Zbyszek 1918 -2017

img_3833A tribute on the day of his funeral

Zbyszek has always been part of my life – he was my father’s best friend, best man at both his weddings, his adviser and supporter, and my Godfather. This was a role he took extremely seriously, never forgetting to sign himself off to me with this title. I would like to say I remember him at my Christening because I was quite old at the time (over two years old), but I don’t. I do however remember him being there when I was learning to walk. I have this vision of him and my father in a park somewhere standing a few feet apart, pushing me gently to take a few steps from one to another.

He and my father were extremely close. They spent some of the war years together at Monte Cassino and afterwards in Rome, and then they ended up in London together. They lived in Chelsea, in beautiful Royal Avenue, until my father decided to get married and my mother moved in. This meant that Zbyszek had to move out – and so began his life of becoming a man of independent means.
He was an extremely hard worker, very thrifty and very wise with his money. He made some good investments and often encouraged my father to do the same.

He worked very hard yet he had time for other passions. While he was still studying in London, he supported himself by playing the violin for a dance band in Hammersmith Palais. This wasn’t necessarily the musical career his parents had hoped for when they sent him to the Poznan Conservatoire before the war, but it was the most charming part of him. I used to love it on Christmas Eve – which he always spent with us – when the moment came for him to take out the violin and play Christmas carols, which we would sing with cacophonous gusto – my grandmother – Zbyszek actually called her Mama, which just goes to show how close he was to us, my father and I. We had terrible voices, so it must have hurt his very musical ears, but he persevered. This tradition went on for many years.

I am not sure how interested he was in sport, but he indulged my father’s obsession, as he had a TV and my father did not. My most enduring memory is of the 1966 World Cup which they made me sit through as there was nothing else to do. 22 men running around the field and two men getting more and more excited next to me. I could not tell what was going on, as it was all so small and in black and white, but my two fathers shouting encouragement and expressing despair and hope in turns, was unforgettable.

In 1959 he changed his name from Zbigniew Szczepanski to Robert Edward Gordon and was known thereafter as Reggie. Or affectionately just as Gordon. Like rock stars he was known to many people just by the one name. Fame indeed.

When I was a child he was always very special to me. He was the first person I knew who had a car – he used to take us to Richmond Park on Sundays. He was the first person who had a film camera and many a Sunday afternoon was spent watching excruciating little films of us doing “things”. I’d love to see those films now though. He was the first person who had a TV and then the first person who had a TV with a remote control which was attached to the set by a thick brown cable. And of course he was the first and only person I knew who had a swimming pool in his back garden! Shame I can’t swim!

For many years throughout my childhood, he and Jean, his first wife, would take me to the pantomime at the Palladium. We would go to dinner before, usually to the Strand Palace Hotel, where they would be amazed about how much I could eat, and then to the front row of the stalls, because Jean liked to be close up. This tradition continued until well into my thirties when he would take Jacek too. The most memorable trip was going to see Paul Daniels at the Savoy when both Jacek and I were called up onto the stage. Embarrassing indeed. But memorable.

When we first got married we were living in one room in Gordon Road ( not named after him). This was obviously much too small so Zbyszek very kindly suggested that we could live in a flat he owned in South Ealing, above his office. This was a godsend, and we stayed there for over three years, while Jacek restored a cottage in Ealing Broadway. Zbyszek and his staff in the office would be extremely helpful when Kasia was born – we had the most enormous pram which took up all the space in the entrance hall, and everyone had to squeeze past it, clients and friends, but no one ever seemed to mind.

Zbyszek was born a week after Poland became a free nation after the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. One of the first ever Poles. He just about attained maturity at 21 when the Second World War began and his life plans as a musician were ruined. For 77 years, thereafter he made the best of things, never tiring of work, of life, or love.

He had a fantastic memory to the end – he was always interested in everyone and remembered the slightest detail.

Of course, now I regret that I didn’t talk to him enough about his past. He was the last person who knew me as a child and now sadly he has gone.

Alert to the last, he leaves his widow Maja and his friends a legacy of good example of diligence, consistency and loyalty.
May he rest in peace.

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