Leonard Gideon Krikler, Lenny, brother, husband, father, grandfather.
Eulogy, read at Lenny’s funeral by David, Steve and Doug on Sunday 21 January 2018, and again that evening at the first Shiva:
Lenny was a gifted speaker and was often asked to give eulogies for others. Today for the first time, he’s on the receiving end, perhaps a bit like moving from the bar to the bench.
How much we would have welcomed his advice on what to say.
Lenny was born in Shabani – a small asbestos mining town in the centre of what was then Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. His African childhood shaped him and continued to do so.
Nowhere is this clearer than in his artwork, in which African wildlife remained his most frequent subject matter. Giraffes, hippos and his enduring motif – the African elephant.
It’s there on birthday cards. It’s there in his paintings. It was there in the pages of his courtroom notebooks.
His death may leave an elephant in the room; his life left elephants in every room he entered.
He had so many stories. We asked him to write them down. He never did. We’re just lucky that he repeated them so often.
Alas, even with repetition, some of the details go with him but their essence remains, with all who knew and loved him.
He was born in 1929, the youngest of three children, to Jimmy and Tilly.
His older sister Fiona is with us today.
His father was among the first in his family to make the journey from Lithuania to Southern Africa, with nothing but the desire for a better life, free from the impending doom of Eastern Europe. As Lenny got older, he would often share his admiration for his father, not least for his self-taught command of English.
He brought out the rest of the family, including his parents, Lenny’s grandparents Avram and Hannah, a powerhouse of a woman who ran Krikler’s Kosher hotel in Muisenberg, where Lenny would spend his childhood summers
Aged 6, Lenny was sent to boarding school – Milton Junior in Bulawayo.
In Lenny and Lily’s dining room at Asmara Road, alongside his letters from the Lord Chancellor and Her Majesty the Queen appointing him as a recorder and then a judge, was a framed letter he sent home from Milton: “Dear Mummy and Daddy, Please send tuck. Lenny”.
But it was at Milton that he developed a healthy disregard for authority.
At a young age, along with 3 friends, he plotted his escape from boarding school. He was a small boy. When they were captured and returned to school the headmaster gave an assembly. “These 3 boys not only escaped from school,” he said. “They even took with young Krikler, who’s only two bricks and a tickie high.” Lenny of course had been the ringleader of the operation.
He was a mischievous child, and never lost his childlike joy in simple fun. And he was a noisy child, and man. Throughout his life, he generated noise. Drumming with his cutlery, blowing on a bugle, or the many brass instruments which hung as part of the unique décor of the family home, or for that matter, getting a tune out of a watering can, a garden hose or a beer bottle.
He was so proud when his grandson Dan taught him how to get a higher note from a bottle of beer, as if his traits were not only being passed on, but evolving.
It wasn’t always tuneful, but it’s hard to express how much we will miss his noise.
Throughout his school years, his older brother Bunny was the star pupil, captain of the rugby team and eventually head boy. Lenny, it’s fair to say, was not a star pupil.
“The great good fortune I had”, Lenny recalled “was a total lack of expectation.”
“My poor old brother did so well at school” he said of Bunny, whose death some 25 years ago was a terrible loss.
“So he had great expectations on him, which was hard. I was lucky” he added, “in that I was a drop-out.”
It recalls one of his many catchphrases, that there’s no such thing as a failure that can’t be turned into a partial success.
But it’s clear that his success was far from partial.
He was a much-loved friend and confidante of some of his generation’s greatest minds, without ever aspiring to be seen as such.
Lenny the drop-out arrived in London in 1947, age 17. His sister Fiona was already here, with her husband Lionel who she’d met when he was stationed in Southern Africa with the RAF.
Arriving with no qualifications, he found a series of jobs; as a porter at St Pancras station where he learnt the value of a generous tip. As a bought ledger clerk for General Electric. A night shift as a type setter at a printing press. He earned enough for his rent and food. Any left over was saved up for art classes in Paris where he met his friend Meir Lecker.
Eventually, by a process of elimination, he decided to join the bar, but for that, he would need to pass the London matric, the equivalent of A-Levels, which he did through night school. He scraped through with a pass, scraped another pass through the bar exams and, in 1953, embarked on what would become a highly successful legal career.
He revered the barristers who mentored him, like his head of chambers Stanislaus Siefert and his pupil master George Avgherinos, as his future pupils would revere him. Later on, as head of chambers, he established Lamb Buildings as the largest chambers in the Temple.
As a judge, he took an innovative approach to justice.
It was in his early days at the bar that he met his lifelong friend John Wood. John, a successful solicitor, saw Lenny in action on the opposing side and decided he needed him on board. Before too long he was taking cases in the High Court and the House of Lords.
At the bar, Lenny’s clients included the likes of Peter Cooke and Norman Wisdom as well as less famous, but colourfully named crooks like Slippery Phil, who never could have imagined getting a mention in a Judge’s eulogy. And it may sound apocryphal, but he really did defend Sterling Moss for speeding after a policeman pulled him over with the words: “who do you think you are? Sterling Moss?”
As a judge, he took an innovative approach to justice. Barristers enjoyed appearing in front of him, as sometimes, did defendants – like the man accused of stealing hospital food, given a lenient sentence because “anyone who steals hospital food deserves help, not punishment”. That made the local press in Cambridge.
A judgment that made the national press, when sentencing an ageing shoplifter who had spent his life in and out of jail. “I have been handing out sentences for 12 years,” he said, “you have been receiving them for 35. You have far more experience than I have – what do you think I should do?” The defendant opted for a suspended sentence.
He inspired not only his fellow professionals but all of his children, two of whom, Susan and Alex, followed in his footsteps and joined the bar.
Throughout his illness, Lenny was reflective and content with the life he’d lived.
“At 88, I’ve had a good innings” he said.
“But if you’re standing at the crease on 88 you’d be thinking about a century” I suggested.
“Perhaps,” he said “but if you walk back to the pavilion, bat under your arm, you’ll still get a good round of applause.”
So often in his final year, he would say the following, and I quote:
“I’ve had 2 marvellous marriages, 2 great wives, 8 marvellous kids, 22 superb grandchildren. I can’t ask for a better life and ain’t nobody on this earth who ain’t born to die.”
Two great wives. 2 great loves of his life. The first, Thilla, taken from him before she was even 40. The second, Lily, whom he cherished and who cherished him until his final moment, caring for him with such devotion, patience and love ensuring that moment was as peaceful and painless as it could have been, at home, surrounded by family.
It was remarkable how she did all that while maintaining her interest and her love in everything and everyone.
Two great wives.
Both times Lenny chose a bride, he showed one of his defining characteristics – decisiveness.
Lenny and Lily loved us all as if we’d always been theirs, and we all loved Lenny and love Lily as if they’d always been ours
I digress but that decisiveness also characterised his career as a judge. At Willesden County Court, his primary workplace for some twenty years, his work ethic was such that it was not unknown for him to work well into the mid-afternoon. It wasn’t just that he wanted to get away, though he did enjoy a round of golf of an afternoon, but he understood a case and reached a decision with remarkable ease and speed. Thus did His Honour Judge Krikler become known by barristers as…Quickie Krickie. His colleague Judge Low in Court 2, perhaps inevitably became known as…Slow Low.
Lenny met Thilla at a party, and made a characteristically quick decision. They were engaged within weeks*, and married soon after. Her father, our Grandpa Bert, wanted her to study medicine, and was opposed to her marrying until she had completed her studies, but Lenny’s charm persuaded him to agree to the wedding, as long as she did not start a family till after she qualified. Nevertheless, when I was born in 1956, my mother was still a medical student and Lenny’s practice was embryonic.
They lived in a flat in Glenshaw Mansions on Priory Road, just round the corner from West Hampstead station. He would walk me up to the footbridge to watch as the tube trains pass, and we would wave to the drivers. Back then, washing machines were a luxury and disposable nappies had not yet been invented, so Lenny would wash my dirty nappies by hand – now there’s devotion! Many years later, when I was injured in a serious car crash, he showed the same devotion, coming up from London to Coventry to visit me in hospital every day.
They wanted more children, but for a few years nothing happened. Then, after nine years they had 3 more sons. And then, with James only two, Alex four, and Doug aged 7, Thilla was taken from us.
With 4 sons aged 2 to 17 to look after, and a pressurised career, Lenny could have buckled. There were times he almost did. But he managed to “just hang in there” – advice he would later give to all his children during difficult times – a tribute to both his strength and his parenting.
Then, in the summer of 1975 Lenny took three of us on holiday to Israel, where through his sister-in-law, Thilla’s sister Eva, he met Lily, who had moved there from South Africa and was bringing up three children of her own. Within days, Lily and Lenny were engaged, and married shortly after.
Lenny returned with a new wife and three additional children. Lily had a new husband and four new children. For, Susan, Tracy and Colin there was a new father and the upheaval of a second emigration, this time to London. Lily and Lenny took a leap of faith to build a new life together. And what a leap it proved. Their youngest son, David, was born soon after.
To Leonard, Courageous champion of reasonable religion.
Throughout his life, Lenny had a deep commitment to the Jewish people even as his commitment to Jewish practice was more circumspect. The grandson of the super frum and the child of the militantly secular, he steered his own middle course with the help of Lily, who turned him into a weekly shul-goer, proof perhaps that miracles do happen.
He served a long spell as Chairman of the New London Synagogue. He loved its founding rabbi, Louis Jacobs, and cherished his copy of Louis’ seminal and controversial text, “We Have Reason To Believe”, signed with the words “To Leonard, Courageous champion of reasonable religion.”
He would only complain sometimes of his confusion when Louis would talk to him as an equal.
But Lenny should have been used to that. The circle of friends he built in London with Bunny and Berenice and Fiona and Lionel included the likes of Nobel Prize winning chemist Aaron Klug, prize-winning novelist Dan Jacobson and Psychiatrist Vivian Rakoff. He was a much-loved friend and confidante of some of his generation’s greatest minds, without ever aspiring to be seen as such.
Because the mark of Lenny’s success, his true greatness, was not in pursuits of the mind, nor even in his distinguished legal career, but in the warmth of his family home.
He had many achievements but if there is one that stands out it is one he shares with Lily: which was to take two families, each with pain and heartache of their own, and weld them together into a loving, happy and singular unit.
Lenny and Lily loved us all as if we’d always been theirs, and we all loved Lenny and love Lily as if they’d always been ours.
And that love was something that continued to grow. With the children-in- law, and the ability Lenny had to put them and their families immediately at ease with a sense that they always belonged.
Lenny and Lily were a class act. They celebrated so much together and gave us all so much to celebrate. Who can forget in 1999, as Lenny’s 70th, Lily’s 60th and their 25th wedding anniversary virtually coincided, when they celebrated with a party at the Royal Courts of Justice, which they called The Lillenium.
Even this shabbat, amidst our sadness, we came together in joy, as Mia, his granddaughter, celebrated her bat mitzvah. Though Lenny is no longer with us physically, his legacy lives on in his 22 grandchildren who each had their unique relationship with him and who were such a source of joy in his life, even and perhaps especially in his final year. Just last week, Mia treated her granny and grandpa to a private rendition of her Dvar Torah, maftir and haftarah. It is hard to imagine the pride he would have felt.
The parasha Mia read yesterday tells the story of the ten plagues which of course we associate with Pesach. Next seder night, not only will there be a spare place for Elijah but a hole in our hearts where Lenny once sat. His unique rendition of Chad Gadya, in English with the heavy Yiddish accent of his parents generation, was one of the highlights of our family seder, complete with his explanation of the double meaning of the word beeeten – as in – vich had beeeten the dog vich had beeeten the cat. Note the two uses of the word beeeten, he would say. Same word, different meanings.
That’s one example of the sense of loss our family will feel privately.
But so many people will have their own memories of being touched by the life that Lenny and Lily built together whether in their cottage in Derbyshire, their home at Asmara Road or the many public spaces where Lenny were so admired and influential.
Like at his synagogue, where Lily and Lenny were mainstays of the community, and where Lenny attended by Lily’s side right up until his illness. In recent years, he was proud of an extendable fork he’d been bought by his granddaughter Noa, which was ideal for spearing a fishball at kiddish from a range of 2 yards.
When he retired from Willesden County Court, the staff threw him a magnificent party, with a garden named in his honour. They pilfered his notebooks to turn his doodles and animal sketches into framed artwork. They wore T-shirts, bearing his elephant motif and the words Chisarai Leonard, meaning, in the shona language of his native land, “Farewell Leonard.” It was their tribute to the boy from Africa who came to London, became a judge and built a legacy.
Today we say again, Chisarai Leonard. Farewell old boy.
Lenny was a fighter. As a child, literally – a Matabeleland junior boxing champion – but he knew when to quit. He stopped boxing, he said, after it began to hurt too much, after a bout against a bigger opponent from Mozambique, or what was then called Portuguese East Africa. Lenny won on points, but still seeing stars, decided to retire from the ring. He gave his shiny boxing boots to his opponent who had fought him barefoot, bowing out, with generosity.
His generosity, his originality, his love will be with us always. With Lily, who after 42 years of spectacular marriage faces life alone, without him. With all his children, those he sired and those he acquired. And with all his grandchildren, who will keep his memory alive long into the future.
I return to the elephants that he doodled, sketched, painted and loved. An elephant never forgets and you, Lenny will never be forgotten.
Leib Gedaliah ben Yaacov Hillel Krikler Halevi…Yehi Zichro Baruch
* We did not quite get the details of Lenny’s engagement to Thilla right. Lenny met Thilla at a party in February 1955, when she had just started at medical school. He told her he was an undertaker’s assistant! Two days after meeting her, he proposed. Despite his apparently modest prospects, she accepted. They were married in July, which gave Jimmy and Tilly time to travel by ship from South Africa to the UK.