The RNLI saves lives at sea.

Kevin Charles Newcombe

Picture of Kevin Charles Newcombe.

Kevin was born on 26th May, 1940, in University College Hospital in London, within the sound of the Bow Bells, making him technically a Cockney. His parents, Peggy and Stan, lived in Enfield. Stan joined the Royal Navy to do his bit for the war (and was promptly sent out to Ceylon, as it then was), and Peggy moved to Paignton in Devon where Stan’s grandparents had lived in a house called St. Kevin, after which Kevin was named. A sister, Linda, was born there shortly afterwards, and they spent the war years between Enfield and Paignton.

After the war, summer holidays were spent at his grandmother’s family farm in County Kerry where Kevin loved working on the farm and the way of life which was about 50 years behind that in Enfield. The excitement of driving in the trap to Tralee with Uncle Tom never dimmed and Aunt Kit would try to sneak him the top of the cream before Aunt Mary Ann spotted her.

Kevin was expelled from convent school at the age of 5 because he had allegedly punched Andrew Parker-Bowles (of later fame). Peggy’s enquiry as to what Andrew had done to make Kevin carry out such an uncharacteristic act of violence received no satisfactory answer. The remainder of Kevin’s school career proceeded rather more calmly and, passing his 11+, he went to St. Ignatius Grammar School in Tottenham where he found the classical education offered not conducive to his more scientific and practical interests, He shocked his mother at the age of 16 by announcing that he had decided to join the Merchant Navy as an apprentice. He promptly disappeared to sea for 18 months because of the closure of the Suez Canal.

Stan and Peg moved to Chislehurst, and Kevin became a navigating officer, eventually achieved his Master Mariner’s ticket. However, promotion in those days was very slow and, having met Mum at Peggy Spence’s Ballroom in Penge during leave, he decided that after 10 years at sea it was time to change careers. Mum had chosen to go to Penge with her friend that evening on the toss of a coin.

Computers were then in their infancy and, having taken an aptitude test and passing with flying colours, he applied to ICT as it then was as a programmer. He spent the next 30 years with them, eventually specialising in quality management, particularly with the Ministry of Defence and always enjoyed his visits to Defence establishments. He gained a BA degree with the Open University, combining studying with working hard and raising a family, though a family trait of burning the midnight oil to meet a deadline seems to have been inherited.

Kevin and Lauraine married on 10th February, 1968, and moved to Wokingham as ICT moved from Putney to Bracknell. Fiona was born in 1972, followed in 1974 by Kate. They were invaluable navvies following the move to St. Helier Close – moving bricks and tramping down soil in skips being the highlight of the weekends. Kevin worked very hard updating the house – in addition to the normal redecoration he re-arranged the bathroom to add an en-suite – and, ever the perfectionist, changed it all around again just when we thought a bath might become a possibility. He revamped the kitchen and built a conservatory, but perhaps his greatest achievement was the double garage – this became a well-known feature and an object of interest to people crawling into Wokingham in the rush-hour – strangers would often comment about the progress as he was a slow but thorough worker. Then there was the felling of the 70 ft high Norwegian Spruce in the garden, with the help of Brian and Ray – Kevin fearlessly climbed to the top of the tree to take it down section by section.

Kevin loved a fire and was a bit of a pyromaniac, and the canal clearance weekends he used to go on with Ray were always a wonderful excuse for a fantastic bonfire – he often came home happy with singed eyebrows and even more holes in his sweaters.

Holidays with the family were very important to Kevin – when the girls were young, it was always a week at Rock in Cornwall, with Shirley and Gerald, the latter his partner in crime in sailing. Thanks to Kevin’s knowledge of sailing, there was only one occasion when they were caught out by the wind dropping and had to row back from beyond the island to face the wrath of Shirley, who was convinced everyone had drowned. There was also always a week in Ray’s caravan at Swanage, when Kevin could indulge his other great passion, for steam trains – looking at them every day, at least one trip on them during the week and walking the track in the evenings to see how far the re-laying of the track had reached. Later on, family holidays involved camping on the continent which inevitably included barbecues of which he never quite mastered the art, meals taking forever to cook and the girls sneaking off to the wash-blocks after hours to do the washing up in the dark.

Kevin took the opportunity for early retirement from ICL as it had by then become in September 1997. He had many plans for his retirement – building his model railway, exploring even more canals on foot, getting his motorbike back on the road, helping with the renovations at Swanage Railway, going on long walks, and combining his love of steam engines and boats by building a steam launch (he built the garage long enough for this!)

However, Kevin began to fall over at regular intervals. Initially he put this down to the increasing numbness of his feet due to his diabetes, but finally the neurologist declared that he had progressive degenerative cerebellar ataxia, a rare brain disease. No prognosis could be given, and the only blessing was that it was not hereditary. His world began to close in, losing co-ordination in his hands frustrating him the most, and he eventually had to give up driving. Still he got around, though he refused to use the wheeled walker we bought him, preferring to hold Mum’s hand for steadiness, which led to them being asked on holiday in Istanbul in 2002 whether they were honeymooners!

He planned to have a party to celebrate his 65th birthday, but by the time it arrived he was starting to have the first of his many serious infections, and was shortly afterwards admitted to hospital where he stayed 7 weeks, coming out with a bed-sore which was still at the time of his last bout of pneumonia being dressed daily by the wonderful district nurses who became practically members of the family.

Lauraine rejected the hospital’s recommendation that Kevin should go into a nursing home, and, with a care package set up and all the equipment provided by the Social Services, the new regime of twice soon to become three times daily visits by carers began. Most of these carers were fantastic, providing professional expertise combined with good humour – Kevin really appreciated his ‘ladies’, though there were a few men among them who were equally good.

We were very fortunate that as Kevin’s health declined, he never lost his innate politeness and appreciation for all that was done for him – his inevitable answer when asked how he was, was always ‘very well cared for’. The short-term memory loss meant that although every day was the same, to him it was all fresh and new, and being wheeled to the patio windows each day brought a comment of ‘the garden is looking really lovely’. Eating became the only real pleasure left to him, and even when his food was pureed, he always said ‘thank you’ after each meal and developed a particular passion for chocolate mousse. We were very happy that he was able to join the recent celebration of his Ruby wedding anniversary, luckily held early as it turned out, due to Kate’s imminent sailing with HMS Illustrious.

Kevin was so proud of his daughters and all that they had achieved, and they gained comfort from being able to repay his love and care. They learned many skills from him – most of which, like his plumbing and bricklaying, he learned from books – being an avid Library user. This only ever failed him once, on a skiing holiday to celebrate his Silver wedding anniversary, reprising his honeymoon, when he said he would take a ‘back-seat’ during the lessons as he had ‘read the book’. Fiona and Kate, having skied down a slope, would wait patiently while the crumpled heap that was their father extricated himself from a snowdrift and carefully snowploughed down towards them – he took the mockery in good part.

This then was Kevin – a loving husband, devoted father, a loyal friend and colleague. We mourn his passing on 13th February, 2008, at the age of 67 – a life cruelly cut short – but will remember him with tears and laughter: a lovely man.

Added by: Lauraine Newcombe on 30 March 2008.

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