Below is a personal recollection of Don written by Graham Rolando, a friend and member of Capel History Group
...his impact on Capel and the memories of the people whose lives Don touched, will live on.
I first met Don when Capel Cricket Club reformed ten years ago. Don was our most loyal supporter to be found at every home and away match and I was belatedly returning to the game at the wrong end of my playing days. After the usual failure at the crease, the seat next to Don was the one I would invariably seek out. Conversation with Don was always easy and the woes of my batting performance were effortlessly forgotten as Don and I drifted off on a variety of topics, of which scarcely any were related to cricket.
In talking with Don it was obvious he had a wide understanding of the world and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the inhabitants of the parish. A typical start would be "Do you know...?" More often I would look at him blankly and he would then provide just two or three sentences that would describe the person perfectly; their traits, some modest claim to fame or outstanding deed and, if they had been a miscreant in any sense, a withering summary of the 'crime' and its outcome. Don's talent for verbal precision made it feel like I had known the individual in question for years.
Our shared sense of humour was always a large part of our friendship and it came to the fore during the first lockdown period. I rang Don during the early days of incarceration and joked that I was just contacting the 'elderly' in the village to check on their wellbeing and that their shopping and basic needs were being attended to. He, of course, thanked me for my concern and revealed that he was suffering because of the panic buying happening at the time and struggling to obtain some of the finer foods he enjoyed.
A day or two later I left a package on his doorstep with a letter enclosed from the spoof COVID (Crisis Of the Venerable In Distress) charity. The letter from the charity's Secretary, Miss Felicity A Youse, began, 'In these difficult and uncertain times, and when the finer things in life can become so challenging to obtain, our charity would like to offer you this small gift in the hope that it will add a little gastronomic joy to your life during lockdown.' Obviously, Don took up the prank with gusto, relaying in an email to me, 'I don't know to whom you have been speaking, but while I was engaged in my latest opus - The history of Scouting in Capel, provisionally entitled '100 things to do with a woggle' - a miracle has happened. A visiting angel has delivered a parcel containing my favourite anchovy stuffed olives! I have never doubted the power of prayer, but have seldom, if ever, had such convincing proof of its efficacy.'
Obviously, history was a topic often in our conversations and, knowing of Don's involvement, I bought a copy of the Capel Explored book. Don's contributions showed a flair and writing talent rarely seen at a national level from an historian and we were clearly blessed to have him recall past events within our own small parish. He made history approachable and enjoyable but would assiduously remain within the lines defined by the facts. His embellishment was only in the perfect combination of words and structure of the language he used and never in gilding the actual facts.
Don saw the multiple layers of
historical events as well. I remember a conversation where he seemed almost
hurt that his article on the history of fires within Capel was regarded by some
as something slightly macabre and distasteful. In reality, it is a very astute
insight into decades of Capel's social history and the operation of its civil
governance while engaging the reader with stories of how their ancestors
coped with both the personal and financial experience and consequences of
We must also thank Don for his many crusades to have the achievements of Capel recognised and celebrated. The volume of emails he sent to Capel Parish Council, to argue the case for causes about which he felt strongly, were legendary. I understand that this was also supplemented with letters sent anonymously or signed by fictitious residents along the lines of an 'Outraged of Capel'.
Most recently, and poignantly just two days after his death, Don's persistence rightfully saw a memorial service being held for the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Memorial Cottages at Tudeley. Earlier this year, a plaque was put up in the recreation ground to replace the one that was originally lost, marking the donation of the land by the Rev. W R Holman in 1932. Again, Don's involvement means that current and future Capel citizens are aware of the generosity of their forebears and the historical link they have with them.
On a personal level with Don's passing, I am finding grief a strange companion. For some it is an instant outpouring of sadness and for others something that occurs randomly on seeing or thinking of some connection or maybe is buried and comes out some time in the future. I have lost a parent and grandparents but am now realising never before a friend like Don.
When I first heard of Don's passing my reaction was shock and numbness. Having spoken to Don only a few days before he went into the Hospice, I was expecting him to be there for a short period for his body to repair so he could then face the next round of treatment. The speed with which he declined from the cheerful and enthusiastic man I had known only three or four months before, was beyond my comprehension. A week or so after his death, I was trying to describe Don to a friend who had never known him and suddenly found myself unable to speak and holding back tears. I am coming to terms with the realisation that I miss him greatly. And I know that Capel will do the same for a very long time. Thankfully his impact on Capel and the memories of the people whose lives Don touched, will live on.