to say to each other. I know he adored his grandchildren, and (most of the time) his sons. I think he found us infinitely easier to get on with when we became adults (more or less). He never understood children when his own brood were younger, but that changed as he aged and, like a good wine, mellowed.
He did not understand how a son of his could have leaped into the white water lunacy of trying to earn a living as an author, and every time he asked how the income was, and heard the depressingly honest response, I could see that he wished I had followed him into the Actuarial profession (I tried – it was my first and only experience of failing every exam I took). But he never criticised or tried to tell me I was wrong, and I think he was genuinely as proud of me as he was my sister Caroline and my brothers Alan, Clive and Keith (who are actually enormously successful and have pensions to prove it). And now I have his collection of Jecks titles, I know that he did read them all!
Yes, we will miss him. But it’s the selfishness speaking. We, the four sons and our sister, will miss the “Wotcha, Cock” on the phone, the sense of fun, the puffs of pipe smoke by which you could gauge his position over the other side of the hedge as he went up and down on his lawn mower, the shrewdness, the mathematical brilliance even at ninety six, the recollections of his life in the army, at school, at the L&G, his refusal to move from his armchair until an emergency called, such as Keith, the most gormelessly accident-prone of all the family, cutting off the top of his thumb and asking for help from the kitchen.
But when I think of him, I’ll always see him strolling along a Devon lane with his Rhodesian Ridgeback, Kumi or Suzie, or standing at the top of Helvellyn with Don Morton, or sitting with a pint in a quiet pub, or laughing till the tears streamed down his face, gin and dubonnet in hand, while he tried to tell us the punchline of a joke, and failed miserably because he was laughing so much.
There’s a lot to miss.
15 June 1920 – 11 March 2017