(I don’t know whether or not I’ll leave this article up permanently, as it has more identifying information in it than I’ll usually put on the blog; but, right now, I’m going to post it.)
A London coalition of societies working for the homeless have set up a new award, for innovation in dealing with the problem of homelessness. They’ve named it after a past chairman of their group who, sadly, died a few years back, but whom they wished to honour for his work and achievements for their group. Michael Whippman. My father.
The award ceremony was on Tuesday night. I got dolled up in my posh frock (surprising my son, who, even at the age of nineteen months, has apparently worked out that Mummy doesn’t do the posh frock thing), and my mother and I headed into Central London and met my sister at Sadler’s Wells for a buffet and drinks and speeches and displays about the winners and the runners-up, and street art for entertainment (oh, well, you can’t have everything).
One of the people who’d worked with my father made a speech about him. He used to be quite intimidated by Michael Whippman, he said, when he first got to know him. Michael’s sheer incisive brilliance and his way of calmly cutting through everything extraneous at meetings and making sure everyone stuck to whatever the point was and actually got things done – these traits could be somewhat nerve-wracking to the people who worked with him, until they got to know the dry wit and the sheer gentleness that tempered them. I grew up knowing the wit and the gentleness, and, although I can see that from a different perspective working with that kind of intelligence could be intimidating, those were never the eyes through which I saw my father. To me, he’ll always be the man who told us stories about a little girl and her talking teddy bear and an amazingly surreal cast of peripheral characters including a dancing ant and a large vat of green slime.
The people who win the Michael Whippman prize in the years and decades to come won’t know any of these sides of him, of course. To them, Michael Whippman will just be a name, and the only meaning it will have to them is the honour of the prize. And that’s a pretty damn good meaning for it to have. People who never knew my father or anything about him will associate his name with innovation and with receiving a high honour. For this, and for so much else, I’m prouder of my father than I can say.