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A Tribute to Fred Waite, by Heather Doe

Fred Waite 1921 – 2005

It is a great honour to be asked by the family to speak about Fred. On behalf of Rita, the girls – Carole, Nicky, Philippa, Joanna, Anne, as well as Steve, Geraint, Little Jo and Katie, I would like to share some happy memories of Fred’s life.

Fred has been part of Penylan life for almost half a century, and a very significant part of St Edward’s Church over the past 16 years.

Cardiff born and bred, Fred grew up in Richmond Rd. He attended St Martin’s Church as a boy, but I gather he didn’t get answers from the clergy to what sounded like sensible questions so he left. He was a pupil at Cardiff High School – along with our own dear Father Ken – a link that was to prove very important many years later. As a teenager, Fred lost his older brother to pneumonia – before antibiotics were available. During his youth, he had another interaction that greatly affected his life. One of his teachers had a love of classical music, which Fred found incomprehensible compared with dance music. The teacher gave Fred a challenge – he advised him to listen to a recording of a Brahms symphony 10 times, and then tell him that there was nothing in classical music. You can just imagine Fred taking up that gauntlet – indeed he did listen over and over, 10 times, unimpressed at first, but gradually hearing the melodies, the harmonies and the intricacy of the music. The result was a spectacular conversion to a love of music, which was a great joy to Fred all his life.

A great joy, not least because it led him to his wonderful partnership with Rita. Aged 19, and an accomplished violinist, Rita was from Nottingham and visiting her sister in Cardiff. Fred met her at a musical soiree; they got talking about music – and – well, 3 weeks later they married. That was 56 years ago in September.

Fred was enormously proud of his daughters and their families – Carole and Keith, Nicky and Steve, Philippa, and Joanna and Anne – of their achievements in their various fields. I know he was particularly proud of the fact that all his daughters, like him, have their own individual and decided characters. He took great pleasure in their lives and particularly his grandchildren Geraint, Little Jo and Katy. When the girls – Carole, Nicky and Phil were small (before Jo was born) the family would have trips to the seaside – Fred, Rita, 3 girls and also Granny Waite. Unremarkable? If I tell you they didn’t have a car and that Fred and Rita would take their Motorbikes but didn’t have room for all the girls at once, drop Rita and 2 girls off at the beach, then Fred would come back for Granny Waite and the other girl – would you still say unremarkable? And the same on the return trip. For many people, the absence of a car would be an insurmountable barrier to a family day out but not for Fred.

After school, Fred became a toolmaker – but then decided to better himself and qualify as an engineer. With typical purpose and determination, he signed up for an external London University degree, and attended lectures at Cardiff University. He recalled times when he would stick his hand up in lectures and say `I’m sorry I don’t understand, can you explain that more clearly please?’ As he pointed out, he was paying for these lectures – he worked all through as a toolmaker to fund his studies – and he was determined to get his degree. He was of course successful and went on to the top of the profession, becoming Chief Officer for Mid Glam Health Authority.
Then, 30 years ago, in his early 50’s, Fred developed cancer of the larynx. The operation was successful, but left Fred with no voice box. Typically, he set about finding a way of communicating, and developed such good oesophageal speech (by means of swallowing air) that speech therapists at the hospital asked him to advise other patients who needed the same operation. One such person who spoke to Fred on the phone couldn’t believe Fred had had the operation until he saw him in person, his speech was so good. Even in later years when his muscle power was not as great, Fred had his ways of getting his comments in – hand up, tap the table – and that Muttley laugh – would let you know he was amused.

Fred and Rita came to St Edward’s almost exactly 16 years ago. They came to our daughter Lizzie’s baptism, and at the party afterwards, Fred got talking to Father Ken. They realised that they had spent school days together and fell to talking of religion. Fred, in scientific mode said it was all-impossible and didn’t make sense. Ken put his point of view and ended up saying in his wise and wonderful way – well Fred, don’t you think that something that’s lasted for 2000 years must have something going for it? – Why don’t you give it a try? A true scientist, Fred did the experiment – read the Bible, attended discussions, came to church. Fred and Rita caught the faith, and they were confirmed that Christmas. Our benefit for the years since was to have them both as church members and to have Fred as our churchwarden. He has been a daily guardian to this place, coming in to check the building as part of his walk – he would open up, sit for a bit and pray – and of course he has been for years chief welcomer to all at the Sunday morning service. Church and Parish committee meetings have benefited from his experience and common sense. With his engineering skills, Fred ensured that the buildings were sound, putting in hand structural work when it was needed. Not only this, he also helped St Edwards to develop spiritual soundness by committing himself to opening the church on Saturday mornings once a month – for anyone to come in and just be in this sacred space – prayers helped along by carefully selected recordings of music by the orchestra.

Ah yes – St Edward’s orchestra. Fred and Rita had run an orchestra for many years at Howardian, but when that building closed, shortly after they had started coming to church, the new home for the orchestra was clearly meant to be St Edwards. The mutual benefit for orchestra, church and choir has been felt ever since – (there are cathedrals that don’t have a resident orchestra!)

Again, Fred’s planning, organisation and execution came into play. He would produce all the orchestral parts, meticulously copied out, photocopied, labelled and ready. His birthday present requests for many years were musical scores for the orchestra. He would adapt, transpose, orchestrate, rehearse – do everything to ensure that the performance was as good as it could be. He would bring his equipment to record rehearsals and performances – many of us are proud owners of tapes of our performances (do not use Dolby!). He even provided the electronic keyboard for additional organ or harp effects – it wasn’t Fred’s fault that someone pressed the Rumba button during one performance of the Messiah.

This music was a pillar of Fred’s life, and one of his assurances of the existence, nay presence of God. He often said how fortunate he felt to have spent his retirement making music – conducting and performing (after his operation he had to give up the clarinet and took up the cello.) We have benefited here – all of us – performers, participants, and listeners – from the skill and devotion Fred brought to making music of all sorts.

The spiritual dimension of making music was part of Fred’s very soul. We have performed many Masses, concerts, oratorios together – Haydn, Mozart, Doe (orchestrated by Fred) and just this Good Friday, Rutter. At the end of each performance, Fred, conducting, would be quite still for a few seconds, clasp his hands and look up as if to say – there we are God, that’s our very best – it’s for you.

The many years of friendship that my family and I have personally shared with Fred have, I know, been replicated with many of you. The fun of eating, drinking, making music, playing poker for pennies, have been a joy. Fred would have been 84 this Monday just gone. On his 80th birthday, at his party, he told the gathering some wonderful stories, how happy and fulfilled his life had been, and his love for Rita and his girls. My favourite story of all those he told that day is this one – During the War, as a toolmaker, Fred was in a reserved occupation, so fought his war here at home. He worked by day and did ARP duty at night. One dark night he cycled from Richmond Rd, past the Mansion House, towards Newport Rd to the gun site at Rumney. As he passed the Mansion House, he heard the whine of a bomb dropping, then a thud. He carried on cycling. Returning home the next morning, he found the road in front of the mansion house blocked off with a policeman standing guard. Fred got off his bike and asked what was going on. ‘UXB’ replied the policeman. If that bomb had gone off as Fred was on his way to ARP we wouldn’t be here now celebrating his long life. I think that Fred realised God had a plan for him.

Fred was a brave man and faced this last illness with realism and honesty. He didn’t waste time with platitudes. My last conversation with him went like this, ‘How are you today Fred?’ ‘I’m dying I know that. Whether it’s this week or this month or this year, I’ve had a good life, done everything I wanted to and I’m just glad to be at home – with my cats. Whenever God is ready for me, he’ll call.’

God indeed called Fred home last Friday. His death was peaceful and calm. He waited to die until all his girls had been there that day. His cat Smokey was at his feet. He received blessing and anointing from the clergy, and farewells from his oldest friends. He is now organising an orchestra in heaven and will continue to make music for the glory of God.

- Husband
- Father and Grandfather
- Engineer
- Musician
- Friend
- Smokey’s human
- Christian witness

We thank God for the privilege of knowing you.