’No-one is getting engaged to my daughter unless they have a proper job.’
That was the ultimatum from my brother Mike’s future father-in-law recalled at his funeral yesterday. His son, another Michael, said my brother gave up the job he loved as a professional squash player to take up a job he loathed in an office. It was a wise move.
Yesterday was the first time I had visited St Teilos Church since I was Mike’s best man there in 1956. The church has been beautifully modernised and simplified. The thoughts churned up by memories of our childhood prompted the question of what Mike Flynn the boy would have made of his subsequent life.
There was only 14 months difference in our ages. We were best friends and as close as twins. Together we discovered the bewildering joys and fears of life together in working class Grangetown. We lost out with the stigma of poverty in a family without only charity income. We gained in that our mother stopped the plan of the parish priest to place Mike and me in an orphanage in Swansea. Neither of us had an inkling of the good fortune that life would bring.
Politics dawned in our lives in 1945. It became a lifelong interest. Mike served as a Cardiff City Councillor for 16 years including a spell as Chairman of the Cardiff Castle Committee. In politics he had the good day and the bad day. He was a persistent and enthusiastic benefactor of those who had been short-changed by nature or cheated by circumstances. He worked with handicapped children in the Jane Hodge Home, as an education welfare office and at Penhill Home for young offenders. He taught at Cardiff Prison and initiated a new branch of St John’s Ambulance.
There was no time when his three children, Angela, Michael and Therese had more hugs than when Mike returned from his rescue work at Aberfan. That terrible tragedy profoundly affected him. His son recalled yesterday that the family home in Caldy Road had the St John Ambulance parked outside. It became a magnet for the sick, the injured and the suicidal. None were sent away without help.
The loss of my brother is grievous blow to me but far worse for his immediate family. In April this year a retiring MP told me that he had suffered the same experience that I described in a recent book. ‘When my child died, I knew that nothing worse could ever happen to me. It was the only point of consolation in those terrible circumstances.’ The piercing grief of the untimely loss of a child helps to inoculate the bereaved from other deaths. I will sadly miss my brother’s companionship but there are consolations.
I believe my brother had many reason to be satisfied and fulfilled with his 76 years. His marriage to the beautiful Maureen Gunstone transformed his life. Their three wonderful children delighted Mike and Mo. They were intensely proud again when they were presented with nine marvellous grandchildren and one great grand-child.
At one point in yesterday’s requiem mass I found myself turning and smiling at the nine adult grandchildren. They are product of the genes of the Gunstone and Flynn families. Mike was pleased that the Flynn traits of handsome dark features have passed down the family – but less happy that the protruding ears have also been inherited. One of the grandchildren bears a striking resemblance to my father who died in 1940. Other grandchildren have been blessed with their mother’s good looks. All have strong characters and pride in their roots.
Mike's death had been certain for many months. He did not want to go to a hospital. Until three days before his death, Mike was lovingly cared for at home by the family in very difficult circumstances. Knowing that the last sense to fail is hearing, his children and grandchildren expressed their love and gratitude to him as consciousness faded.
I am sure that his final flickering thoughts were of satisfaction with his full life. There was surely thankfulness that he abandoned the sport he enjoyed to embrace the woman he loved. Thirteen people at the requiem yesterday owe their existence to the marriage of Mike and Mo. The moving service was a celebration of the happy loved memories of a good man who devoted his life to others.
We are proud of you. Rest in Peace, Mike.