SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: Touching family reunions

Sir Peter Bottomley
Sir Peter Bottomley

It is a joy to read how Sally Kent of Goring-by-Sea reunited with her brother Peter Cattanach after the decades when they did not know each other existed.

Many people who grew up happily and successfully with adopted parents are able to meet members of their biological family if they choose to. Others do not make that choice.

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The love and mutual care in the adoptive household can be just as great. On Saturday I was touched to hear the address for his mother by a man speaking at her funeral, especially when he described his arrival as ‘. . then I came along”.

War and invasion can be a cause of family separation. When my family lived in south London, a letter arrived from Singapore. A woman wrote to my father that she recognised Irene, the Chinese-origin nanny who helped my parents in Kuala Lumpur, by a chance photograph in the Straits Times. They were sisters; their family had split twenty years earlier during the Japanese invasion of Singapore in 1942.

Each thought the other had died. Irene, from the age of eight had picked up five languages. She came to live with us. Her sister added to her expressions of joy the information that a third sister had also survived. She had married a British soldier who had been with Lord Mountbatten’s liberating force; she was now living in Battersea: could we please take Irene to see her?

I went first to check and to prepare Rose. The serendipity was that these sisters by chance were living within 300 yards of each other. Happiness, with tears of joy. I see a collection of relationships: some last a lifetime. When a child is born or adopted, the relationship started will last until one heart stops. Some relationships may be for a time: these can include fostering or education. Even after the formal placing ends, people can stay in touch.

My university tutor lived in a monastery for the last thirty years of his life. Once he said I should stop repeating my apology and shame for being his most useless, lazy and unreliable undergraduate. He kindly said that he was naturally proud of those others who took a First class degree and went on to be professors; of the rest, he generously declared that I was the one with whom he was most pleased. From that moment on, I started to work harder and to do much more for others.

These thoughts are prompted by my gratitude to Sue Dare, retiring from her productive years at Northbrook College, now part of the Metropolitan College. Recently I spoke with half the staff at their gathering at the Grand in Brighton. I first knew it though the singer Leo Sayer.

In Sue’s eight years as head of the College, with her colleagues and governors she transformed the buildings, modernised the courses and gave the service of leadership that transforms the lives of students and of staff. Through the times of frustrations with government, she was always cheerful and positive. Our thanks are immense. A pleasant fact is that her former chair Nick Juba is now the chief executive of the combined college.

Recently I called on the greatest head teacher I have known. Peter Dawson, a Methodist minister, went on from Eltham Green school to serve as general secretary of the Professional Association of Teachers. In his 1981 book ‘Making a Comprehensive Work’, he quotes a secondary teacher: “You have to love them. Whatever you do, you have to love them. Mind you, that does not mean you always have to like them.”

Peter Dawson then wrote the lines that the poet, cleric and MP John Donne gave us from the greatest teacher of all time: “ ‘In finem dilexit eos’, saith Saint John. He loved them to the end. Not for any particular end, not for any use of his own, but to their end.” Endless love, in families, in life.

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