Howard’s Eulogy Read at his funeral by his wife, Eimear Burke April 14th 2015 One of the first things Irish people ask when meeting someone for the first time is, ”Where are you from?” There is usually a straightforward answer. But with Howard it never was straightforward. It began with “I was born in Wales of a Scottish mother, Irish father. I lived in a number of towns in the north of England so I don’t have a home town. When I lived in Scotland, despite my surname, people thought I was English. When I moved to Ireland people thought I was Scottish. Where am I from? I am a European; I can belong to anywhere in this world.” Howard was the middle of three sons. His two brothers David and John are here today. His childhood was not a particularly happy one, looking back he would have said he was a depressed boy. This often manifested itself in delinquency. He would go out at night with his catapult and shoot stones through windows. His aim was to leave a perfect hole in the glass, not to shatter it. He moved by stealth and silence and was never caught. Howard failed his 11+. His parents were told that he was not fit for academic education. Fortunately they did not accept this and Howard was sent to a Quaker boarding school in Yorkshire. The entrance exam involved writing an essay about something he knew – and this was natural history. Howard’s keen interest in the natural world was evident right from the beginning. As a child he would build himself a hide in the garden and watch the birds, sometimes he’d set traps to catch birds so he could watch them more closely. He had a keen interest in insects, particularly hover flies. He was interviewed on BBC radio about hover flies and in school he was known as ’Hover fly Howard’. His biology teacher was a member of the Ornithological Society and he had a license to ring birds. He would do this with his students. One starling that Howard had ringed was found in Siberia. Despite Howard’s interest in nature, his biology teacher did not think he was bright enough to be a scientist so he advised Howard to study medicine. Howard enjoyed his time at Bootham. One of his school friends Mike Holmes came to visit him a few weeks ago. They hadn’t seen one another for 30 years and they just picked up where they had left off. Howard was accepted into Manchester University to study medicine. Howard, although socially very anxious and shy, made many friends there. He was so pleased that some of them managed to visit him before he passed. Howard was not a particularly good student. He did manage to pass his finals. While Howard was in Manchester he met his first wife Dorothy. They married and their first 3 children Richard and James who are twins and William were born while they were in Manchester. Actually the 3 of them were really Irish twins. Howard specialised in General Practice and was a GP in Scotland for 17 years. Their other 2 children Thomas and Lizy were born in Dumfries in Scotland. When Howard was in his mid-40’s he left general practice to study psychiatry where he specialised in child and adolescent psychiatry. He lived in Leeds for 2 years before coming to Ireland in 1994. At that point all 5 children had left home and this was to be a new phase in Howard’s and Dorothy’s life together. She was going to run the Rectory as a B&B and Howard had his Consultant’s post here in Kilkenny. Unfortunately this was not to be. Within their first year here Dorothy was diagnosed with cancer and she passed away in January 1996. We met 9 months later and the rest is history. So who was Howard? I remember many years ago someone saying to me that Howard was difficult to know. I never understood what this meant. In our early conversations together he talked about his life and how he wanted to live it. He also talked about the epitaph he would like, “He was Known”. Howard was humble, arrogant, gentle, strong, loyal, caring, giving... He was a person who said ‘Yes’ to life, which gave the impression that he was so easy-going that he was easily led and controlled. Not So! He could be quite stubborn. Howard could not be made do anything he did not want to do. What did Howard do? He was a cook, baker of bread, electrician, plumber, carpenter, hill walker, healer, druid, shaman, fire-keeper, poet, jazz fan, friend, lover, husband, wonderful father to Ruadhán & Caoilfhionn,, home educator, sage, mage, carer, teacher, birdwatcher, gardener, empowerer, inspirer............ Jane, his former secretary, when he retired, sent him a soft toy – an Emperor Penguin – as you know the male Emperor Penguin protects the egg from the harsh Antarctic winter. She said he was like the male Emperor Penguin who protected his team from the HSE management. Howard was appointed to set up and develop the Child and Family Consultation Service (CFCS) as it was known then. He was very creative and unique in his approach to his work with clients, his team. Unfortunately this was not appreciated by management within the HSE. His work became more and more stressful for him, he felt bullied by management. Despite this he helped to develop a team of excellence which is still going strong. He retired early at the age of 61. Howard’s life became much easier after his retirement. It was at this time that he began to write. His one regret was that he had not engaged with the arts earlier in his life. That may well be but to have completed 2 books within the last 4 weeks of his life was some achievement. He was working on an occasional paper about the significance of rock carvings in Ormaig in Scotland on the morning of his passing. He used to say “I’m not good craic... I’m not quick enough with jokes”. But what a joy he was to be with’. How he would enthral us with his wisdom and his unique perspective. Howard lived life so fully - he would tell me that he and Dorothy lived enough for 2 lives and it was the same with us. Howard did not have a sense of entitlement so when he got his cancer diagnosis he accepted it. He did not battle with his cancer rather he described himself as weaving his way with cancer. He walked with one leg of pessimism and one leg of optimism. Just before his diagnosis Howard got a tablet where he discovered ‘the Google’ so he was ready to research as widely as possible all treatments for bladder and pancreatic cancers (this was his leg of optimism). He only took treatments which had a long folk history or which had been properly researched – these included herbal tinctures, a mesolithic diet, wild foods, seeds, nuts, raw foods, cooked foods, Vitamin E. He became very much attuned to his body and to what his body needed on anyone day – this was so until the day he passed. In February, when it transpired that there was no further effective treatment for his cancer, Howard accepted it (the leg of pessimism had prepared him for this). He was very calm just as Dorothy had been about her diagnosis. The last 6 weeks of Howard’s life when he came home from the hospital were a joy for him. It was a time of creativity and productivity. He produced two books. So many times a day he spoke of how much he loved his life. On March 18th he said,”I so love my life as it is now. It is a real party.” He expressed gratitude for how much he was loved and so well taken care of. He loved Mairéad’s daily foot spas & nursing care; Caoilfhionn’s hugs and the lavender pouch she made for him which he actually held in his hand at the time he passed; Lizy’s tower of pragmatism and holding of the family; He was so moved by Ruadhán’s and Tommy’s video of his Aristotle poem; James’ texts about his observations in nature were a comfort to him. He love the daily banter with the palliative care nurses and public health nurses; He was so grateful for the love and support we received from friends and neighbours, the deliveries of wood and briquettes, the cooked meals, the bread and cakes left outside our door in the mornings; the texts, cards & messages of love and blessings he received from so many people. The Howard I know has always been a carer, hospitable, supportive & loving. He really reaped in his last weeks what he had sown earlier. It was an absolute joy to look after him. Howard embraced death with such grace and calm – a model for us all. People loved and admired Howard but it was only in recent years that he could begin to see and acknowledge how or what why they did love and admire about him. Here are what some people said: “His personality & demeanour always brought a smile to my heart. This world has lost a true friend & spirited soul. I will miss his zest & natural warmth.” “There is a wall of tears coming down for this man. Lúgh Lamhfhada in my heart. A true indigenous, brave heart, soul that can only inspire when you make a fire with him.” “What a wonderful soul he was. We both loved his beauty & love of life & he gave great love & wisdom to those who sat in his presence.” “Thank you, for you touch my soul with your wisdom words.” “A beacon by the flowing river.” “Howard blessed this world with originality & generosity & love.” “I have met few people who were as bright & well read, without bragging about it, as kind without looking for anything in return & who saw everything without judging.” “Insightful, intelligent, curious, humourous, witty, pithy, kind gentle, quirky, fun loving.” “His life was gentle & the elements so mixed in him, that nature might stand up & say to all the world, ‘This was a great man’.” “A beautiful beacon for us all to aspire to.” “A true gentleman, scholar, wise elder.” Well Howard after all this it can be said that you have indeed earned your epitaph: “You were known”. Ní bheidh do leithéid ann arís!
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