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Frederick Thomas Hool  MRICS 1948 – 2008

Eulogy delivered at Ulverston Methodist Church in honour of a valued friend and later published as a tribute in the ACES ‘The Terrier’ magazine in Autumn 2008.

The Hardest Task

I don’t enjoy making speeches at the best of times and this was far from the best of times. The surrounding streets were lined with cars. Outside the entrance the Morris Men had assembled in full costume. Inside, the assembled ranks of the Ulverston Town Choir filled the side stalls. The ground floor and balcony seats were packed to capacity. This was the hardest task that I’d ever had to perform as a manager and I had to do it in front of a full house. I took my seat, waiting my turn to fulfil an obligation to an old friend.

***

I’m honoured that Jackie and her family have asked me to say a few words about Fred. They also instructed me to keep it light-hearted. A few words are not enough to describe a fine man and a good friend. Keeping it light-hearted is almost impossible. If Fred had known that I was doing this he’d have said:

‘Dave, you can only do your best.’

He often said that to me, as I’ll mention later.

Although I talked to Fred about his family and his interests I never had much direct involvement with them – we were physically separated by Morecambe Bay and usually just met for work in Kendal. So, I leave others to talk about those aspects of his life. However, for 14 years I probably spent more time with him than most other people. Over that time we developed a friendship that I valued highly. So I’d like to talk about that friendship.

Before I took on today’s responsibility I asked the others at work what they thought of him. That everyone liked him was a universal theme. Peter enjoyed his relaxed demeanour – Fred being so chilled out that he’d fall asleep in the car when being driven to training events. Maggie was grateful for the patience and kindness he’d shown when training her. Others admired his politeness and forbearance in dealing with difficult clients that most of us would have blown a fuse at. Walking round the office in stocking feet was fondly recalled. However, the most common word that cropped up, both during his illness and afterwards, was ‘gentleman’.

“Fred was a gentleman, a true gentleman.”

But what is a true gentleman?

‘Gentleman’ is a curiously old-fashioned word. We don’t use it about most people. In my mind, it conjures up a picture of some well-dressed Victorian figure benevolently handing out alms to a bunch of street urchins. That wasn’t really Fred so I wondered what they meant by it.

The modern dictionary definition, the one that I think they meant, fits Fred exactly:

“A courteous, gracious man with a strong sense of honour.”

It could have added ‘with a strong sense of humour’ in Fred’s case.

One definition that Fred would have found amusing was:

“A gentleman is someone who knows how to play the accordion but chooses not to.”

Perhaps we should stick with the first definition. I’m not aware that Fred played the accordion but choosing to dance with Morris Men comes uncomfortably close to ruling him out as a gentleman under that second definition.

Fred and I go back to 1994. We managed the whole of the Council’s property holdings between us. However we didn’t get off to a good start. When I’d asked for help with the work I was instructed to appoint someone with Local Government experience. Fred applied because he’d been laid off, a victim of the Maggie Thatcher years, but I didn’t shortlist him because he didn’t have that experience. I offered the job to a surveyor from outside the district. Inevitably, the successful candidate gave back-word. So I threw the criteria out of the window and invited Fred in for a chat. It was obvious that someone local and who needed the job would be a far better bet in the long run. Appointing Fred turned out to be one of the best decisions that I ever made, both professionally and personally.

However, it troubled my conscience that Fred knew that he hadn’t been my first choice. Eventually I asked him what he thought about that. With a twinkle in his eye he gave me a gentlemanly reply:

‘Don’t worry about it Dave. What counts is that you got it right in the end.’

Fred and I had much in common: we were the same age, both surveyors, both local to the area. However, we were quite different characters. No one would ever accuse me of being a gentleman. Nevertheless those differences seemed to work well because I think we both saw that we each had different strengths. Certainly Fred’s calm and rational approach, his measured advice and his dry wit were qualities that added to whatever it was that I brought to the feast. As the team grew I relied on those qualities more and more. So did the youngsters in the office. Matt told me that what he would remember about Fred was his calmness in a crisis. There’s always a crisis in an estates office. It always seems to happen on a Friday afternoon, it’s never caused by us but it always falls to us to sort it out. I’d rant about dire retribution, the others would chip in with conspiracy theories but Fred would just sit there and let it all wash over him. When we’d gone on for a bit Fred would say:

‘Now let’s all calm down and think about this rationally.’

He was right of course. Calm, rational thought always solved the problem. That’s the style of a gentleman. The world would be a lot better place if we all followed Fred’s example.

People liked Fred because Fred liked people. He always took time to talk to them. He seemed to know every farmer in Furness and they knew him. So he tended to deal with the land agency work. Another area of work involved valuing Council Houses. I’ve never found that work interesting but Fred enjoyed it, so it suited us both that he did it. When I asked why he liked it he said:

‘I enjoy talking to the tenants. When I do my inspection they usually offer me a cup of tea. So I sit down and have a chat with them.’

An enormous number of people proved that point by enquiring about him when he fell ill.

Fred had his faults but those were minor in comparison to many. He liked people but he stopped short of liking technology. That calm and rational gentleman could become very exasperated with modern information systems. Fred rarely swore but if the computer crashed he could resort to some pretty graphic Anglo-Saxon. He also disliked mobile phones and when Jackie first bought him one, if it rang in the office, he’d shut it in his desk-drawer until it stopped rather than work out how to answer it. He liked talking to people but not enough to master complex technology.

Fred and I were like two pieces of jigsaw – different in our ways but we fitted together. We’d often discuss how to solve problems. If I had a tricky situation he’d always say something supportive like:

‘You’ll think of something Dave. You always do.’’

I don’t know what I did for Fred’s confidence but that support certainly boosted mine.

On those occasions when my tricky case didn’t go so well Fred would use that expression that I referred to at the beginning:

‘Dave, you can only do your best.’

I can tell you now Fred that I drew absolutely no comfort whatsoever from those particular words. I much preferred to have a rant and then hear you say:

‘Now let’s all calm down and think about this rationally.’

Who will say that to us now?

Fred was an excellent surveyor, a skilful negotiator and a highly effective deal-maker.
His speciality was affordable housing development. There are hundreds of people not here today, who may never have heard of him, but who owe him a great debt for his part in delivering affordable housing schemes for local people. If Fred could look back on his career and ask himself…

‘As a surveyor, what should I be remembered for?’

…he could say, with justifiable pride, that right across this district local people are living in new houses that they simply wouldn’t have had a chance of affording without the skill, imagination and persistence of Fred Hool in making those deals.

He’d never claim the credit for it but his part in it was vital. Fred must have been pleased that what he was doing was benefiting the community that he cared about. Perhaps Fred, in enabling local families to rent and buy affordable homes, became a modern replacement for that Victorian gentleman handing out alms. I’m pleased that he lived long enough to see his own daughter’s family secure a house in Ulverston on an affordable estate that he had helped to create.

I went to see Fred in hospital. Even in that distressing situation he still retained the dignity and composure of a gentleman. His drip had run out, the machine was beeping, Jackie was cranking up his pillows to make him more comfortable and Rebecca said:

‘Dad, I’m going to tell the nurses to come and change your drip.’

In the midst of all that pain and discomfort Fred calmly said:

‘Rebecca please, ask them – don’t tell them.’

We all smiled. That was Fred. I’ll miss him. So will all those others who recognised a true gentleman.

Thank you.

©DavidLewisPogson2008

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