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A tribute to my dad: James Marriott, February 14 1917- February 14 2012

This is the address I gave at my dad’s funeral at Burnley Crematorium on Friday February 24 2012.
Dad had said he was worried about being forgotten, that people in later years might not know he had been around.
I’m publishing this so that people do know; and every time someone reads it, dad will live on.





Today shouldn’t be remembered as one of the saddest of days.

Yes, we’re grieving.

We’re saying goodbye to a dad, grand-dad, great-grand-dad, uncle, and great uncle, cousin, friend, neighbour.

Also a husband, brother and son. And Burnley fan.

But we’re also here to celebrate a life, and what a long one it was. 95 years. Amazing.

I hope he had everything he wished for. Other than maybe Burnley winning the FA Cup in his lifetime.

On Friday February 3, 11 days before dad died, I wrote myself a note. It said “I am very proud of my dad.” I also wrote: “When God gave out balls he gave dad an extra pair.”

Dad had gone into hospital. Now that was one of my saddest days. It was heartbreaking to see him in pain. We were told it was likely dad had hours to live.

But dad had other ideas. He had a 95th birthday to get to. He hung on to mine and my sister Sue’s hand with such an iron grip; as if he wanted us both to pull him up and out of bed. We gently chuckled and told him to save his strength.

But dad said: “This is no laughing matter.” If he could have defiantly pointed his finger he would have.

He wasn’t giving up, not just then. He was fighting, as he had done all his life, from the day he was born.

Dad – Jim- was born at Burnley Victoria Hospital in 1917 and was two months premature. He was delivered by Dr Macgregor Sinclair and  he was given the middle name MacGregor in tribute to the doctor. His mother, my grandma, managed to keep him alive by feeding him through a fountain pen tube and keeping him warm in a drawer by the fire.

This was dad’s start in life. You can see why he wasn’t going to give in easily after that defiant beginning.

Dad went to Coal Clough Lane infant school but when he was nine he became ill and was off school for over a year.

He was taught at home and encouraged to read a lot, which was the start of his thirst for knowledge. He moved to Sheffield in 1927 where he was allowed to take his 11 plus at 12 because he had missed so much schooling. He enjoyed french, mathematics and   English grammar. Many a newspaper reporter – usually from  the Daily Mirror – has been phoned up over the years and criticised for their poor grammar!!

Seventy odd years later that thirst for knowledge was still being quenched. After retiring he passed exams in German at Burnley college. At the age of 84 he learnt computing and up to a year ago was still to be found tapping away on his laptop.

Dad had a stock of stories he’d save up for new blood, usually at weddings, family meals, or funerals.

The time when in the RAF he’d saved an entire bomber squadron from flying into barrage balloons over Sheffield.

The day when he was in a park in Sheffield and a Polish pilot spotted dad’s RAF uniform and landed his plane in the park to ask directions.

His pubs. He loved HIS pubs, the ones he’d managed in his very long career working in breweries.

Cars. Driving. He was an advanced motorist even though he made mum have kittens every time they drove anywhere.

Driving the Monte Carlo rally with his great friend Maurice: And the holiday to Germany he shared with mum, Maurice and Joy.

Raq, his beloved labrador. He loved my little dog Millie. “Now then, now then,” he’d say as she licked his face all over. He gave her half his chips even though I asked him not to.

The day he became pool champion in my old local, the Lion of Vienna in Bolton.

Pythagoras theorem. Everyone at Catherine’s wedding knew Pythagoras theorem by midnight. I’ll be testing you all later.


Dad and Millie … both football fans

And of course, football. The first time he went to watch Burnley he was about four and thought he was going to the circus. At half-time he asked when the clowns were coming on. A chap in front heard him and said: Son. They’ve already been on.

He travelled everywhere to watch Burnley. While working and living in the North East he scouted for football talent for his friend and burnley football club hero Harry Potts. He bought me a season ticket when I was 13. I don’t know why he decided to do that, but it defined our relationship ever afterwards.

In dad’s later years it was tragic that he lost both his wife and his leg in the space of 18 months. But dad carried on regardless.

That was his way. Always matter of fact. Doing what needed to be done.

Dad’s Saturday afternoon routine was to watch snooker; tune in to Radio Lancashire for the match; tap on his laptop and update his Excel document on Burnley’s fixtures and goal difference. “Because Burnley Football Club know I’m doing it and will want it you see.”

He had a constant, constant conviction that he could drive if someone let him; that he would still be able to give any Burnley centre half a good run for their money even in his wheelchair.

He could also be quite grumpy.

Then about a year ago dad started getting more and more tired. He was never sentimental, but he started asking for a hug when people left. “Leave the door open,” he’d say. “I’ll come and wave you off . You never know, it might be the last time.”

So there we were a couple of weeks ago at the hospital. Dad came though his crisis, but the prognosis wasn’t good. The last time I saw him we chatted constantly. A lovely, proper chat, about football, school, his family. He said people had visited him, he’d known they’d been there but hadn’t always had the strength to say anything.

He told me he’d been a good runner like his son but “not now, because of this” he said as he tapped his missing leg. He was convinced it was the leg that stopped him running, not the fact that he was nearly 95.

Then dad said, give me a kiss, off you go now, and leave the door open on your way out.


Dad. Jim Marriott. God bless.

So I did and when I looked round, there he was, pulling himself up, with the biggest smile, waving me off.

I am very proud of my determined dad. God bless.



A link to the tribute which appeared in the Burnley Express and Nelson Leader


My cousin Peter also gave an address at the funeral and we felt it was fitting that it should appear here too, as special memories of a special uncle.
Jim was uncle to myself and brothers Paul and Tony. He was also great uncle to my children Steph and Ben and Tony’s son James.He was the only uncle we have ever had (as we never knew his brother Bob) and he was very special.Uncle Jim and our dad Wilf were very close brothers and Jim was similarly a very close brother-in-law to our mum Marna, who’s with us today.
I always felt that he became an adopted grandad when my
children came along. They never knew their real Grandad Marriott; and I think because of his closeness to our dad,  Uncle Jim considered himself more than just a great uncle. 
Little James Marriott at the age of two with his big brother Wilfred
I remember when growing up that Jim and his immediate family were avid Burnley fans, yet my Dad and us three lads were massive Sheffield Wednesday fans.We all supported our own teams and were keen to see them win but we have always looked for Burnley’s result in the hope they had done well and Uncle Jim similarly followed Wednesday’s fortunes. We often discussed the ups and downs of both clubs at length.A game I recall attending was at White Hart Lane one evening
in 1983 with Uncle Jim, David and Jane amongst others. Burnley
beat Spurs 4-1 in an historic   victory. I was certainly an
adopted claret & blue that night.Jane reminded me this week that after the match we went to a
pub near where Dave lived in Hertfordshire and Jim as ever was
keen to discuss the finer points of the game with as many people
as possible, but it seemed that almost everyone he spoke to in the pub were Spurs fans so he had a great time talking to them and enjoying Burnley’s night of success.
Though I don’t think Uncle Jim was ever one to gloat, he was just totally enthusiastic about football and its analysis.My brother Tony recalls Uncle Jim watching him play football in the 70s. After the match he would be told what improvements he could make to his game. Always constructive advice and Tony acknowledged Jim’s understanding of the game from his own playing days.Uncle Jim would often talk to me about his time playing for the RAF, he had obviously been an excellent player.Many of us will remember playing snooker and sometimes billiards with Uncle Jim. He was a good player and again eager to teach you a few finer skills of the games.Tony recalls occasions when Uncle Jim would visit us in Sheffield.
We lived on a steep hill. Most routes from our house back to the
main road entailed an easy uphill drive. A less easy exit route was down a winding country lane. Guess which one Uncle Jim would often choose. It was an unmissable challenge for Jim the ex rally driver.His target seemed to be to see how many blind bends he
could negotiate at excessive speed. He always managed to get
down unscathed, though as passengers we were probably a little apprehensive about the outcome. 

Uncle Jim with his nephew Paul
Paul similarly recalls being driven by Uncle Jim over the “Tops”
on the country roads between Sheffield and Burnley. Always
guaranteeing a white knuckle ride to match any roller coaster.Uncle Jim always had to be doing something. I remember often
visiting Uncle Jim and Auntie Sally to be confronted with one or two cars in various states of disarray in the garage and on the drive.
Uncle Jim would appear to say hello up to his elbows in grease
or masked up with a spray gun in his hand. I think it drove Auntie Sally bonkers but he was never happier and always keen to talk you through the latest restoration project.More recently Jim attended college, becoming probably their
oldest-ever student. He wanted to get up to speed with computers and learnt how to use e-mail and spreadsheets.My son Ben recalls how Uncle Jim would show off his recently
acquired skills using them to produce a database of Burnley
Football Club including every result, goal scorers, and probably
even what the weather was like. . . . .
He was amazing, he just never stopped wanting to learn.Many of us will also recall Jim’s liking for other types of technology, not least recording media. He seemed to have more video recorders and tape decks than Phillips. I reckon he was one of the  few who still used the old Betamax tapes.I could go on and on and on ….. there are so many more happy
memories I could share with you but they can wait until later today when I hope we can all share lots more memories. Whatever the memories they are treasured and will last forever.Uncle Jim was the head of our family, he was unique, a true one-off and loved by us all.I think Ben and Steph’s Mum Kay summed Uncle Jim up when on hearing of his passing she told me how sorry she was and that he was a lovely man.Uncle Jim, you certainly were a lovely man.Rest in Peace. God Bless.

James Marriott
Born 14th February 1917
Died 14th February 2012

Not too sure if I like this growing old malarky

Dad has lived on his own 10 years. On February 14 2011 he’s 94.

Which is bloody marvellous if you think about it. For those ten years he’s only had one leg. Luckily he has a wheelchair too, which helps, otherwise getting about would be a little tricky.

Every week – I’ve missed a handful – I’ve tootled over to Burnley to see him.  I used to see him and mum, but she left us 10 years ago in a fug of dementia and cancer.

That’s when dad became just dad, no longer part of the always-there 55-plus-years partnership  that was  “mum and dad”. I’d never have thought dad would still be there for so long, living in his wheelchair-converted home on his own.

dad at the age of two with his brother Wilfred
Dad, right, at the age of two with his brother Wilfred

But he has a character made of iron. A man born during the first world war and in the RAF in the second was not going to back down faced with losing a leg and a wife in the space of 18 months.

So it’s been for ten years, that I’ll go to see him on a Saturday, bearing the hugely important gifts of fish, chips and pies.  my sister goes on a Sunday. Up to a couple of months ago things were hunky dory-ish.

Dad’s Saturday afternoon routine was to endlessly watch snooker; tune in Radio Lancashire; check he had a tape; record the Burnley match; tap on his laptop (yes… at the age of 93) and update his excel document on Burnley’s fixtures and goal difference. “Because Burnley Football Club know I’m doing it and will want it you see.”

His stories we’d all heard many times before; about football, Harry Potts, working in breweries … every Saturday there was an anecdote with a finger-jabbing determination.

My biggest problem has been avoiding my big toe being run over as he went en route for more vinegar.

Don’t get me wrong.  Dad is the most frustrating man I know. We’ve had a love-hate relationship all my life.

But as Ive got older in parallel with his aging, I’ve learnt to soften when his  grumpiness has come out. His frustration at not being able to get out and about as he’d like; his constant, constant conviction that he could drive if someone let him; that he would still be able to give any Burnley centre half a good run for their money even in his wheelchair. Which may be true.

I’ve even joked with him that given a chance he might be capable of getting his leg over. Singular. We’ve chuckled.

But a couple of months ago the subtelty of the clock ticking away the years began to make its mark. It’s been a long horrid winter for all of us; punctuated with a Christmas that certainly in our family we’ll remember for a long time as the whole family got together for the first time in 25 years. For dad. As my sister said, inviting us all, he’s becoming more and more frail.

To see a little old man’s tiny tiny frame tucked up in bed, in the dark, on a Saturday afternoon,  as I’ve arrived in recent weeks bearing the best a Lancashire chippie can offer  has been, if anything, humbling.

I tried to cheer up dad by popping my hat on his head yesterday
I tried to cheer up dad by popping my hat on his head 

He spoke to me yesterday about not seeing people he knew; his friends no longer with us; staring at the same four walls for hours at a time; being confused when  he wakes up that he struggles to remember snippets of his life (and what a long life). And a little frightened to be honest.

Imagine you as you are now. Perhaps watching footie – Blackburn and WBA are on as I write. Going out with friends tonight. Deciding whether to walk to the corner shop for a paper and some tinnies. Texting a mate: You coming round? What’s for tea. Curry or a roast. Walking round the block with the dog.

Then put yourself in a room. It’s dark. You’re tired, no friends to ring, no walks round the block, not being bothered to read. Can’t even be enthused to switch on the laptop. Or the television. Things are, well, getting a bit too much effort.

It’s very sad. I’m not too sure if I like this growing old malarky.

Not so much Who Do You think You Are, as Where Do You Think He Went

Let me tell you a little about my dad.

The other week I went for a meal with my sister,  brother-in-law, niece, dad  and a couple of cousins about four times removed from California.

An ordinary meal with extended family. Perhaps. But it was a little more poignant than that.

It was the search for a dad, for dad, that had brought us together.

A family gathering

My dad was born in 1917 on February 14th. The 1st World War was raging; it was a year before women over the age of 30 were given the vote; just the day before, Mata Hari had been arrested on suspicion of spying; when Tsar Nicholas II abdicated the Russian throne dad was just over one month old.

It never ceases to fascinate me that dad was born when all these sepia, consigned-to-history-books events took place.

But there he is, at 93, the umbilical cord between me – us – and events almost a century ago.

Dad weighed just 2lb when he was born at Victoria Hospital in Burnley. A doctor called MacGregor suggested dad be incubated in a warm drawer to try and keep him alive. He was fed using the tube from inside a fountain pen. Obviously it worked … and dad has forever borne the middle name MacGregor in lasting thanks to that canny medical man.

When dad was about five his dad – Wilfred – left home, never to return. Dad often recalls going into a shop on Manchester Road in Burnley as a little boy, urged on by his own mother, to pull on his dad’s coat-tails and ask for a little money.

But other than that, for practically 90 years, dad – my dad – has never known what happened to his dad.

So step in my sister. The Miss Marple of the genealogy world. Perhaps she’d prefer Jessica Fletcher. I’ll let you know if I survive after this paragraph is published.

To cut to the chase, my sister recorded the memories of my great aunt, who lived to the age of 99 and from that moment she caught the family history bug. She set herself a challenge to track down dad’s dad.

I won’t bore you with the fine detail, but eventually my sister pieced together a family jigsaw which had seen our grandfather bought up with a surname which wasn’t his own; it was his mother’s from a previous marriage.

A woman’s decision to revert to a former marital surname when she was left alone when her husband – our grandfather’s father – left home, confused my sister’s family search. A surname which my dad, his sons, grandson and great-grandson still bear.

A political pamphlet hidden in some of dad’s belongings led to the breakthrough of tracking down dad’s ancestry. Written by JR Widdup, it was a socialist mantra written in Burnley in the late 19th century. My sister explained her discoveries, and requested information, at the time in 2004. She had  discovered that JR Widdup – a strident socialist in the late 19th century – was the father of our  grandfather Wilfred Widdup. But there was still no sign of him.

It is very odd but once I knew my true family surname  – Widdup –  I felt as if I’d come home somehow. You may think that’s an odd thing to say, but Marriott had been my maiden name but I had never felt comfortable with it.

Me and dad

It transpired dad’s family had a strong connection to Barnoldswick and the beautiful St Mary le Ghyll Church is the resting place of many of our ancestors. Weddings, christenings and funerals; the church cradles the shadows of long-lost emotions of my forebears in its historic walls. I was moved by those shadows when I visited and had a little weep.

Up until very recently dad knew nothing of this family background. Now he is just as likely to say ‘I should have been a Widdup you know’ as he is to comment on Burnley’s chances of getting back in the Premiership.

Once my sister ‘cracked’ the mystery of my grandfather’s background she was able to trace back the history of the Widdups some way and is even now known as an expert on them.

But still no sign of Wilfred.

My sister also traced back my grandfather’s maternal side – the lady who changed her name to a former marital name. My dad’s grandma. Even she lost touch with her son Wilfred when he moved away, which for years led the family to believe that some tragedy had befallen him, as mother and son were very close.

Her own father Thomas had worked on the railways and was killed at a now-defunct Burnley train station, leaving his widow to bring up her young family.  Thomas’ own siblings had already moved away from Burnley with their minister father to a new church in Yorkshire.

It was one of their descendents we met in a pub in Burnley the other week. Herb, dad’s 3rd cousin removed.  My sister had found him via the network of genealogists that refer and cross-refer to each other when fellow researchers ask questions and seek information. You help me, and I’ll try and help you, seems to be their informal philosophy.

Since then their internet friendship has developed into a real one, with the family connection coming back together all those years after Thomas lost touch with his own family when they moved away to another town.

So there we were in a pub. Nothing but steak and kidney pie and a few generations several times removed between us.

Dad was so chuffed. Not least because there was one portion of chicken dinner still left in the kitchens. He looked at me and my sister and said ‘ah, there’s my daughters’. He looked at Herb and his wife and said ‘ah, who’d have thought’.

On the back of a menu card Herb – our American cousin – drew up our relationship in the form of a family tree.

All those lives crunched onto a a scrap of paper

People once living, breathing, walking and talking, confined to the syllables of their names, attached to each other by a horizontal blue ink line, each hanging off it in their designated time and space, like a family hangman game.

I remember thinking one day I’ll be one of those, waiting for someone like my sister to come along and press-stud me to my own horizontal line, my dates below me in brackets, framing the start and end of a lifetime of experiences. Attached to cousins four or five times removed I’ve never met, or even known of their existence. I hope they laugh at my jokes.

So far Wilfred has escaped detection. It’s not so much Who Do You think You Are, as Where Do You Think He Went.

The closest physical proof to his very existence is my dad. Scuttling around in his wheelchair, the family bridge between a long-gone generation and mine.

Dad still doesn’t know what happened to his dad. But a whole backstory of family history has opened up. It’s fascinating stuff.

Dad was tired at the end of the night, as you would be after chicken dinner AND vanilla ice cream at the age of 93. But thanks to my sister, we’d all shared in reaching out and touching part of his family history and he was happy for that.

But whether sister/Jessica/Miss Marple/the geneaology network will finally come up trumps in the search for a dad for dad only time will tell.

Sadly though, in dad’s case, we don’t know how much of that he has.