And then he was gone, my giant of a father who filled our lives with his stories and his energy for life. He left with everything said, everything sorted and as I watched him pass away, it was with the easiest of breaths, no pain, no struggle. He had an amazing life and an amazing death. He was an amazing man.
My dad believed in legacy and his stories of Army life will live on through his book Khaki Shorts, his many articles for the regimental journal and his blog, Regimental Stories; soldiering is fun. An interview with my then 89-year-old grandfather about his experiences in the First World War is in the Sound Archives of the Imperial War Museum. His beautiful calligraphy still tells the stories of Rorke’s Drift in the Regimental Museum in Brecon 20 years after he left. As I speak, he’s probably telling St Peter about the time he was in Keenya.
But more than this, his stories will live on in our hearts; every one of his friends will have a favourite Bob Smith story that won’t just have made them laugh but which will have changed them in some way. For his fellow officers, he was – and I’m quoting from the many lovely cards we’ve received in the last week – ‘without doubt one of the Regiment’s greatest characters’; a ‘ truly remarkable man’; ‘ a raconteur, bon viveur, writer and humourist, an extremely loyal and highly respected member of the Regiment’.
For Ellie, his eldest grandchild, his stories of exotic lands and different cultures have inspired her to travel the world, and it’s no coincidence that it’s anthropology that she wants to study at university next year. For Loulou, his youngest grandchild, it’s his love of food and the stories behind every recipe which will be her grandfather’s legacy and he loved watching her master the family curry recipe in his very last week. For my cousin Claire it was his endless enthusiasm for the next big adventure, for Helen, his daughter-in-law, it was his stories of romance, of proposing while intoxicated by the scent of a jacaranda tree. For Edward, his middle grandchild, he showed him the importance of respect and how any goal could be achieved. For Jed, his son-inlaw, being with Bob was a masterclass in how to be a grandpa.
For me, it was the quality of his friendships. His stories about his friends were full of detail, evidence of how well he observed the people around him. In his last years after my mother died and he had recovered from the grief that almost killed him, it was this quality which rebuilt his life in Crickhowell and gave him new happiness with Lucy. It brought him new and deep friendships with his neighbours, and meant that his last months were filled with people who loved him through the many chapters of his life.
One of the good things about cancer is that there’s time for the big issues, and we talked a lot about what he had learnt in his 85 years. He said that he was the luckiest man in the world because he had lots of very good, very long friendships and very few enemies. I asked him what his secret was. He thought for a moment; ‘Be kind and reasonable.’ It was one of the few understatements I think he ever made. I’d add something that his long-time friend, Chris Lee told him only a couple of weeks ago. He said that he would be remembered for his ‘humour and his humanity’. That’s a legacy his family can be really proud of.