And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
An Obituary for My Father
Dad (known by almost everyone as Bill) was born in Hinckley, Leicestershire in February 1941 and christened William Ernest FOX after his father, Ernest Fox,
When Dad was two years old his father drowned, and Dad was brought up my his Mum Hilda, (known as “H”) in rural poverty, staying in an alms house, for which privilege his mother had to scrub the stone floors of the church on her hands and knees. Dad was no fan of the church or organised religion. The family had moved to Dorset, and Dad with his younger brother Dick went to school in Lyme Regis. He was a fast runner, and won the mile race, competing for the County and setting a school record.
He acquired a stepfather, Jack SMITH, and then another brother (Nick). Dad later combined the names FOX and SMITH and the FOXSMITH family name was created.
Aged 16, Dad left home and went to Navigation school in Plymouth.
He went to sea with the Merchant Navy (one of his ships featured here) for six years during which time he visited China, Japan and Cuba amongst other Countries. In Cuba, he was arrested and spent a night in prison. It’s a bit unclear what offence he had allegedly committed, or how he came to be released, but it was a typical escapade for Dad who loved adventure.
As a young man on leave, he loved cars (like this MG) (and once proudly owned a very unreliable Jag).
His Mum died when he was at sea. He was not able to return for the funeral.
Over 30 years later he found a “memory box” with some keepsakes and mementoes from his sea-faring days. Not realising what it was, he began reading aloud the letter from his brother which broke the news of their mother’s death,and it moved him to tears. It was the only time I ever saw him cry.
Dad met Mum (Sylvia) in July 1964 and they were married in Wembury Church on 05/10/1966.
(and then Honeymoon in Paris!)
His first “land” job was selling encyclopaedias, and then he worked with Mintex (a Company selling brake and clutch linings) as a salesman,retiring as manager of Plymouth depot.
He had been framing pictures- self taught – as a hobby, and now became self-employed doing that professionally.
He had also formed an interest in silhouettes, which he had began collecting, and became something of an expert. (He later became involved in the Silhouette Club)
Eventually he opened his shop on Southside Street, The Barbican, selling antique maps and prints
The shop “Foxsmith Galleries” was open for 20 years, and eventually closed in 2006.
He was renowned for his business ethics, never broke his word or a contract, and had great integrity. His word was his bond, and most deals were done on a handshake. He disliked debt, and liked to be beholden to nobody. He was a hard worker, and in order to provide for his family, put business before pleasure.
Dad loved antiques and fine art, good company and good wine.
He enjoyed classical music, which could always be heard in the basement at home where he was framing pictures, or in the shop.
He had a great sense of humour, and a good sense of adventure. He loved sailing and wind-surfing, but was equally happy to try his hand at anything adventurous from para-gliding to stock car racing to bungee-jumping.
Dad didn’t tolerate fools gladly, and disliked snobbery and pretentiousness.
He hated hypocrisy. He had no airs and graces and could mix easily in any company.
He had a wide circle of friends. Most of all he loved his family.
There were three children- myself Mark and Naomi.
Mum and Dad first lived in a small bungalow in Staddiscombe (near Plymstock) and then moved to Alfred Street on Plymouth Hoe.
We holidayed as children in Butlins, and many years later in France,catching the ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff and driving to a campsite.
We would often travel away for a weekend, to stay with friends or family, and would stay up late- the adults talking and playing games downstairs, us children doing the same upstairs, at least until we got caught.
Sadness at Dads death is tempered by the happiness that he is released from the hell of his last few years. Sadly, in truth we lost Dad a few years ago to the cruel disease of Alzheimer’s, the early onset of which robbed him of a peaceful retirement.
Rarely have the words “Rest In Peace” been more apposite.
Dad was a towering figure for me, and the most important influence on my life.
He was there for all my significant birthdays and milestones, including graduation, was a witness at my wedding, and once came to see me advocating in Court. I inherited or learned from him some qualities that have stood me in good stead as a defence lawyer-a sense of fairness, and an innate sympathy for the underdog.
I admired him very much, and I am sorry most of all that my own sons are deprived of spending time with him, and he with them.
Dad had a great love of board games.
He taught me chess. We played for years and years before I won a game. Dad wasn’t one to let you win. But at least when I eventually did, I knew it was on merit.
Winning at chess was a major surprise to me.
Like most boys, I believed my father invincible, and not just in chess, but everything.
Later we had family games of Monopoly and Risk, which were extremely competitive.
I played as a child , but was aware that games would continue between adults after I was dispatched to bed
Then the drinks would come out, and the games were a backdrop to anecdotes, stories and jokes, with the roar of raucous laughter.
One of Dad’s old friends and chess opponents Jim Williamson is no longer with us, but his son Chris sent me this message on hearing of Dads passing:-
“Glass raised to a beautiful man. Guess the whiskey chess can resume now”
Dad’s brother Nick also has monopoly as one of his key memories of Dad, along with in early years watching their mother putting pins in a world map on the kitchen wall every time they received a card from a country Dad visited when at sea.
I remember the smell of beer, whiskey and pipe smoke
I remember the sound of the laughter and arguments
I remember the taste of the salt spray from sailing with Dad out on Plymouth Sound.
I really miss him.
Please send any anecdotes or photos of Dad. More photos here
A Poem for my Father
You were the one who taught me chess.
First you held out two tightly clenched hands,
Each with a pawn, one white, one black
And in my memory I always got black.
We played in silent concentration,
Your only words “check!” (and, later, “check-mate”)
Fragrant pipe-smoke trailed around the pieces
As I learned the bitter taste of defeat.
Later: Monopoly, you were always the ship
Sailing the board hoping to land on the orange set.
And Uncle Nick was always the racing car
Shouting “Rent please!”, and rubbing his hands
I look back on your life and early days at sea,
Sailing the World looking for adventure
You played a get out of jail card in Cuba
And then bought your first house in Plymouth.
Later we all played a board game called Risk
The so-called “Game of Global Domination”
Its too late now to tell you
For me you conquered the World.
When I left home I too travelled the world
With a back-pack and portable chess set.
Only now do I realise what you taught me
Not just the rules. I learned Values.
Monopoly like life is a game of skill and chance
You drew a bad card from the Community Chest
It’s better to lose than endure a stale-mate
And now you will not pass Go any more.
Now I am the one to teach my sons chess
I hold out my tightly clenched hands
Each with a pawn, one white, one black
The King is dead: Long Live the King
Later: Monopoly, and lessons in life
Try not to Go Back 3 Spaces
So boys, choose a token, roll the dice but remember
My father is always the ship.
In Memory of William Foxsmith RIP (04.02.41- 10.03.14)
Thank you to everyone for the many condolence cards, supportive messages, anecdotes and photos sent to the family. Please keep sending them! Email Gregfoxsmith@msn.com
“A vibrant and infectious zest for life (Nigel F.)
entertaining, knowledgable and fun to be around” (Matt Tiller)
He ran his business so well,always kind and courteous”(Jenni)
“No-one will forget Bill” (Vanessa J)
“Our hearts are sore at the passing of our dear friend Bill. We will always value our friendship” (Gerry and Malcolm)
“I held the most tremendous admiration for Bill,his humour, stories, knowledge and skills….” (Simon B.)
“we are surrounded by memories of Bill as there isn’t a room in the house that hasn’t either a picture from the Gallery or framed by Bill” (Jane and John Green)
“Certainly Bill was very good to me regarding old Plymouth prints. He always regretted not keeping a copy of everything that passed through his hands, and he was always happy to let me make copies of anything he thought I might not have seen before.” (Chris Robinson, of Chris Robinson, Plymouth )
“This card (pictured below) shows one of the many precious prints which adorn my walls and which Bill found for me”
“a wonderful entertaining host!” (Viv and Brian)
“A lovely human being, a delightful neighbour and friend with a great sense of fun and generosity of spirit” (Elaine and Adrian)
“Bill was a fantastic man.” (Sarah and Tony)
“Bill was a delight to work for”
“The spirit which he evoked-one of friendship, challenge and investigation” (John Pickles)
“…the road from the beach (pictured below) where Bill and I walked up from the boat on so many happy occasions” (Tad)
Ros offered these lines from Shakespeare (Anthony to Cleopatra):-
the miserable change now at my end
Lament nor sorrow at,
But please your thoughts
In feeding them with these my former fortunes
An anecdote from Malcolm and Gerry:- “Bill loved sailing in Plymouth Sound after work. One evening the tide and wind took him into Mountbatten Pier, and as he had stayed out until the last minute, it had become dark and he had no choice but to land. At that time it was private, R.A.F. property, with landing prohibited. He somehow found the Officer’s Mess and entered in his wet suit [just like James Bond] and persuaded them he was not a spy. He finished at the bar with a pint telling them of his adventures!”
“We are both very sad to hear of the death of your Dad, a great friend of mine and someone I admired very much.” (Richard Walker)