Murray Brookes, a larger than life figure both physically and mentally. He used to proudly announce that he was a non-conformist. As a child I didn’t know what this meant but from his tone understood it to be something good. In later years his non-conformism became something to cause at times great embarrassment, and at others great admiration in me – because he simply did what he thought was right in every situation, no matter the demands of the social mores and etiquette. From reading a book at a dinner party (not so acceptable) to being incredibly insightful about people – he would always be spot on about whether a person was a ‘goodun’ or not –it was maddening that he was always proven right in the long term about situations and decisions we made, or certainly that I made.
He was essentially deeply satisfied with his life and thought he had everything
He was a devoted husband to our mother Esther and delighted with his home life with her and the four of us, and she was the most important thing in his life. Material things meant nothing to him, he simply didn’t care. It was people and constantly widening his and our knowledge and experience, that mattered to him. He was essentially deeply satisfied with his life and thought he had everything, and couldn’t see that striving for more material gain was of any consequence or would add anything to his or our lives. I admire this immensely in a world where materialism has almost become a religion. He epitomised the saying in ethics of the Fathers, Who is rich? he who is happy with his lot. Or perhaps it was another ideology of his I seem to recall, that he was a fully signed up member of the Communist Party as a youth.
an ambidextrous polymath-he wrote dense impenetrable books about embryology, anatomy and Latin
He spent most of his working life in academia and was loved by his students to whom he gave an exemplary service, I think above and beyond what was demanded by his remit as a professor. He must have virtually written dozens of PhD dissertations for people, many of whom would appear at our home, be fed well by Mummy, and spend hours of Daddy’s time picking his gargantuan brain. He was an ambidextrous polymath – he wrote dense impenetrable books about embryology, anatomy and Latin. He went on and on about the Romans ad nauseum. He translated Tacitus from scratch because he wasn’t satisfied with the available translation. In addition, he did all his own beautiful illustrations for the embryology book – these are really works of art.
What I have said may make him appear humourless, but the opposite is true. He was absolutely hilarious at times, capable of howling with laughter at the most absurd and often inappropriate things, which I simply cannot share with you here! There were moments on his final day here on Earth when, had he been able, he would have joined in our inappropriate laughter, when Julian being unfamiliar with the kit, tried to force a piece of PPE on to his head, which Joe, in hysterics, advised him was intended for his foot. And when Joe, leaning over the bed in a very serious moment caused the side support to collapse noisily, and dangerously. Daddy would have appreciated these moments so much – and maybe he did, he just couldn’t communicate it to us at all, in his final hours.
He was fundamentally kind and compassionate, seeing the best in people and wanting the best for them. His intrinsic decency was plain to everyone, and all that was left, in the last years as all the layers added on by life’s stresses fell away with the dismantling of his powerful brain. In all his suffering in the last few years I never once heard him complain about his lot. He accepted it and bore it with a complete lack of self pity. His occasional resistance to change with the onset of his cruel dementia, such as when first attending Singing for the Brain sessions, was only caused by fear, swiftly replaced by pleasure and enjoyment, once he’d realised there was no threat. I think he remained naïve and childlike to the end, a fantastic quality making him capable of great wonder and delight at so much that the world and its people have to offer.
You leave behind what mattered most to you, a strong united family
His carers in Kun Mor I think loved him. He was respectfully and endearingly referred to as ‘the professor’ there and treated with the utmost dignity – we will be forever grateful to Kun Mor for making his last years as comfortable, safe and loving as humanly possible in the circumstances.
Goodbye Daddy, we have missed the old you for a long time, and will miss the new you we have known for the last years of your life. You leave behind what mattered most to you, a strong united family, with grandchildren and great grandchildren of whom you would have been very proud.
Professor Murray Brookes. Buried at Waltham Abbey Cemetery.
After his death, Joe and I cleared out Daddy’s room at Kun Mor, with a pitiful collection of all the belongings he had left (we had had to sell the family home after Mummy’s death), and found a treasure – a small metal box containing documents and letters that Daddy had saved all his life. It provides a fascinating insight into his life from before he married (aged 31) and includes letters he wrote and received. Most surprisingly for me there is a collection of poems handwritten by the young Murray, or Moish, as he was known to family and friends – poems of drama, expressing his innermost deep and dark thoughts, some in Latin – showing him to be an incredibly intense and serious, and creative and imaginative young man.
It is 1926, 94 years ago!
Horses and carts, milk churns, General Strike
Camp St, Salford, Manchester
Youngest of 3 boys Mick, Trutke and baby Moish
To Jack, and Julia with the beautiful Litvak dark looks and a special gift for music (passed on to Trutke who was gifted at the Violin) and Moishe who played Mandolin (quite badly), and on to the future generations…
A happy boy, he passed through the ranks of Grecian Street Primary, winning a scholarship to Manchester Grammar School where he developed into an intense young man, writing poetry and excelling at languages and especially Latin, oh yes and sciences.
Hefty, he was a useful member of the Rugby team.
Typically of this brilliant and lucky boy, he breezed a scholarship to Brasenose College and the dreamy spires of Oxford, just as War broke out and medics in training missed the draft!
Ultimately he vacated his Oxford digs for a grotty flat in London and clinical training at Guy’s Hospital Medical School.
In 1946 they caught up with him at last and Captain Murray Brookes (presumed by some to be a hyphenated Scottish appellation) was sent with the Royal Army Medical Corps to occupy defeated Germany.
Captain Brookes had, by all accounts, a great time, drinking with Peter Williams (his future colleague) and Ronnie Laing (RD Laing, the 1960’s psychoguru who would confess the truth only to Daddy in later years).
He learned to drive by getting in an Army van and starting it, resulting predictably in a head-on crash, away from which he walked unscathed, and an idiosyncratic driving style with which we are all so familiar (painfully slow when thoughts are far away then crazy fast along favourite roads using the central reservations as chicanes -Chase Road or Lakenheath for example.
a much-loved teaching style
Returning to a grim postwar Britain, Murray took a series of jobs around Halifax and Liverpool doing GP locums and wondering what was going to happen next, expecting to follow big brother Mick into general practice. But his heart wasn’t in it, and when a research post came up in Liverpool teaching anatomy and doing primary research under Prof Harrison, he took it and started sharking for women in the Liverpool University JSoc.
His first published paper gave vent to his linguistic flair and started “It will be recalled that neuroblastoma of the right adrenal medulla bla bla bla”. This first line was picked up and published in Punch magazine with the rejoinder , “Oh really- it slipped my mind.”
Hanging around JSoc dances, he met the lissome Esther Levine, impressing her with fancy footwork, prodigious appetite and unparalleled superpower to fall deeply asleep at any given opportunity, a skill he continued to hone throughout his life.
Marrying in 1957, they formed the indestructible unit to become known as M&D and headed off to Daddy central—Rome. Where-else for this Latin scholar and his new vivacious wife?
Soon enough, Alison arrived adored tiny and perfect, followed alarmingly quickly by the bonny and substantial Sally, and Murray transformed into the huggable Bear we know as Daddy.
Liverpool was unable to contain them, and in 1962 the little family packed into the old Riley (Daddy has always cared deeply for cars, lest we forget, the huge Vauxhall Cresta that never knowingly started , the Austin 1300 that became so battered by children learning to drive that he was stopped on the way to work and told by a policeman “don’t let me ever see this car on the road again Sir”, The Mistubishi Colt “like dynamite between your legs” (apparently), the entirely inappropriate sports Capri etc etc. and trundled down the A5 to Southgate and a Readership at Guy’s Hospital, his old alma mater.
Developing unique research methodology he started working on measurement of the blood supply of bone which would occupy him for the next 20 years, and a substantial section of Grays Anatomy.
He developed a much-loved teaching style causing much inadvertent mirth among the naughty students of medicine and dentistry by haplessly stepping in to waste paper baskets whilst in full flow, producing endless diagrams of great clarity and beauty and growing his frizzy black hair long in the style of the ultimate nutty professor. [ Even now ex-students of his tell me tales of the much loved Professor Brookes].
Child 3 (me) arrived in 1963 and was named “Jocelyn “ meaning, in the true Biblical way ‘born in a tea towel on the front door mat, as Daddy was unrousable when labour started’.
In 1966, Grandma Julia died and so Max became Julian in her memory and the foursome of kids was complete.
in 1971 the whole family took off to Jamaica to find out what the 1960’s had been all about
A series of holidays in Ireland at Mrs Leonard’s guest house gave M&D the travel bug and in 1971 the whole family took off to Jamaica to find out what the 1960’s had been all about.
Daddy lectured in the mornings while we played piano in the local church (or watched Sally in my case), explored the fabulous beaches. Hope gardens, Rabbi Hooker, Reggae, red ants, guavas, Rastafarians in the garage, bread fruit trees, Doberman Ridgeback as big as a horse, hermit crabs, swimming with Clinton Clark, the Pintos.
Returning albeit penniless, through the States and Canada this was the defining time for the family and nothing was ever the same again
Nobody would ever stop going on about Jamaica!
At work Daddy became a full Professor and as we all grew into lanky and sullen teenagers. M&D became the toast of the fracture repair orthopaedic club of Europe and America, gadding it about Nigeria, Toulouse and Strasbourg and Granada, lecturing away in hilarious but perfect French or accentless German .
After he retired from Guy’s he kept up his academic output, lecturing for 3 solid hours on bone blood supply and anatomy to gathered hoards at UCL until he was nearly 80 and translating Germania by Tacitus from the Latin. Just for laughs (with Mummy at the type writer).
String vest in the middle of the night
Getting into bed in the mornings
Kitchen skills of a grizzly bear invading a campsite- “do you want a bagel?
Have you got money in your pocket?
Long division by candle light in the kitchen. Get it right!
His romantic advice, “Ah, the comedy of life”
“Ooh look at the squirrel”
Falling into an empty swimming pool and climbing out unscathed
Coaching endless students through their PhD’s, Mohenda Singh, Gujeratni, Assisted by the redoubtable Mass NGai
A man with perfect work/life balance and an Academic lifestyle, early start was a 9:30 lecture!
Phoning home to say he was on his way at 5 and showing up at 8 after becoming distracted by some massive thought
Easy to please with food except in restaurants except for his perennial favourite
Wrestling around the living room floor on a Saturday afternoon with Julian and me
He morphed easily into Grandpa to 10 and great grandpa to 3 so far
the happy and kind soul of his childhood shone through
Taking delight even in his diminished later years from his family and friends. In his latter years as the layers of sophistication were cruelly stripped away he retained his unmistakable essence as the happy and kind soul of his childhood shone through. He charmed the magnificent carers at Kun Mor who plainly loved “the Professor” in his latter years preserving the dignity of the man Chief carer Margaret beautifully described as “noble” and he continued to find delight in his world.
His character is so strong that intonations, tone, phrases, reactions to things, movements, are with me everyday, shared with my brothers and sisters for safekeeping.
And now after a magical send off, he is back with his beloved Esther again talking about Romans and being distracted by squirrels and foxes.
A blessed life truly well-lived
A great man at well-deserved, peace at last