This morning, my mother called me to let me know that my grandfather, the Reverend Arthur Leitch, had passed away after a short illness at the end of a long battle with dementia.
My grandfather was born in 1936 and grew up in in Edinburgh, the son of a greengrocer. As a child he was evacuated to the countryside during the war, but returned to Edinburgh, where he attended Boroughmuir High School. A keen sportsman, he played rugby for Edinburgh Wanderers, even making it to the reserves for the Scottish national team. He was also academically gifted, and gained entry to the University of Edinburgh. There he studied for his MA until his his inability to complete the Latin requirement of the course meant he was no longer able to claim a student exemption from National Service and he was called up. His training took him down to the south-east of England where he met a young nurse called Margaret.
After he completed his national service, the university had changed the conditions of the MA to remove the Latin requirement, so he was able to complete his studies and graduate. He married Margaret, my grandmother and moved to Reading where he worked as a maths teacher, before becoming—as his brother Ian had also—a church minister. He served congregations in Turners Hill in West Sussex, Honiton in Devon and Wareham in Dorset, where he continued to live after his retirement, moving to a village just outside Wareham called Stoborough. His later years were dogged by Alzheimer's, which sapped his keen intellect and sharp memory, but mercifully never took his kindness or good humour, his love of of his family or love of God. He is survived by grandmother, his four children (including my mother) and his thirteen grandchildren, of whom I am the oldest.
You might have noticed that I've been writing some things recently that have, directly or indirectly, been about or related to my grandad, and this is why. There's a lot I could say about my grandad—who my brother and I called "Dumpy", for reasons lost to time (he was a very thin man). I was fortunate enough to have had thirty years with him–many people I know lost their grandparents earlier or never knew them at all, so while I'm sad I feel tremendously grateful for that. Most of the holidays of my childhood would involve a week at my grandparent's bungalow—walking the dog in Wareham Forest, swimming at Shell Bay, crabbing and looking for fossils at Kimmeridge, wandering round Corfe Castle.
Looking at my extended family I can see a lot of things that ended up a part of me, in some way or another. From my grandfather I got a love of mathematics—I have many childhood memories of the maths games he'd play with me when we went to visit—and a profound religious conviction and interest in religous music. He was also a deeply serious man—not self-serious, not without a sense of humour or a goofy side (I have a fond childhood memory of him getting nipped by a crab's claws when reaching under a rock), but a man of stern morals, of character and conviction, who thought deeply about things, said what he meant and followed through on his promises. It's something I don't always reach but I always strive for. He was abstemious, though not austere—he enjoyed simple things: hiking, reading, puzzles, falling asleep in front of the rugby. He was also intensely personable—he would start a conversation with anyone—and tremendously kind.
His Alzheimer's was a source of great sadness to me. The clever and wise man I had know for so many years was slowly slipping away. Visiting my grandparents a few times every year made the decline impossible to ignore and every new loss punched a hole in my chest. I remember in 2019, already tender from an emotionally bruising breakup, going with them to the supermarket and my grandmother asking him to get the ticket for the car park. The look of confusion on his face when he turned around was to this day one of the saddest things I've ever seen; when we got back to their house I went to bed and cried myself to sleep.
When he was moved to end-of-life care a couple of days ago, my mum said I could come and see him if I wanted, but I might be better not to as it could be too upsetting. His swift decline ultimately made the decision for me, but I think it was for the best. I cherish dearly my last memory of him as he was, from a visit during the summer of 2017, around the time his dementia was starting to make itself known, when he took me for a long walk around the heath at Arne and told me all about his childhood and life. It felt like a goodbye—like he wanted to tell me while he still could, and I take great joy and comfort in that memory.