The RNLI saves lives at sea.

Owen Lewis

Also known as: Sue.

Picture of Owen Lewis.

Notes from the funeral address by the Humanist Celebrant Mary Grace

Sixth of seven children, Owen (Sue) was born in 1920 in Carluke near Glasgow, and it is significant that the family had a huge holiday home in Kilmory Knap, which influenced his lifelong obsession with the sea, and incidentally his meeting his wife Sally. Her father was the junior partner of the architects commissioned to design that house, and when Sue went to Charterhouse School he used to visit her family.

After reading engineering at Cambridge, he was called up and joined the Royal Navy. He was involved in World War two as an engineer on warships doing convoy duty. His experiences during that time, especially the death of his brother, had a profound effect on him, and he would never talk about them. But he did talk about his time in Iceland, where they poached fish, and raced (sailing) lifeboats, and where all the ships were on different times, so there was always a bar open somewhere.

In 1948 Sue and Sally were married, a marriage which was to last for 61 years, they have five children, and four grandchildren.

Sue was always a design engineer and inventor, amongst other things he designed: a mechanical wool winder, which wasn’t adopted by the manufacturers, but its twin appeared mysteriously some time later; rowlocks: cunning gate handles: rose arches; and self steering gear for his boat. But his real interest was in boat design. He designed and made several over the years, and until the end, even in hospital, he continued to work on boat design.

His interests were many and various, he was actively involved in the restoration of the Kennet and Avon Canal, and he was an expert in knotting and splicing ropes.

He was a dedicated member of the ‘Amateur Yacht Research Society’, took his place on the stand at the Boat Show every year, and was involved in the annual sailing speed trials at Weymouth.

In his late fifties Sue’s ambition was to sail across the Atlantic. His firm were not willing to give him time off, so in 1979, he went anyway and that was the end of his official employment. Sue helped to crew a boat from Antigua to Southampton so honour and ambition were satisfied.

It was about this time that Sally set up the pottery, and he gave her every help and support in making it a success.

Throughout Sue’s long retirement, he remained hale and hearty. On his eightieth birthday he rowed the Long Pound on the Kennet & Avon canal, and it was only last year he became ill, and died peacefully at Salisbury Hospital on August 18th.

That sums up Sue’s life in a nutshell, but what sort of a man was he? Well he was certainly a one off, dare we say a little eccentric?

Sally said that he was a good husband, when he wasn’t at sea, or preoccupied with a project.
He was a nice Father to Jane, Sarah, Gabriel, Barbara and Mark although Jane said that she got blamed for everything because she was the oldest.

In appearance Sally said ‘Well he looked distinguished, not very tall and fairly round, and bearded.’ In fact for several years he was Father Christmas at St Katherine’s School in Savernake Forest. All he needed was a red robe and he was set: Raymond Brigg’s Father Christmas to a T. “May your shadow never grow less” was one of his mantras

He had no concern for his appearance, comfort and practicality were all: wellies and no socks were his choice of footwear, and he even managed to get frostbitten toes in his workshop in Upavon when he was concentrating on a project.

He was a quiet man, persistent, determined and fanatical about engineering and boats. He appeared cheerful most of the time, but it was said of him that he hid his grief with cheerfulness. He had a wry and mischievous sense of humour, and he was the archetypal Peter Pan, age was never a deterrent to doing anything he wanted.

A real make do and mend man, he was a hoarder, and a recycler, he repaired everything if it was humanly possible, and never bought anything new if he could help it.

Sue liked his food, his favourite was fresh mackerel straight out of the water and cooked on the boat. He liked porridge for breakfast, he made bread, and he cooked road kill pheasants and deer. He liked a drink too: sherry before a meal, red wine - the cheapest possible - during, and to follow, or at bedtime a whisky, topped up with home made ginger beer.

In addition to his total obsession with all things nautical Sue’s other addiction was Kilmory Knap. All family holidays were taken there, initially in his parents’ house, but after the toddler Gabriel blotted their copybook by digging up some of his grandmother’s plants they bought an old schoolhouse and converted it into a family holiday home of their own.

Journeys up to Scotland were experiences in themselves. The whole family have vivid memories of those journeys, mostly involving breakdowns, fixed with genius by Sue who, on one occasion, used barbs borrowed from a barbed wire fence to repair the problem.

Memories of Sue by his Grandchildren
Thinking of Granpa is about reminding myself of many of the things I hope to be.
To buy a yacht in his 70s and to still be scrambling about on the rocks at the port even up to the very end of his days
To have endless stories of adventures at sea, and tales of childhood antics told with a mischievous grin
To know the sea and at the same time be wise enough to understand that he could never know it at all
To build and invent and create his whole life
But at the same time not to take it all too seriously
To joke and smile and still be naughty
Some of our memories:
Becky wants to remember the orange peel bracelets that he so expertly crafted. How he’d be so quiet until he’d had a few drinks and then suddenly all these ideas would come pouring out of him so fast it was almost impossible to keep up
Ben remembers the death defying somersault he once performed over mattresses blocking the stairs. How he seemed to have endless amounts of energy and never showed his age.
I want to remember Granpa in Cambridge pointing out his room near to his brother Jock’s. Showing me where they used to climb over the wall late at night, and then later made their very own replica key to save the trouble
I want to think of June when he was sailing us far out to sea, and Ingrid was starting to worry if we would make it back again
I want to think about the new cider press invention still sitting on the drawing board, another of the never-ending stream of ideas my Granpa always had
Just a few of the reminders I would like to keep of a man who has continued to inspire me my whole life

I'd like to remember all of the hundreds of things he's taught me. From my introduction to ginger beer at the age of about 8, instruction on how to build my first slingshot, a love of all things firy, wiggling my knife on the edge of the table, how to row and command a boat, and most of all a deep desire to build and create at every and any opportunity.

Just like grandpa I have numerous notepads filled with drawings of stuff I'd like to make but "haven't quite gotten around to". With a bit of luck, maybe I'll get a chance to do something with his renewable energy ideas and put them into practice.

When I think of grandpa I picture a brilliant engineer with a G&T in his hand and a mischievous grin on his face. All of which are things I'd like to hold dear, so I'm sure all the inspiration he's imparted in all of us will live on for many years to come :)

The dead do not reside in an urn or a grave but in the hearts and minds of those who love them.

As John Peel said:
‘And death for those who live on, is the ending of a chapter rather than the end of a book, and although the dead may have no more part to play as characters their influence may continue right through the story…….nothing can take that away from them’, nor from us

Sue’s integrity, his love of life and friends and family, and the contribution he made to the world made him a man we can be proud to have known. The world is poorer for his passing.

Added by: Sarah Cage on 13 September 2009.

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Picture of Owen Lewis.
Picture of Owen Lewis.
Picture of Owen Lewis.

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