John Hume made us 'laugh, dream and think' - John Hume Jnr

'A Derryman to his core.' In remarks delivered at the funeral mass for his father, John Hume Jnr spoke of the difficult task summing up his dad's life
John Hume made us 'laugh, dream and think' - John Hume Jnr
John Hume Junior speaks at the funeral of his father Picture: Stephen Latimer/PA Wire

Summing up our Dad’s life in a few minutes is not an easy task.

For a man who supposedly had only one single transferable speech, Dad did a lot of different things in his life.

He also made us laugh, dream, think, and sometimes look at him and scratch our heads in amazement (and on rare occasions, bewilderment).

He also kept the Irish chocolate industry in healthy profits for many years. Yorkies, Crunchies, Crème Eggs, Double-Deckers, Wispas, you name it, he loved them all.

We often found it odd, how a man with the intelligence to win a Nobel Prize could seriously believe that Crunchies were less fattening because they are full of air.

On Father’s day, a few weeks ago, as we couldn’t be with him, all his grandchildren posted him his favourite chocolate bars. I hear they had a feast in Owen Mor.

If Dad were here today in the fullness of his health, witnessing the current tensions in the world, he wouldn’t waste the opportunity to say a few words.

The funeral of John Hume at St Eugene's Cathedral in Londonderry.
The funeral of John Hume at St Eugene's Cathedral in Londonderry.

If he were here now, he might quote his friend, Congressman John Lewis, who sadly passed away a few weeks ago, appealing to the “goodness of every human being and never giving up”.

Dad was a Derryman to his core, and those deep roots of neighbourhood and community served to nourish him through the difficult years.

From the beginning, the European Union was like a homecoming to him, bringing together diverse cultures in an interdependent relationship, allowing for unique identities while also holding a bigger picture of unified kinship.

At this time of planetary fragility, more than ever, he would be urging that we move beyond our flag-based identities, and recognise the need to protect our common home.

Central to Dad’s work was his deep appreciation of human interdependency. We all need one another, we all have a role to play, and all our roles are of equal importance.

In the last years of dad’s life, his physical and mental health became more visibly vulnerable.

And yet in those recent years, more than ever, we as a family witnessed the absolute importance of dad’s core ethos, of building community based on respect and love.

The kindness shown to him by the people of Derry and Donegal, who stopped to talk to him in the street every day, guided him to protect his independence, and received him with gentleness if he was agitated, was a profound gift to all of us. We are eternally grateful to all those that helped over the years.

In these last two years, when he’d lost his mobility and eyesight, he moved to Owen Mor nursing home.

In this, his last home, and it was a home, all of us as a family were made welcome, and became part of a new community of families and carers.

The deep attention and love shown to dad and to the many friends he made among carers, residents and their families, will remain a lesson to us for the rest of our lives.

During the long weeks of lockdown when we as a family were unable to be with him, we knew that, despite the major difficulties of infection management and bereavement, the Care and Nursing staff in Unit One were doing their absolute best, to care deeply for him, and for all his fellow residents.

We know that he continued to sing songs every day, to teach them all a wee bit of French, to tell his jokes, to demand more buns, and to question everyone daily about where they came from, their origins and their families.

He remained deeply interested in every individual, even if he remembered little of it, until the end of his days.

Dad was also a father, a husband and a man who loved and cared for his family at all times.

Marrying Pat Hone, our mother, was without a doubt Dad’s greatest achievement and she enabled him to reach his full potential.

Mum and Dad met at a dance in Borderland in Donegal, the starting point for many a Derry family.

Romance was followed by a wedding and a December honeymoon in a freezing B&B in Gardiner Street in Dublin.

Thankfully for Mum, the quality of the accommodation got better as the marriage went on.

Our mum, who loved, supported and guided him throughout his tireless work for peace, and later in his frailty, was his greatest blessing.

30 October 2010; John Hume, SDLP founder and co-recipient of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize, celebrates with Derry City players after winning the Airtricity League First Division. Picture: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
30 October 2010; John Hume, SDLP founder and co-recipient of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize, celebrates with Derry City players after winning the Airtricity League First Division. Picture: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

But he was there for all of us throughout his life. There were times when we felt that he was absent, but he wasn’t, he was just with us from somewhere else.

Along with Mum, he taught us all our values and gave us all our moral compass. And for that we will be forever in their debt.

As a family we will remember the man who was rooted in his community, a man who was most comfortable sitting in front of the TV, with half a dozen Crunchie bars to keep him company, and his family around him. Or the odd time holding court around the corner in the Park Bar.

A man who ordered the same dinner in the same restaurants in Strasbourg and Greencastle for 25 years. I’m sure he’s up there now ordering his crème brulee and that awful sweet wine he loved.

A man who loved Derry at its best, be that promoting the Candystripes of Derry City F.C. across the world, or the many choirs that he brought from here to Europe to sing in Brussels and Strasbourg.

A man who didn’t need to be invited twice to lift a mike himself, and give us a blast of The Town I Love So Well or Matt Hyland, and many, many, many, more besides.

A man who truly believed in Derry and the talents of our people, and became our greatest ambassador to the world.

A man who loved Donegal, and spent much of his downtime in Bunbeg and Greencastle/Moville, where he was able to switch off and relax and finally get that peace and quiet he deserved.

The care Dad received in the last years of his life allowed him to retain his dignity, individuality and his magnificent strength of character, despite his overwhelming disabilities.

It allowed him to overcome.

If he were here, he would urge us to look at those young carers and the incredible and heroic daily work they do as a model for future leadership - their ethos of deep respect, a respect for everyone regardless of where they come from or stage of life.

These are the foundation stones that are critical to all communities.

The Reverend ML King might describe it as the politics of love.

Dad would urge us to listen, so that in spite of it all; we shall overcome.

Thank you, Dad, for a life well lived.

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