Today my brother Colin died.
He had aggressive cancers in his bowels, stomach, liver and pancreas. He dealt with these inconveniences with grace and wit; and gratitude to medical staff, loved ones and friends. He would not have described himself as a Christian believer, although he understood the way of Jesus as the greatest wisdom available to human beings, and the doctrines of Christian faith, especially the promises of the arrival of God’s kingdom, as profound metaphors of what should be expected (and not expected) of human politics.
As a philosopher he had worked in a department of philosophy but when his university abandoned the “love of wisdom” moved on to the study of societies and political systems. It seemed right that he should become the first Chief Executive of the Scottish Government’s Improvement Service for local authorities in Scotland. In this service he was utterly devoted to facts, on the one hand, and the human beings charged with facing them, on the other. He encouraged politicians and public servants to have the courage to work with the available facts, while knowing how difficult this might be, and offering goodwill even to those who wanted to evade them.
He was a man of quicksilver wit, always ready to conceive of those surprising little possibilities that contradicted lazy prejudice or piety; but reserving his most perfect put-downs for those who thought they were smart.
He believed in equality, public service and kindness.
Ah, where will I find him again, that irreplaceable person, that gallus goodwill, that democratic devilment, that common-sense compassion? I do not know where, but I do know that I will have to seek out these qualities in others and in myself if I am to do any honour to his memory. He found it difficult to understand how human beings could neglect the virtues of communal provision in favour of some private benefit, that they could prefer a weekly fish-supper to paying the same amount for an adequate health service. He would understand my personal grief at his death, but would want me to get off my arse and fight for his values.
Last night I touched his head and mumbled inadequate farewells. Today I need better words to speak for me:
Quis desiderio sit pudor aut modus
tam cari capitis? Praecipe lugubris
cantus Melpomene, cui liquidam pater
vocem cum cithara dedit.
( what shame or measure should the yearning have
for such a dear head? Teach me a mourning song
Melpomene, for the Father has given you
A rippling voice and a lyre.)
Horace, Odes 1, 24.