WERE you to know Ben, you were to know magnanimity and humble magnificence.
Books knew him well. They were at the core of his being; a visual representation to us all of his appreciation and hunger for knowledge. In books, Ben found warmth and a comprehension of the simplicity of a good, honest life and absorbed their wisdom.
We are not, in a true sense, a religious family; yet Ben read the bible front to back as a child. Later he would read scripture daily, which he’d note in a well-kept ‘non-emotional’ diary. Yet, ever the inquisitor, Ben read text from many different religions, political parties, historians and biographers. To debate, one must find patience and willing to sequester knowledge from all sides.
As much as books informed him of a world past, present and future, he also examined his actions, etiquette and character. He read ‘The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell’ and noted its maxims, of which these are two; “Avoid all vain and unkind criticism of others” and “Don’t be a Philistine!
Don’t let any opportunities of hearing good music, seeing good pictures or acting escape you”. He’d earmarked these rules of conduct with a little yellow Post-it – one of hundreds of pages he found poignant or worth reflection in a library of paper he’d amassed and stored on dark mahogany bookshelves in his bedroom.
Ben was exceptional; not just as a brother or a son, a friend or a student; but as a human being with unparalleled natural talent, matched only by his immeasurable strength and perseverance to better himself. Ben was, soon to be, a grade 8 classical pianist, largely self-taught.
He was a keen cyclist; and a ‘prodigious talent’, as he was often introduced. He was an athlete; running televised races months after taking up the sport, could fly light aircraft, skateboard on half-pipes, keep up with professional snooker players and excelled at golf.
He was a poet, a hiker, a climber and had recently earned his second belt in Judo. He was a linguist, fluent in French and learning Italian and German. Ben tried his hand at the guitar and drums and began to write his own music. And still, the most beautiful element of all of this, being his humility and modesty; never truly realising his own ability. Upon all this his personality was built. Ben spoke calmly and listened intently, he gave his heart to conversation and found joy in others’ achievements; keen to compliment, happy to share.
A man so far beyond his years and yet so firmly suited to a bygone era where true gentlemen graced each day with foresight, respect and honour. He took constitutionals instead of walks. He chose conversation or reading over television and social media. He chose the church instead of the pub and would walk with our dogs in the fresh air to relax and unwind. Yet, with all of this, he was cheeky, mischievous and curious, playful and energetic.
He had an infectious laugh and loved to reminisce and relive stories of his younger days, whilst often asking, “Do you have any jokes?” His confident, adventurous nature would take him across borders and cultures, and provide many an anecdote. That intrigue brought about clarity. Ben knew he wanted true love, a family with two boys whom he could teach French and piano, to live in the country amongst the hills, valleys, trees and birds.
Ben was a chemist at the University of Reading, having previously studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics in his first year. Science was the backbone of his intellect, as religion was of his personality. Ben and our dad, Andrew, when not competing at chess or board games, would always find time to experiment, create something or blow something up.
Sometimes we’d have displays in the garden on how hydrogen, balloons and fire don’t mix. With our mum, Jacquie, Ben would explore his love of the arts, the simply beauty of the garden and would don his new wellington boots to trudge through the winter mud on Leckhampton Hill to walk Nellie, mum’s black Labrador. Ben’s one true girlfriend turned best friend and confidant, Jo, was his life partner. They’d share books, learn new languages and explored the world together – an invaluable love our family are so comforted to know Ben had witnessed.
My older brother, George, and I, Jo, our extended family and, of course, our wonderful parents, will never be able to tell you what a truly inspirational, wondrous and profoundly exceptional person Ben was. Even upon his last journey, Ben carried a bible as he cycled to St Peter’s Church for the evening to learn more about ‘The Calling of St Matthew’ by Caravaggio. He was a great man and, at just 26, able to leave a legacy from such an incredibly full and purposeful life.
Whilst the sadness and grief is, at times, unbearable, we are ever grateful for the memories we hold and for the sheer fact that we, as mere mortals in the presence of such illuminated magnificence, were by his side from the day we first met a chubby little baby Ben, to the moment Heaven took the place of a world that didn’t quite realise the majesty in It’s company.