GUY WILLIAM MAXWELL HPKIN
“Agenda. Point One. Welcome.”
That is what father wrote at the top of his notes when we met a few years ago to discuss what would happen today. That day, I told father I would say a few words when this day came. We all laughed at the time, as we really never thought this day would come. We thought he would last forever.
There have been so many wonderful tributes paid to father over the last few weeks, and my greatest wish is that he knows how highly regarded he is.
The theme is one of “a fine man”, “a good man”, “a fun man”, and “ a gentleman” - in the truest sense of the word. (There has been no exaggeration in the tributes; they have been genuine, honest, straightforward, respectful. It is fitting that the tributes themselves reflect what he stood for; he was genuine, honest, straightforward, respectful.)
One of the most accurate descriptions of father was sent to us by Robin Greenham, (who fittingly will be responsible for writing father’s regimental obituary in the coming months). He told us that father…: “(he)… was a fine man, loyal Regimental officer, excellent sportsman, determined, had a wry, sometimes mischievous, sense of humour, strict (now "old fashioned") standards of conduct, did not suffer fools gladly and was always ready for a prank! (And together we played one or two. He was a genuine close friend whom I shall sadly miss.” )
Lance Gerrard-Wright described him as “A lovely man who always twinkled… A man with whom you always knew what you were going to get: integrity, honesty, and a laugh!”
And we all particularly enjoyed hearing from Colonel Gordon Brettt who revealed that “your father, as a young subaltern, cut quite a dash, which attracted a female fan base, much to the envy of others” - while also talking about the fun they had in Munster in the early 1970s, where Colonel Brett met (in his own words) “the wonderfully vivacious Thea” for the first time.
And almost everyone has referred to what a fine sportsman father was.
From his mother being a highly accomplished tennis player, to the numerous centuries he scored on the cricket pitch and the regular golf and tennis he played up until so recently, we know how much sport has been an important part of father’s life. Both he and mother have achieved a hole-in-one, and there cannot be many people who can say that about their parents. Colonel Gordon Brett describes father as “an outstanding batsman” and recalls their first meeting at a schoolboy cricket match, where father scored close to, if not more than, a century – an achievement that he says was almost unheard of at such a young age.
I can remember father saying that he was captain of football at school even though he didn’t like football; he was even the best at things he didn’t particularly enjoy! (The fact that he once played squash for the army - that would be a sporting career highlight for so many, but it is a mere footnote in his accomplishments that he never really mentioned). He loved telling us that he scored a goal from a corner, that he rarely missed a penalty on the rugby field, how he managed to beat “Walsham” in the boxing ring despite hating every minute of it, and Victor Ludorum will always be something that we only ever associate with father.
I think there is something unique and very special about father’s competitiveness and drive to be the best on the sportsfield, combined with his calm nature off it. We’ve all heard from Bente recently and she said that while father was always the best on the court and was always partnered with the weakest player because of that, he never got angry or annoyed with them, and outwardly remained calm and supportive while his partner hit their volley in to the bottom of the net or double-faulted at critical times. He would remain calm on court, but he was human, and we often heard what he really thought when he got home to give us his post-match debrief… Often describing his latest tennis match as… “a can of worms”!
To succeed in so many sports the way father has done, you have to be extremely competitive. And this is another subtle thing about father’s qualities – to have that competitive nature, but to remain calm, fair, and dignified in everything he did. (If you were playing doubles with him, and if it was a crucial point he would have a quiet word in your ear, and you would always see him increase his efforts to make absolutely certain he did everything he could to win that next point). He was so competitive on the sports field, and yet was so calm off it. His determination was so strong, but so subtle, and I really think this is a unique quality.
As one of his oldest friends, Julian Browne, wrote in his letter to us:
“He was such a gifted sportsman but always modest and self-effacing.”
(In thinking about father’s ability to be so competitive, and yet so dignified, it made me realise I cannot recall a single moment when he has shown any sign of genuine anger over the years, or even really raised his voice. You certainly knew when you had done something wrong with father, but we cannot recall him ever really raising his voice in anger.)
In the army, father has left a lasting legacy at the Royal Anglian Regiment. He was largely responsible for first introducing many of today’s senior offices to the regiment, laying the foundations for a successful recruiting system from schools to Sandhurst and then in to the Royal Anglians.
It has been lovely for us all to see so many of his friends pay tribute to the hard work and endeavour that he put in to this part of his career. I saw first-hand how good he was at creating long-lasting relationships with potential officers during my time at Uppingham; pupils who I didn’t even know would tell me “your father’s a good man”. That sometimes still happens today, over 20 years after leaving school.
“ He was a fine Officer and highly respected” - I cannot count the number of times I have heard that from those who knew him or served with him, during his time in the regiment.
Yesterday, I received a letter from Brigadier Micheal Aris, CBE.
I called him when I received his letter, as I wanted to make sure I got some of these facts right…. (As Commander of the Order of the British Empire, he knows a thing or two about honours and awards, and.) he told me a few things about father. He said: “The regiment owes him a great debt of gratitude. I always felt that he did a marvellous job. And I will, if I may, give two examples:
When I retired from the army, I worked for the John Lewis Partnership where I met a fellow partner who had been in the Royal Signals. He had a son about to be commissioned from Sandhurst and I naturally thought that he might be going in to his father’s corps. Not a bit of it. He was going in to the Royal Anglian Regiment and his father told me that was directly because of all the help the young man had been given by your father. The only person who really, really looked after him was Guy Hipkin. (He had not only been very well looked after by him with advice and help, but also Guy had been to see the boy’s parents. I am sure that there must have been many examples of this care and attention by Guy. )
The other example is at my old school, Loughbourough Grammar School. Some years ago I was privileged to take the CCF Parade, and at the end of the event I was asked to present “The Hipkin Cup” to the winning team from the Naval field Gun competition. (I had to look this up – the naval field gun competition is an extraordinary event whereby two teams are tasked with carrying massive pieces of a naval gun, which must have a combined weight of over a tonne, across a series of complicated obstacles.)
The Brigadier continues: He had established firm and valuable contacts with the school, (one amongst many I presume), and it made me feel very proud to present the cup given by a brother officer, who had been my friend.
I attended the Parade in April this year, and The Hipkin Cup is still being awarded to the winning team.”
It was also nice to hear him describe mother as “ a very bright girl, she really really was, highly educated – she was a lovely person”.
After more than 30 years in the army, he enjoyed many happy and sometimes frustrating, years working as Secretary at the (prestigious) Royal Worlington and Newmarket golf club, assisted in some of his duties by mother for much of this time. The comradery he enjoyed there was clear for all of us to see, and we have all heard just how greatly missed he is by the members there. Last Tuesday, the members and staff held a minute’s silence in his memory.
But beyond his sporting abilities, and his success in the army and at the golf club, I have realised what father really achieved with his life and what we should be most proud of.
It is easy to think we learn from our teachers, scientists, lawyers and doctors, but I thank father for what he has taught us. I think it is the most important lesson of all.
Simply, to be a good man, to be honourable.
I have often wondered how we should measure success; and I now know that success should be measured on the impact that you have on those around you throughout your life. And for that reason, there is no one more successful than father.
As Anna said recently, “I think your father is the most loved person I have ever known”.
Throughout the tributes that have been paid to father, we have all seen so many mentions of what an incredible host he was, and how much fun he was to be around. Louise was telling Janet just the other day how we all knew that whenever you arrived home for a weekend, you could be assured father would always be at the front door to greet you – making his way to meet you before you'd even finished parking the car. On leaving, he would wave you goodbye until he could see you no more.
Julian Browne wrote that father “… was such a charming man and with your mother they were the most attractive and fun couple to be with.”
Janet recently described father as “…a terrific
host; no waiting around for a drink to be offered or a glass refilled. And always full of bonhomie and life and chat. “
This is another thing that all of us knew, you would never have an empty glass in father’s company. How many times have we all sat around the kitchen- or dining-room table as the wine flowed, hearing countless stories over and over again, playing games of “oh heck” followed by victory speeches… father was in his element when he was surrounded by those he held closest to him. Us.
We must also thank father for his many, many idiosyncrasies. “Two mistakes and a miracle” never failed to get a laugh… I don’t think a day has gone by in the last few weeks when I haven’t thought of at least one of his catchphrases.
The Rosies in Portugal,
Steady in the ranks,
The suns over the yardarm,
Left of Genghis…
Dinner and ….
Well … )
If I listed all of his favourite phrases, we would be here for hours. There are so many. (Vicky told me last week how one time a few years ago, she had suggested to father that she was going to bring the children down from playing in their bedrooms, and he agreed, saying “yes, but one at a time”. And when the whole family went to visit Louise’s first postage-stamp sized flat in Clapham, he loved the idea of “meeting in the kitchen” if any of us got lost.)
Vicky, Louise. He loved all of your children, his grandchildren. I hope Sophie is old enough to remember some of the fun times she has had with father over the years. And just a few weeks ago he told me that Emilie was showing an interest in tennis and that I should start hitting balls with her. And he smiled proudly when hearing of Jack’s recent sporting achievements. Perhaps Jack is the next in line for the Victor Ludorum.
I thought long and hard about mentioning Mother’s illness today. And I think it is important. Because it has had an immeasurable impact on all of our lives…. (On Father’s, on Janet’s, on Vicky’s, on Louise’s, on Anna’s, and on mine). After a life in the army, and never really knowing how to cook much more than beans on toast, could anyone have been less prepared for the five long years we all, but father in particularly, endured.
At this time of great personal hardship and tragedy, father found the resolve to somehow cope. Janet has described him during those years as “…terrific ; the most patient and kind I had ever seen him.” It took its toll on all of us, and no one more than father, but he survived it.
And we have all acknowledged how in the years since mother’s passing, father regained some of his youthful appearance and zest for life, ---- and I thank Anna for providing the companionship that took them both to such wonderful places over the last few years –
( not to mention providing a little more sustenance than mere beans on toast.)
He cared deeply about all of us. For as long as I can remember, even up until a few months ago, father has cut articles out of the newspaper and sent them to me if he thought they were of interest. (And I love that he wanted us all to think of a “company name for the sandwich Louise is producing”. The sentiment in that sentence, so recently, is father through-and-through.)
Vicky recently found some photos of the three of us in father’s study – on the back he had written “3 of my favourite photos of my children. Happy and lucky me (underlined) to have such wonderful kids. Happy days to you all.” I would love to know when he wrote this. And I am sure it was meant as a message for us, to find it now when we need him the most, at this difficult time.
“Finally”. There is a military metaphor that says sometimes an army can lose the battle but win the war –
it means there will be times in life that you don’t achieve a smaller victory, but at the same time, you succeed in achieving something far greater. Father may have lost the battle with this cruel illness, but there is no doubt that he won the war with a fulfilled and happy life.
I have gone through all of father’s notes from the meeting we had a few years ago to discuss this very day. In true father style, it was a sombre topic, discussed in a light-hearted way, and we laughed as we went through his wishes. What stands out the most , is that every single word that he has written is so … utterly … selfless.
He simply… wanted us… to be ok.
How do I follow that? I cant. I think the most fitting way is to sign off in father’s own words. It was just a scribbled “PS” that he wrote on the bottom of his notes. I think these words personify father perfectly, and they are words that we will all treasure and remember him by forever:
“PS. When everything has “settled”,
enjoy a good “knees up” together ,
and have a good laugh!”.
[ August 2016 ]