Although this is a time for mourning for us as a family, I want to take a few minutes to talk not of our loss but instead to celebrate the life of the man we have come to honour today.
That man is our father, Alan Millett.
Dad was born in 1928 and grew up in Croydon. He was the youngest of seven children, the oldest of whom, his only brother Bobby, was 21 years older than him. Legend has it that Uncle Bobby left home when Dad was born because of the embarrassment of having a new-born in the home.
Dad’s father died when Dad was nine and after that Dad was brought up and spoilt rotten by his mum and five older sisters. He was too young to fight in the Second World War but did National Service for two years from 1946 to 1948 when he spent time in Germany in the 5th Inniskillin Dragoon Guards. The discipline the army instilled in him stayed with him for the rest of his life. After the army he gave up a place to read history at Oxford and instead joined his brother Bobby in business, selling army surplus goods.
After three years, in 1951 at the age of 23, he started up on his own with a single shop in Richmond, selling outdoor camping and leisure goods. He
He knew the names of most of his staff as well as the names of their wives and children
single-handedly built his business, which when it was sold in the mid-80s, comprised 120 shops and employed approximately 1300 people.
He married my Mum in 1960. She was 13 years younger than him.She was 20 and he was 33. Between them they enjoyed their three children and five grandchildren, and this year he was delighted to meet his great-grandchild, Lily.
Outside of business, he had many and varied charitable interests.
But none of this brief history of Dad’s life sums him up nor does it do him sufficient credit.
Since Dad passed away on Saturday, we have heard many lovely comments about him. Some have talked about his beautiful handwriting – always in ink with a fountain pen and a blotter at hand. Others mentioned his dapper dress sense with always highly- polished shoes – a leftover from his army days.
These memories don’t really get to what Dad was about. The comment that he had a wonderful sense of humour and did not take himself too seriously starts to pick up a strong theme throughout his life. The comments “they broke the mould when they made your Dad” or “an amazing man” start to describe him.
So here is my attempt to define the man that was my father.
First and foremost, he was a family man. We knew he loved us, his children and grandchildren, unconditionally. He was excited for our futures and wanted us to enjoy to the full all the opportunities that came our way. He wanted us to be happy and settled. Thinking only of us, his last words to me were “have you had lunch yet?”. After we leave this world, your family will have its memories of you. Dad gave his family brilliant memories in spades.
We have some wonderful family holidays to look back on, mainly in his beloved Israel, but also elsewhere. We have Friday nights, Yom Tovim, and Seder Nights and the usual family gatherings with him and our late mother. And plenty of dinners out in London. Many happy memories that will increasingly come back to us over the weeks and months ahead.
Then there is his religion. Dad was a proud, staunch and committed Jew.
His Judaism inspired him. He loved Jewish ritual and its music and was never happy if ill health prevented him from going to shul. He had special affinity with Rabbonim, and the two in particular who are here today, Rabbi Shochet and Rabbi Levene. He learned weekly with Rabbi Shochet over many years and he loved the spirit of the South Hampstead community which was created and built upon by Rabbi Levene. I know he would be very proud to see them both here today presiding over these proceedings.
With his Judaism came his affinity to Israel. Because of Dad, and latterly because of my mother, we have been visiting Israel regularly for over 40 years.
Dad was a proud supporter of Israel. Never uncritical but always steadfast in his support for the home of the Jewish people.
And then there was Dad’s commitment to his communities, and there were many of them. It was never a half hearted commitment. He loved his membership of the Yeshuran Synagogue in Edgware when we were growing up.
He threw himself into the Mill Hill Jewish community when we moved there in the 1970s. His contribution to the Mill Hill Jewish community was honoured in 1980 when he was Chatan Bereshit on Simchat Torah. And latterly, he spoke so warmly of the South Hampstead Jewish community which took him immediately into their hearts and homes when he moved there. And he was honoured at that shul as Chatan Torah this last Simchat Torah.
But there was also the charitable communities he belonged to. For several years he led, nationally, the JIA, the predecessor to today’s UJIA. He sat until recently on the board of All Abroad and he became involved in the Jewish Marriage Council and several other Jewish charities. Dad also loved his Masonry as a member of the Lodge of Tranquility where his contribution was honoured with high rank.
He was always giving of his time and money to charitable causes. He never asked for anything in return. His view was that he was in a position to contribute so it was his duty to do so.
But the thing about Dad that defined him best and most of all was his relationship with the people around him. In the hall today we have family and friends who have known him for much longer than I have been alive. We have people who hardly knew him at all or vicariously through us a family. Somehow he managed to touch the lives of all of us. He had an innate, unlearnt, ability to talk to everyone at all levels. I remember as a teenager, visiting his shops with Dad. He knew the names of most of his staff as well as the names of their wives and children. His memory was phenomenal and better than ours right up until the last days of his life. He was genuinely interested in people, to know of their families and lives and took the greatest of pleasure in his relationship with those around him. As with his commitment to his wider communities, he gave of himself to others without asking for anything in return. And people loved him for that.
always looking forward with optimism, thinking that time smooths out all bumps in the road and that the future was bright
At 88, Dad was a realist. He knew he was not well these last five weeks and did not believe that, this time, his doctors would get him better. He said to me he was not afraid of dying and that he was looking forward to joining Mum. He thought 88 was a good innings for someone who did not think he would see that age. And yet, Dad was also an optimist who was looking forward to a couple of weeks away in December with Sara, my sister, when he got out of hospital. And whilst in hospital, he made us book his birthday lunch next April, a date the family intends to keep.
Dad never discussed his reservations and regrets with us as a family. Perhaps this was to protect us. But I think this was really because, Dad was always looking forward with optimism, thinking that time smooths out all bumps in the road and that the future was bright for his family, his Jewish religion and Israel, his communities and his friends even after he was no longer here with us.
In thinking about life in this way, he was not giving much thought to himself. Instead, he was wishing only the best for the world around him.
And so lastly, to show our thanks to you Dad, from all of us here and who could not be here today I would like to offer you our blessing. It is known as the priestly blessing. It is Aaron’s blessing for the Israelites, it is amongst the oldest blessings there is and we say it daily in our liturgy. It would be normal to hear it said at joyous occasions but as I said at the beginning, yes, it is a time of mourning but it is also a time to celebrate Dad’s life. And this blessing is appropriate for today and for you Dad because it looks only optimistically to the future. As with all blessings it is meant entirely for the person to whom it is addressed with the person making the blessing wanting nothing in return. For me, it is a blessing which when said, I find moving at the best of times because of the selflessness of its poetry.
So, I hope I will get through it. And because I know Dad would want me to include Mum in this blessing, it is addressed to her too.
So here goes:
May the Lord bless you, Mum and Dad, and guard you and keep you safe.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you and may you live on in the warmth of His and our love for you.
May the Lord lift his face unto you, Mum and Dad, and give you peace.
On Thursday and Friday we enjoyed the festival of Rosh Hashannah, the start of our new year. Next Shabbat is Yom Kippur. And next Saturday night immediately after Yom Kippur we start the final day of saying Kaddish for dad, so the last Kaddish will be at minchah next Sunday.
Whilst we mourn the loss of our parents for 12 months we say Kaddish only during the first 11. The last 11 months have gone by incredibly quickly.
During Yom Kippur we draw a line between the past year and the coming year. It is a time when we pray for what we have done but at the same time the book of what is to come is settled and we are able to look forward to the
He understood that none of us is perfect. He would talk openly with us about what had gone well for him and what not so well
year ahead. For me there is a certain resonance that the last day of Kaddish for dad starts immediately after Yom Kippur. In a way, it closes the circle. It allows the family to salute dad for his love and support for us, but at the same time we can draw a line under our mourning for him and to look forward to the year ahead.
Dad loved this time of year when Rosh Hashannah, Yom Kippur and Succott come in quick succession. For him it brought together the three things that he loved most in life – his practice of Judaism, his Jewish community ( whether in Mill Hill or in South Hampstead) and above all his family. And all three loved him in return. It has been particularly heart-warming for us as a family when friends and acquaintances tell us how they have thought of dad recently for some reason. Maybe because of his laugh and his great sense of humour. Or his good and wise counsel. Or his great dress sense. Or maybe just because he was thought of in shul or another gathering and he is no longer there. He touched the lives of everyone he came into contact with him. And he is remembered with love and affection for that.
But I said that there is a resonance for me that Dad’s last day of Kaddish starts immediately after Yom Kippur. Dad’s long life and life experiences taught him to be a realist, a pragmatist and an optimist. He understood that none of us is perfect. He would talk openly with us about what had gone well for him and what not so well. He would face up to want went on before but would never dwell on it. He was able to draw a line under the past and look forward and be excited at what was to come, having faith that good things would come. And so it is with Yom Kippur and its proximity to the last day of Kaddish for dad. It is as if Dad is telling his family in his own inimitable way that the 11 last months is now over, that he thanks us for our thoughts for him over the period but now it is time for us as a family to draw a line and to look forward to our own and our own childrens’ futures with the faith, the confidence and excitement that he would have had he been here today.
The last day of Kaddish for Dad following Yom Kippur is, to me, a wonderful and moving way of thinking about Dad’s outlook on life and his affect on us as a family. Because we have much to look forward to with two of his grandchildren engaged and to be married next year. With this wonderful news we have been talking about both dad and mum a lot over recent months. They would both have loved this time. Sara, Richard and I know they loved us as their children but more than that they adored their grandchildren. This has allowed us all to imagine them as if they are here today kvelling over the good news. So while we miss them greatly we know that both our parents are with us today, looking forward to the future with us and continuing with their love and support for their children, grand-children and their great grand daughter. And that, especially in all the happy times to come, they will be in our hearts forever.