A Eulogy for Peter George Huntley

What follows is the text of my eulogy to my father, Peter Huntley, who tragically died on Sunday 19th February 2012. It was read out at his funeral on Friday 2nd March 2012, which I wrote about (and there’s a video too).

My dad never taught me how to shave. He never taught me to fish, or to cheer on a winning football team. He never taught me how to build a fire or to give a firm handshake or to stand up to a bully in a fistfight.

I suppose that my dad was not like other dads.

My dad never taught me to drive. That one is probably for the best. But he did teach me that if your car won’t start, that the correct course of action is to shout “Bastard! Bastard! Bastard!” at it. He always had a special relationship with machines, and… I already miss him phoning me up because he can’t get his printer to work or because his Internet connection has gone down. But that didn’t stop him from trying, and one of my fondest memories of him is of an Easter, 20 years ago, when he and I worked together to build what became my first “kit” computer.

And though he didn’t teach me to drive, he did teach me to read a bus timetable. And he taught me how to change a bike tyre using a bent tablespoon. Years later, I learned that there’s actually a tool for the purpose for which my dad used to use a tablespoon, but he always insisted that his way was better. He was stubborn, and that wasn’t always a bad thing: his refusal to give up, to keep pushing no matter what, shows an admirable and enviable determination and focus. It’s that same stubbornness that fuelled his sponsored runs, climbs, swims and cycle rides, each one harder than the last.

My dad taught me that you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. Sometimes it was hard to be his friend, and sometimes it was hard to be his family. But I’m honoured to have both called him my father, and called him my friend. You know what else he taught me? That you look after your family. He was always there for me and my sisters. And it didn’t matter whether I’d disappointed him, or whether I’d made him proud – he wanted to share in it. He once said to me, during a tough time for me: “If there’s anything that I can do – anything at all – then let me know. You know that I’m no good at the emotional stuff, but I’ll help you any way I can.”

My dad did teach how to put on a tie. But he also taught me that when you wear a tie, you wear it for somebody else, and you should always ask yourself who it is that you’re wearing it for. He was a man who loved his work, but who refused to be defined by something as trivial as his job title. He was a man who needed freedom – the freedom to drop everything and escape to the mountains for a few days, or to jump on a flight to the other side of the world, or – as you’ve seen – the freedom to sing and dance and not for a second care that he had a talent for neither.

My dad didn’t teach me how to ace a job interview or how to get ahead in the rat race. Instead, he taught me that there are far more important things in life than money. He taught me that success comes from making an impact on the world. From standing up – alone, if you have to – for the things that you believe in. My dad was a man who knew that the “right thing” to do was not always a “legal thing” to do. A man whose feats and courage seemed to transcend the boundaries of what most of us would consider possible.

We all get exactly one lifetime to make our mark on the world. But a man like my father, Peter George Huntley, shows us how that lifetime can be filled to the brim and overflow with great work and great experiences. This was a man whose dreams were too large for his head, and they spilled out, through his actions, and touched the lives of more people than we’ll ever know.

He cycled around the border of Italy. He climbed up Kilimanjaro. He left an indelible mark on the face of British transport and on the hearts of his family, friends, and colleagues. He was ready – quite literally – to walk to the end of the Earth for what he believed in.

To all of us, he was a man who climbed a mountain so that he might be able to reach the stars. But to me, he was also a friend, a teacher, and a father.

I’m going to hand you back to Ken now, to give us a few closing words. And after that, as my dad would say, if he were here, you can… “Stop fannying around; and bugger off.”

2 replies to A Eulogy for Peter George Huntley

  1. Friday was the day of my dad’s funeral. If you’ve just tuned in, you might like to see my blog post about his death, and a second article about the things that have been hardest, so far, in its aftermath. I’m not inclined to say too much, so I’ll be brief and let pictures, and a video, tell the story. As usual, you’ll find that you can click on the pictures to enlarge them.
    A convoy of buses arrive to deliver attendees to the funeral.A remarkable number of people turned up to mark my dad’s passing on this sad occasion. I was genuinely surprised to see how many lives he’d touched (and to hear about a great many more from people who couldn’t make it). About 350 people struggled to fit in to the cramped crematorium, and many had to stand outside where – thankfully – there were repeater speakers.
    The buses with digital display boards, provided by Stagecoach, had been reprogrammed to show my dad’s name and years of life.My sisters and I were determined that this event would be a celebration of our father’s life. So rather than focusing on his tragic and premature death, we made every effort to commemorate his achievements and reinforce the lessons that we can all learn from his time with us. In a similar vein, we’d told everybody that we had the chance to that there was no need to wear black for this funeral: that people should wear what’s appropriate to them for their personal act of mourning and remembrance.
    In memory of my dad, I wore his old-style bus driver’s license badge, as well as wearing both socks and sandals together, as he often would.We’d hired a former minister, Ken Howles, to provide a (thoroughly secular, under threat of non-payment!) framework for the service, but we “rolled our own” so far as possible. Seven individual tributes and eulogies were given by people representing different aspects of my dad’s life: from my mother, from his partner, from the friend with whom he was walking on the day he died, from the managing directors of the company he founded and the company he last worked for, from the chief executive of the charity he was fundraising for, and – finally – from me.

    (if you can’t view the YouTube video above, or if you want to share it with others, you can also view it on YouTube)
    The contrast between the different tributes was stark and staggering, reflecting the huge variety in the different facets of my father’s life. From guerrilla gardening to trainspotting, lessons learned to tyres pulled, we collectively painted a picture of the spectrum of my dad’s life. The tributes given were, in order:

    My mother, Doreen (watch), who talked about their adventures together as young adults and the roots of his career in transport
    His partner, Jenny (watch), who shared the experiences they’d had together, and mourned for those that they would not
    His friend, John (watch), who let us in on the things that they’d talked about during my dad’s final hours
    Adrian, the managing director of the company my dad founded (watch), on his success in the world of transport consultancy, and working with him
    A break in the middle to watch a video of my dad singing karaoke

    A picture of the “Celebration of Life” order of service that we distributed at the funeral. Click on the picture to download the original (which includes a list of some of the charities my dad supported) as a PDF.

    Kevin, the managing director of Go North-East (watch), on the subject of my dad’s recent career and influence on British transport
    Gary, chief executive of TransAid (watch), announced the future creation of the Peter Huntley Fundraising Award, and thanked my dad and his supporters on behalf of the dozens of charities my dad helped
    And finally, me (watch), contrasting all of the above by talking about what my dad was like as a father and a friend, and the lessons we can learn from him
    If you can’t watch YouTube where you are, you can also read the full text of my personal eulogy here.
    JTA serves butter pie, mushy peas, and hotpot – classic Lancashire comfort foods – to guests at the wake.Afterwards, we held a wake at Grimsargh Village Hall which, on account of the sheer number of bus industry attendees, rapidly became a micro-conference for the public transport sector! It was great to have the chance to chat to so many people who’d worked with my dad in so many different contexts.
    Mourners gather near the (convenient!) bar at Grimsargh Village Hall. I’ve decided: all wakes should have a bar.Between hot food provided by a local caterer, cold savories courtesy of Jenny’s daugher Eppie, and a copious quantity of cakes baked by Ruth, there was an incredible superfluity of food. These two, plus JTA, Paul, and Eppie’s boyfriend James, provided a spectacular level of “behind-the-scenes” magic, keeping everything running smoothly and ensuring that everything happened as and when it was supposed to.
    Among other things, Ruth baked biscuits in the shape of buses, decorated in the colours of the different routes that my dad rebranded during his time at Go North-East.We set up a “memory book”, in which people could write their recollections of my dad. I haven’t had time to read much of it yet, but one of them stands out already to me as a concise and simple explanation of what we achieved at the crematorium that day. It reads:
    “Great funeral, Peter. Sorry that you missed it.”
    It was certainly a great send-off for a man who did so much for so many people. Thank you so much to everybody who made it such a success, and to everybody who, in the meantime, has donated to TransAid via my dad’s JustGiving page (or by giving us cash or cheques at or after the funeral). You’re helping his memory live on, for everybody: thank you.
    My dad didn’t teach me to drive. But he did teach me to read a bus timetable. Thanks, dad. I love you.

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