John Charles Forehead, died 20 April 2007, aged 60

Address given by Canon David Eaton at John's funeral in his Parish Church of St Mary & St Nicholas, Leatherhead, Wednesday 9 May 2007

John was a man of many parts and many interests whose unassuming nature often masked his real abilities and considerable understanding.

He grew up locally in Fetcham, with his sister Susan, where he was in the Scouts and also Crusaders, which gave an early Christian foundation to his life. Although he he remained a local lad and continued to live in the area, John was widely travelled both in Europe and further afield in Australia.

Forced to take to the air for some of these trips, one of the most enduring pictures of John is on his much cherished yellow Claud Butler bicycle; it was on his bike that he visited neighbouring countries on the Continent.

By profession John was a Master Carpenter and Joiner. He worked for Makepeace & Saunders, Builders. His garage never housed a car but it certainly contained John's workshop. He had a fine array of tools and equipment. Some were collectors' items, retained for the pleasure of having fine tools to hand; others were for more practical day-to-day use.

He was an expert with his hands and many people benefited from his skills - almost always given without thought of payment.

photo: John by David Eaton
at an event in the Parish Hall

John ran a stall at our Autumn Market. He was a turner and put his skill to good use at the lathe. He loved wood and had a natural feel and empathy for this material.

John left school at 15 and in this sense was self-educated. He was an avid reader. He knew a lot about a lot. He was one of those people who consumed and absorbed facts and details. The Second World War was one field of interest; wine - and Spanish wines in particular, was another. He was also a keen photographer.

John wasn't just taken up with things that interested him. He was generous and liked a good cause. He put his woodworking skills to use by supporting Tools for Independence - he refurbished hand tools for developing countries.

In his buttonhole he always wore his Labour Party badge. He stood for Labour in Fetcham in local elections. He knew, of course, Fetcham was never going to go Labour (some hope) but he believed in flying the flag and nailing his colours to the mast. In this cause he particularly enjoyed and valued Pat's friendship and support.

In recent years John was Caretaker at St. Mary's School and latterly Assistant Caretaker for Leatherhead Trinity School. Good caretakers are worth their weight in gold and John was one of these. He was able to turn his hand to the myriad of practical problems that need fixing in any school, as well as the more usual duties of locking and unlocking and cleaning.

He was also able to build good working relations with members of staff and parents and was held in affection by them. He was known to the children and enjoyed their company. John made the cross, from wood, which is the focus of worship in school at assemblies. It remains a tribute to him. He will be much missed in school life.

John was caretaker at school because he was dogged by ill health and not able to work full-time. In recent years he had a tough call with his health. His determination kept him going. He wanted to play his part, keep himself , and he wasn't going easily to step aside on health grounds.

It was on one sojourn in Epsom Hospital that John had what he later described as a religious experience. He had been a believer in his younger years and this experience brought him back to faith. Somehow he knew in a direct and real way that God was with him. He said to a hospital chaplain “I always knew you had faith, but I didn’t know what it was until now.”

It was because of this that John became a regular member of this church and worshipped here. He read his Bible every day. He was confirmed at Guildford Cathedral in 2000.

John had strong views and many interests but he was also very human and likeable. He got on with people and took time and trouble over them. When necessary he could call their bluff. There was always a twinkle in his eye.

We extend sincere sympathies to Susan and Angela and family in their loss. John was a strong presence in any community and will be greatly missed.

Because John was a man of faith we come today with the comfort and consolation of knowing he recognised Jesus, in the way Mary or Martha did in our reading (John 11, 17-27). Like Martha he would have said “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” And Jesus would respond as he did to Martha “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever has faith in me shall live, even though he dies.”

It is to this hope that we commit John today, confident that he is welcomed and received into a life yet to come, by the one who gave him life both physical, at his birth, and spiritual, when he first believed.

In the stained glass windows to my right we have the virtues of Faith, Love, Charity highlighted. We are familiar enough with these. But also mentioned there is Resignation. This is not so familiar to us today and in our usage sounds like defeat or compromise. But in the 19th Century, from which this window dates, the intention was different and more positive. This was probably because at that time untreatable illnesses too readily overtook many people, children but also adults, leading to premature death.

The virtue of doctrine of Resignation was this: an acceptance, a positive acceptance of what had happened to you or someone that you cared about. You resigned yourself to it, recognising that the outcome was inevitable. But by doing this you were at peace; and in this sense you also recognised that this life is properly a preparation for a life yet to come. You gave yourself to God in hope and faith that all would be well.

I think John had a sense of this about him. He died prematurely. He was confident in whom he believed, and he looked beyond the sometimes faltering brokenness of this life which he knew only too well as he fought with ill health, to a richer, fuller life with God in Heaven. He had found his own peace of mind.

John was a remarkable person and we give thanks to God for him and having known him. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Angela Stevens, John's cousin, was invited by David Eaton to add her own contribution:

I extend my thanks to the congregation for their friendship to John - he was most happy when helping people.

Here is a passage from Robert Louis Stevenson found amongst John's papers. Perhaps someone will know its source.

The great affair is to move
To feel the needs and hitches of life a little more nearly
To get down off this featherbed of civilisation
And to find the globe granite underfoot
And strewn with cutting flints.

[this is based on a passage from Chapter 5 of Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes - see the paragraph commencing Why any one should desire to visit either Luc or Cheylard is more than my much-inventing spirit can suppose.]

Frank Haslam adds 9 May 2007: While he could, John was a faithful member of the Parish Church Christian Aid team and turned out for the Friends' churchyard working parties. He was also a member of one of the Parish Church cleaning teams. In all he was, as ever, quietly effective.

If you have further remembrance of John to add, please contact Frank Haslam, the editor of these pages.

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last updated 13 May 2007