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Dennis Hawes, 1923-2007

Dennis with baby Barney

Dennis died in the early hours of Sunday, August 12th. My brother Stuart was with him at the time, and said it was a peaceful end. Dennis was an extraordinary man; gentle in his heart, radical in his politics, and so well read that he knew something about almost any topic you cared to name. Anything and everything could spark his interest, and he was never short of anything intelligent to add to any conversation.

His life was marked with tragedy and sorrow. He lost his own father while still a child, then his brother, sister and mother during the war. Den’s own war experiences were horrific, enough to scar the mind of the bravest of soldiers. But Dennis was not bitter, he didn’t hold a grudge. He loved life, loved the hills and coastline around Folkestone, loved my mother, brother and I. He took great joy from watching Barney grow up, and was delighted to be Barney’s grandfather and godfather.

His strong faith allowed him to face death with calm confidence: “I’m not afraid to die,” he told me during our final, tearful conversation. “I’ve had a good life.” He held my hand then, and I wept while he said a prayer for my little family’s future.

He was an inspiration and a source of much love and encouragement. We shall miss him. Rest in peace, dear Den.

My brother Stuart adds...

After about thirteen years with cancer, most of which had been relatively symptom-less and pain-free, my stepfather, Dennis’ condition worsened considerably in a very short time. He began to suffer bouts of intense pain and after being apparently misdiagnosed for a period of time, was eventually admitted to the Pilgrim’s Hospice in Ashford, Kent where he died three weeks later, in the early hours of August 12th, held by people who cared about him and loved him.

My mum was taken by surprise at the severity of his pain when it started back in May and herself became ill as they waited for him to be treated in the A&E department of a different hospital. She was admitted the following day having had a heart attack and has been in recovery in the meantime. So she is now coming to terms with her own mortality, the loss of her companion and partner and the future of life on her own. Given her situation, she is doing remarkably well, she has a strong spirit.

My last conversation with Dennis was about two weeks before he died when both of us acknowledged it wasn’t likely we would see one another again in the same way. My words were about my appreciation of him as a man and member of our family, how much I valued all he brought to us and to Stella in particular, and how his care and consideration of others was an inspiration to me. In his typically self-effacing style he chose not to talk about himself but replied by saying how lucky he’d been to be with my mother and us. He wanted to concentrate on my relationship with Monica, saying he hoped we found happiness together. He gave us his blessing.

His last really big smile was when he heard about our engagement, which happened a few days later, my mum telling him as he began lapsing in and out of consciousness.

Dennis served in the Second World War as a medical orderly and in the infantry, losing many friends and family members during that horrific period. He was not an aggressive man; he was a thinker, writer, artist and calligrapher of merit. He became the chief librarian of the institution then known as the South Bank Polytechnic and had the astonishing capacity to be able to meet you and talk about things you knew something about with ease, often providing you with some references that you might find interesting from his personal collection. A political man, Dennis was concerned with justice and fair treatment and felt strongly about the deterioration of our society and the environment. He loved the outdoors and the sea in particular, so on his retirement he left London and moved to Folkestone where he met Stella, my mother. They loved one another very much and enjoyed their life together for the last twenty years or so, walking the dog, listening to music, being with friends and working as active members of their strong church community. Recently, they worked together to publish a selection of Dennis’ writing which he was rightly proud of and which remains, together with the love so many people felt for him, as part of his life’s memory.

The staff at the Hospice were magnificent, please find ways of supporting hospices if you can as they are entirely funded by voluntary contributions.

Liz Robson adds...

I am sorry to hear of Dennis’s passing, I am very sad that this life has lost a great man.

I first met Dennis at St Johns church in Eltham. He was a kind and gentle man that listened to the youth and relayed their boredom to those that could make changes, they didn’t listen so Dennis made the chages anyway. He was our hero and from that moment on he became an honourary “teenager”.

We learnt very quickly that he was trustworthy and you could tell him any secret and you knew that he would respect your wishes. When I left London as my parents moved to the South West I remember telling him how upset I was to be leaving my friends behind and how selfish my parents were for not understanding my unhappiness. Dennis replied "What you see as selfish now will be thoughtfulness in time, and if they are true friends they will never say goodbye, so where ever you go in life, embrace the change and look for the positives.”

I never understood then but I did many years later when I thanked my parents for moving away from London to a better life and some of my friendships have remained alive – you were right Dennis.

I am forty next year and I remember Dennis like I was a young girl again. I hope Dennis did not suffer and that the God he believed in has welcomed him into a better place. Goodnight Dear Dennis, thank you for being my friend.

(13th August 2007)