& Nan Stewart - Diamond Wedding Celebrations
28th February 2003 to 2nd March 2003, Crieff Hydro Hotel
Transcript of the speech given by Gregor Stewart, youngest son of Alf & Nan Stewart
My Mum for some of you Gran, Great Gran, auntie, cousin like a diamond shes a multi-faceted person told me recently that she looked in the mirror and was shocked to see an old lady staring back at her. Inside, she didnt feel any different from when she was just 20 years old.
My Dad is much the same, he refuses to accept that his body, which has served him well for over 94 years now, is now a bit creaky and unresponsive. Hes equally surprised to find hes no longer on the Scottish football teams call-up list.
Time may have withered them somewhat, but their spirits have managed to stay forever young. And I believe, in large part, thats happened because theyve constantly questioned the world around them.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter, said Martin Luther King Ive rarely witnessed my Mum or Dad silent on any subject that matters.
Together theyve been quite a formidable team. And tonight, is a celebration of the years that my Mum and Dad, Nan and Alf, have enjoyed together. A diamond celebration, of a diamond life.
Let me take you back 64 years to 1939. World War II had broken out across Europe. But in Dundee, love was in the air.
Mum was living in the citys West End. Shed helped set up a community of people, living together in a big old house rented from a Lady whod move to Pitlochry for the duration of the War. They firmly believed, among other things, that war wasnt the way to settle the worlds problems. Hmmm, now why does that sound familiar?
If this had been the 60s Mum might have been thought of as a wild-haired Hippy; in the 70s a mohick-end Punk; in the 90s a dreadlocked Crusty - or today, perhaps even a clean-cut anti-Globalisation activist.
The point is that the people in this particular 1940s community thought about things differently from others of the time, they believed the world could work in a better way and, most importantly, they lived their lives accordingly.
You must be the change you want to see in the world, said Mahatma Gandhi and they tried to be just that change.
Anyway this community wasnt only all about putting the world to rights. In this big old West End house they had regular musical evenings - and on one of these occasions my Dad turned up. I guess Cupid must have been hovering somewhere near-by, because they decided to get together as a couple.
Clearly Mum had never heard Dad singing during these evenings, although I understand he may have been able to knock out a decent tune on the mandolin..
Romantic walking holidays in the Highlands provided a backdrop to their courtship. Im assuming here that the warmth of young love meant the things Scotland is famous for the cold, the wet and the midgies - didnt intrude too much on loves young dream.
During one such excursion on a balmy night tramping the hills beneath a blanket of stars - they were serenaded by a tenor from a local Opera group. A little bit of Verona had come to Scotland, and I know the memory of those times stays warm with them now.
To cut a long story short, the heather was on fire, and the pair of them decided to get married war or no war. So on the Saturday 6th March 1943, at St. Margarets Church, Lochee, Alf Stewart and Annie Fawkes became husband and wife.
Two small problems stood in the way of newly weds however they had no money and nowhere to live together. So one day they took the Fifie the old ferry boat from Dundee over to Newport and found a huge old house to rent, with magnificent views up and down the Tay estuary. It was perfect well, after some serious spring cleaning it was - and they moved in.
As a registered conscientious objector to the War, Dad had taken a job as a forester along the river in Tensmuir and Mum took up teaching training at the local Primary School down in Tayport they were poor, but they were happy and stable - and they started a family.
I guess most of us in this room know what happened next from all our various perspectives. Five kids led to, ten grand children and six great-grand children so far. The future of the clan seem guaranteed. Although Im now told that its down to Gavin or me to supply a male heir in order to keep the Stewart name going.
But it seems to me, theres been more to this marriage than just substantially adding to the British population. There have been a number of central, guiding themes through my Mum and Dads time together.
Perhaps the most important has been a sense of family and belonging. Mum and Dad had tough childhoods, in different ways, and I think they developed an undeclared determination to create a solid and loving family structure that would guarantee their kids a better deal for the future.
Over time that loving family structure has naturally developed, I think, into a rather beautiful piece of architecture. All those reasonably well-adjusted children, grand-children and great-grand children have given them immeasurable pleasure and satisfaction over the years. And in turn they have been the rock, the foundation on which weve all relied. They deserve to be proud of their achievements.
The memory of all Dads brothers and sister, and their families have stayed close with them too. Equally, Mums brother and sisters family remain dear in their hearts. There will be some of us here this evening whove never met each other before tonight, but were all part of the same Stewart and Fawkes diaspora. We share the same genes - and probably share the same inability to sing in tune. So no singsongs please.
Another major theme with Mum and Dad has been travel. Dad never ceases to proudly remind me that we belong to the tinker Stewarts rather than the more noble and money-ed variety of Royal Stuarts. The tinker Stewarts fondness of travelling and caravans has clearly carried through to Mum and Dad.
That love of travel has lead them to explore most of the British Isles and much of Western Europe usually in a wide variety of old-bangers. Im pleased to say that when it came to exploring North America and Russia in later years, they gave up the caravanettes and did things in a little more comfort finally giving in slightly, but not too much, to their mature years.
Their travel adventures have rarely involved just lying on a beach for two weeks doing absolutely nothing, theres always been a purpose. To see the treasures of Greek civilisation; the galleries of Paris and Florence; the snow capped peaks of the Alps or the vast the canyons of Arizona. They were, they are, thirsting for the expansion of knowledge, the stretching of the imagination, that travel brings. And despite the odd vehicle breakdown, they always seemed to achieve their goals. Many roads have they travelled, and much have they seen.
This takes me on to the next big theme in their lives education. Mum spent her career in primary education and they were always keen that everyone in the family should achieve to the maximum of their academic ability. Theyve always wanted the best for us and had the foresight to know that a good education is the foundation for a fulfilling life. Its a belief that Mum has maintained, and nowhere is that more apparent than her own achievement of a degree through the Open University in retirement.
We sometimes forget that Mum and Dad have been fortunate enough to have a second family in the form of The Religious Society of Friends, the Quakers. Within that Quaker family they are surrounded by love and people who care for them deeply. Quaker belief has always guided them.
For me, Mum and Dads attitude to life is embodied in the words of the Quaker William Penn, I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good therefore I can do, or any kindness or abilities I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.
I suppose its possible to argue that there is yet another family at least for Dad - the Labour Party. Dad spent most of his post-War career working for a Labour Party determined to better the lot of ordinary people. Politics for Mum and Dad has always been about honesty, arguing your case forcefully but with a sense of gentleness.
I remember as a kid walking with Dad out of the Dundee Labour Party office and bumping into a well-dressed man who Dad proceeded to have a very warm and friendly chat with over the forthcoming election campaign.
As we walked on, I asked my Dad, who was that? Oh hes my opposite number in the Conservative Party, he replied How could you be so nice to him? I spluttered in shock. Because you should be passionate about politics, but dont take politics personally, he laughed at my naivety.
And its that gentle conviction to firmly held beliefs that I feel has been the defining character of Mum and Dads sixty odd years together.
It has been a wonderful life, a wonderful marriage just like a diamond, precious and a thing of beauty. I count myself blessed to have been a small part of their world. If the rest of us are half as happy as Mum and Dad after 60 years, we should count ourselves very lucky indeed.
To Mum and Dad, a very happy Diamond anniversary!
Malcolm Stewart then gave a toast to Mum & Dad.
Mum then made a speech thanking everyone for their kindness.
© 2003 The Stewarts & Ian Goodall