Eulogy For Geoff Thompson
Eulogies at the Requiem Mass of Geoff Thomson, 15 November 2023, given by Chloe and Liz
I want to start by first thanking everyone for coming today. That so many people are here or watching from home is a tribute to just how many lives Geoff touched in his sixty years on this earth. Since he passed, my grandparents and mother, Geoff’s parents – Jill and Allan – and sister – Janet – have been inundated with calls, messages and cards from people sharing their condolences and memories of Geoff, and it has brought us immense comfort to see the love we had for him reflected in all of you.
I would like to share one of the things we learnt about Geoff from these messages because I think it says a lot about the kind of person he was. It came from a friend of our family who shared that she might have never passed her maths O-level if it hadn’t been for the fact that Geoff tutored her when he was still a teenager. The fact that none of us had ever heard about this story before, speaks to one of Geoff’s best traits – his modesty. If I did as many good deeds as Geoff everyone would know about it, but he gave freely without ever needing recognition. No-one was ever made to feel that they owed Geoff a favour, although half the people in this room probably do still owe Geoff a favour.
Geoff Thompson was born in 1963 at Shagreen Hospital Preston. Even as a young child he knew his own mind and his parents have many stories to tell about countryside walks where he stopped halfway through and refused to go any further. No amount of reasoning, threats or promises could persuade him to carry on and he always eventually got his own way. But while he might have been independent, he was also fiercely protective of his little sister who says that on her first day of school she was one of the only children not crying because she knew her big brother was there to take care of her.
Geoff’s first big adventure was a trip to Russia aged 14, which sparked a life-long love of international travel. It would take far too long list all the places that Geoff visited during his lifetime, but highlights include spotting desert lions in Botswana, getting a selfie in front of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, swimming in the Dead See in Jordon, seeing the pyramids in Egypt and, of course, the dozens of times he went to pick olives in the Holy Land.
From an early age, he had passion for the performing arts, working backstage to help bring plays to life while at Catholic College Preston. Going to the theatre was something that would continue to bring him joy throughout his life as the many people who he took along with him can attest too. As a teenager, he also volunteered at a rest home and was a Saint John Ambulance cadet, experiences that no doubt led to him to pursue a career in nursing where he helped not only patients but also, as Stewart Representative with the Royal College of Nursing, his fellow colleagues.
Geoff loved to learn. Before his nurse training in Sussex, he studied science at Durham University, but rather than stopping as soon as he took off his cap and gown, he completed courses over the years in everything from bookkeeping to reading hieroglyphics. He was also the unofficial family historian with an incredible memory for places and names and we have no idea how we will be able to recount any story at family gatherings without having him to call on.
I would also be remiss not to mention Geoff’s love for bargains – nothing made him happier than getting a good deal – but he was also incredibly generous with both his time and money. There are countless tales of Geoff’s generosity, but I will never forget him driving all the way to London collect my belongings when I finished university. As was often the case, I don’t even thing I asked him to come, he was just there. He was an excellent uncle, but also an exceptional brother, son, cousin and friend.
In the second part of the eulogy Geoff’s friend Liz will speak more to his prowess for organising and his unparalleled hosting skills, but I would like to leave you with an image of Geoff on one of the happiest days of his life, his 60th birthday. Imagine a campsite in Delamere Forest full of friends and family, many of whom had travelled from across the UK to be there. Imagine Geoff in a brightly coloured cricket shirt, absolutely in his element grilling burgers in the rain for all of his guests. Imagine that he’s in such a good mood that, despite being a stanch anti-monarchist, he’s even wearing the crown that his sister bought him in a cheeky nod to coronation happening a few hundred miles away. It was no Buckingham Palace, but to him on that day, this campsite was paradise.
Thankyou Chloe and all the family for those lovely words.
Everyone here today will have their own Geoff stories. These are just a few of them.
Geoff’s life on earth was a tapestry of faith, love and service as he has reminded us himself in today’s reading from the prophet Micah:
“This is what Yahweh asks of you, that you act justly, that you love tenderly, that you walk humbly with your God”
Justice and Peace was not just an idea to Geoff but an overriding passion.
He lived this out in service, usually behind the scenes, as an administrator, organiser, and, often, in the kitchen, feeding whoever came with whatever was to hand, as he did among the homeless of this town. Geoff’s service to the oppressed was clearest in his love of and frequent visits to Palestine to support people living under occupation in practical ways with Olive planting and harvesting, to bringing necessary funds and clothing to the children at the Hogar Nino Dios convent, and to give the people of the Holy Land respect and fellowship. (Tim please edit or ad lib)
Alongside the caring side of his nursing career, Geoff was involved in union work, supporting legislative changes to make working lives better, His drive to help others was across his whole life.
Geoff believed in economy. Not just in the sense of the many bargains he snapped up at Lidl but that his “household” was all the communities he belonged to, and that resources were to be shared, not wasted. Food which couldn’t be used by the homeless was recycled to some other charity. Enormous bags of teabags would cycle between Parish, Lay Community of St Benedict and Scout events until used up. This, too, is justice.
Geoff lived to serve, unafraid to get his hands dirty, including nursing the sick on pilgrimage to Lourdes. His friend Julie remembers Geoff helping Easter Guests at Worth Abbey with physical or medical needs in the days it was acceptable to carry wheelchairs up and down the staircases of a former stately home! He carried a mobile office in his “skip on wheels” to work wherever he was. He would join those walking with a cross during Holy Week to walk in the day, and produce welcome packs to be stuffed into envelopes at night. Friends have said; “He was a last minute, chaotic crisis, but “everything’s under control” man. Everything always did work out OK”
The van, or “skip” gave lifts anywhere to anyone, although you always had to clear a space first., Frequent Flyers included his great friend Julie, as her health restricted the travel abroad they’d enjoyed over the years, including a memorable trip to Egypt with Fr Patrick from Worth Abbey. Julie partly moved to Preston to be near such a good friend. Another frequent use of the “skip” was lunch out with Margaret Nelson, and shopping trips for anyone more vulnerable during the Covid lockdowns.
No event was complete without Geoff catering. Community weddings, cooking for the homeless, cricket picnics with tablecloth, halal dinners for muslim scouts unasked, Lay Benedictine AGMs and parish picnics, Christmas dinner cooked on scout camp, BBQs in the parish courtyard or on retreat at Douai Abbey with young adults. Geoff fed others from the 1990s to 2023, right up to BBQ’ing his own birthday party in May. He spent all summer telling everyone what a perfect birthday party that was. Geoff couldn’t abide fussy eating, but would cater for individual need with great detail, even for those who insisted on greens with every meal.
Geoff was loyal. Long-standing, Long-term, are the words came up over and over in messages from friends and colleagues. His friends knew how much family meant to him. and how proud he was of his nephew and niece. He gave freely of his time not just to the things dear to himself but to those dear to his friends. He loved to help Margaret Emmott with her work surveying footpaths as a volunteer national park ranger in the Yorkshire Dales, he allowed himself to be drafted in as camp cook for Liz Insley’s scout group, and stood in for Liz’s husband Charlie on the day they moved house, making tea for the removal men and being decisive about where things should go.
He was incredibly generous with his time, and personal resources. There is a story of sending a community member a cheque to help with a period of unemployment. Generosity takes courage. Geoff served in Palestine in increasingly unstable conditions, and never gave up. He was heartbroken not to get out there during Covid and his illness last year and overjoyed to return in the spring.
Loving tenderly was often disguised behind a dry wit and wicked sense of humour, and refusing to take any rubbish from anyone. Sometimes he took delight in being deliberately grumpy but could also be cheeky. He named a friend “that mad woman with the hat”. This proved he approved of her.
Geoff loved life, learning, trying new things, new places. Over the last three years, he caught up with the Insley family’s love of cricket, and threw himself into everything about the game, including laughing at being rained off again.
For a man who was never wrong, Geoff was also modest, in his lifestyle, and about his many achievements. He was knowledgeable about so many things, but never boasted of them, although he would not hesitate to put you right.
All the Love and generosity, often hidden behind “I can’t be having with faff”, are outward signs of Geoff’s immense faith. He was not just a man of action but of prayer. He loved the rhythm of monastic prayer, tuning into early service from Ampleforth Abbey from his bed, and was familiar with abbeys in England, and abroad, including, of course, in the Holy Land. His favourite place on earth was the well where the Samaritan woman met Jesus, where people outside society were welcomed into the church. It seems very fitting he should be called away on All Saints’ day. If there is a kitchen in heaven, he is certainly in the heart of it.