Friday 27 December 2013

Personal Memoir - My Uncle Peter (R.I.P.)

What follows is the eulogy I gave on Monday, December 23rd. at the funeral of my Uncle Peter at The Wesley Chapel on City Road in London, England. Peter Baugh was my father's youngest sibling. He was born on 2 May 1935 in London, and died there on 9 December 2013.

Peter earned his B.A. in theology at age 70
Hello, everyone. I'm Clive Baugh. Peter Baugh was my uncle. I have come all the way from Canada to be present today. It's a long way to come. But I had to be here, to honour Peter - primarily on my own account, but also as a representative of Fred Baugh's family. Fred was Peter's oldest brother. My siblings are glad that I am here on their behalf. We loved Uncle Peter and we revere his memory.

Like the proverbial elephant which never forgets, a young child, too, never forgets. He never forgets the way he was treated - whether good or bad - by the adults surrounding him as he grew up. And I never forgot the special friendship I had with my Uncle Peter in the early 1960s - even though our lives, unfortunately, soon diverged, and I only saw him intermittently in the ensuing years. I always remember how well he treated me. I looked up to him. And when my second child was born - a son - I gave that boy Peter as his middle name. 

Uncle Peter and I in December 1965
Peter Baugh was my favourite uncle. He was my father's youngest brother. I would see him sometimes when some of us would visit Nanny on Elmore Street in Islington - where he lived too. And he came down to stay with our family sometimes - usually it was Christmas - at our bungalow in Hythe, near Southampton.

Uncle Peter (at the back) with our family in Hythe in the mid-60s

Uncle Peter befriended me. He treated me with respect - he knew how to talk with children - how to deal with them seriously as people. In London and Southampton, he took me to interesting places - mostly historical sites, and museums. He loved history - social history and culture, and he shared that interest with me. We did things together when I was nine, ten and eleven. In London, for example, we went to several of the museums in south Kensington. But the place I recall the most that he took me to is the Charles Dickens' Museum on Doughty Street. I went back there again this past Saturday - in his honour.

Me, Penny and Uncle Peter at Beaulieu Motor Museum in the New Forest in 1963

I admired Peter. He was funny, with a very dry sense of humour - a common trait of the Baugh family. He had a wonderful laugh. He would explode sometimes - as if to say, "Oh dear! How outrageous is that!" He used to share secrets with me about his friend Rose. I didn't know for quite some time that Rose wasn't a real person. I remember being a passenger with him when he was driving his car, a black Ford Prefect that he acquired in 1965. He called that vehicle Betsy. "Come on Betsy," he would urge, as he maneouvred her through the busy streets. I was a bit nervous watching him drive. I got the sense that he wasn't exactly the technical type - not a very confident driver. Or maybe he was putting on an act? Something would happen on the road and he would utter, for my benefit, a little cry. He told me that he didn't like to get Betsy washed very often because she was held together by little more than clumps of dirt and bits of string.

Peter's Ford Prefect in 1965

Peter was a man of few words. He didn't share his feelings readily. A letter from Uncle Peter was usually a short paragraph of two or three sentences. His cards - always beautiful and interesting cards - would be signed simply "from Peter". And the signature on the card and the address on the envelope would be in the distinctive, elegant, italic script that he used. The last card I got from him - last Christmas, I think - I noticed that the penmanship was not of the usual calibre. His illness was now affecting his writing. How sad! And I didn't really twig on the fact that he had a serious condition. Thought maybe he was just getting a bit frail. I wished that I had known. Typically, he didn't share anything about it.

My parents and siblings always used to say that I was just like my Uncle Peter. I was the academic, intellectual type - the only one in our family to go to grammar school and university. When I was about 11, Peter began his teacher college training in Buckinghamshire. I remember he had to do a major project during his time there; not surprisingly, he chose an historical topic - the London sewer system. 

Peter's picture of me in April 1965 on Southampton's medieval walls

Peter was a teacher. My own decision to become a teacher was made when I was 12. Influenced first, perhaps, by the wonderful Miss Mogg, who I had for years 5 and 6 at Hythe Primary School - preparing me for the 11+ exam. But, more importantly, of course, was the influence of Uncle Peter. I never actually saw him at work in a classroom, but he must have been an excellent teacher - a natural. I tend to believe that some of the best traits I bring to my own teaching style - humour, kindness, and respect for the children as individuals - I picked up from him on those fascinating excursions we took together in the early 1960s.
In his long career as an educator, Peter must have had a tremendous impact on  many of the young people who came under his charge. As a fellow teacher, I say this:  if you want to be a teacher, make sure that you like children: help them, guide them, share what you know, share what you believe, and make them laugh. Be honest and caring and kind. That was Peter Baugh for me in the early 1960s. I have never forgotten what he gave to me, what he did for me. May he rest in peace.


  1. well done clive. my condolences to you and the family. A very fitting eulogy for a special uncle and your efforts to be there for his service are commendable - I'm sure treasured by the family and friends. Thanks for sharing and reminding us how we can, and should celebrate important people in our families, as well as friends, at critical junctures of our lives.

    1. Thanks, Rob. He was a special person. After he retired from education, he volunteered nearly every day at The Wesley Chapel in London. It's the HQ for Methodism. He had a big impact on everybody he worked and socialized with. He'll be missed.

  2. Clive, I'm so sorry for your loss. My favourite aunt (and one I was said to be "just like") died two years ago. Isn't it wonderful that we have so many fond memories to call up any time we want to commune with them?! Your beautiful tribute would have left the "man of few words" speechless, no doubt.