RIP Bernard Kenny; 3rd April 1931 – 14th September 2015
Beloved husband, Father of 4 daughters, Grandfather of 7, eldest of 10 siblings.
His father was a shipbuilder in Birkenhead, like his father before him, whom we’re pretty certain had worked at Harland & Woolf in Belfast while the Titanic was under construction.
Aged just 8, he was evacuated with his younger sister from Birkenhead at the start of WW2, only for his Roman Catholic mother to retrieve him from rural North Wales when it became clear he was attending a non-Conformist Protestant Chapel every Sunday. That would never do.
Still, it became clear that living so close to the shipyards of Birkenhead was no place for a young family in 1940, so he left with his mother and siblings to stay with his paternal Grandparents in Belfast. They were only able to stay there a short while, before having to take lodgings in a Protestant area. While walking to and from the Catholic school he was often stoned by the local Protestant children.
We soon learned to pick the stones up and throw them back…
It was only a matter of months before Belfast became within range of the Luftwaffe, and having fled Birkenhead they then lived through the Belfast Blitz with no air-raid refuge, only a kitchen table to shelter beneath…
He met the love of his life, Sheila, when he was 18, in 1949. He was working for a shipping company which meant he had to travel far and wide. After they were engaged in 1953, he left her behind to travel and work in South America for nearly 2 years. After he returned and they married on 1st October 1956, before they both travelled by ship across the Atlantic and up the Amazon to Peru, where they lived in Iquitos, before returning to Manaus for several years.
He served as British consul in Peru, reporting on rebel troop movements and once taking tea with Fidel Castro. In Manaus at that time there was barely 100m of surfaced road and little or no refrigeration, yet they managed to have two daughters there before returning to England.
He continued to work overseas, as he spoke fluent Portuguese and Spanish, and pretty decent French. He was an interpreter during the 1966 World Cup as the North West hosted both Portugal and Brazil, when he met both Eusebio and Pele. He worked extensively in Africa, escaping from Uganda after having his passport confiscated during ‘troubles’ there in the 1970s.
He had high blood pressure practically all his adult life, and had heart bypass surgery in the 1980s. He was a miracle of modern medicine, but medicine complemented by a tremendous human spirit, joie de vivre and optimistic outlook on life.
His doted on his grandchildren, and they on him. Our daughters were his youngest (the older ones are in their mid-20s now), and they have such fond memories that illustrate his character.
He always wanted us to bring him a stick of rock from wherever we went on holiday…
…he was brilliant at word games, he came up with words no one else had ever heard of, and he was always right…
…he liked tripe!
And I need to thank him for my beloved Rachel, whom I first met in 1991. I always felt welcomed into his home and, coming from a small family myself (my parents are both only children), into the wider family. He introduced her to music, which influenced how we met. He introduced me to Laver Bread, now a staple (if occasional) weekend treat. I appreciated and admired (if not entirely shared) his love of opera singers, and his astonishing collection of 78s.
By the end his heart had finally worn itself out. The smallest task was exhausting, and his decline sapped even his reserves of optimism.
At first glance you might have been mistaken that he was just another octogenarian who had lived a long life, and perhaps he was. But behind every octogenarian is a wealth of experiences that we would all do well to absorb and learn from. I am humbled before the things he endured as a child, awed by the fortitude and young courage that took him across the world in a time when that meant weeks and communications were primitive.
But all those achievements would mean less to him than his family, his almost-60-year marriage, his daughters and grandchildren. His attitude to life, his gentleness and his compassion for his fellow human beings will outlive him through his children and grandchildren. We will all miss him, but we will try to be inspired by his example.