Tuesday, 9 March 2010


Geoffrey Thomas Barnes

18th August 1932 – 11th February 2010


Thank you Norman for your kind and elegant words. You, Janet and so many others have been steadfast friends.

I am here to say a few words on behalf of the Family. It is truly a daunting task. How can one possibly do justice in a few short minutes to a life so richly lived?

For my mother, Nita, Geoff was a deeply loved husband of 47 years. Her best friend and constant companion as between them they brought up 4 children in interesting, some would say challenging, situations.

For Ken, Geoff, just two years younger, was the best of brothers. And it was mutual. Ken and Geoff were very close. Despite lives often spent on different continents they had an obvious care, concern and fondness for each other. They had a strong deep bond that was forged early, tempered in adversity and solid to the end.

Our thoughts are with you Ken.

And for his children, and in recent years, his grandchildren, growing up with Daddy, Grandpa, was never dull. Geoff had a range of talents and interests that left us exhausted and inspired.

He was an artist. He drew, he painted. With a camera in his hands he took wonderful photos, especially of people. He loved the endless variations of the human face.

He was an author. He left us with two volumes of memoirs and was co-author of the account of an expedition to Lake Tana in Ethiopia.

He was an explorer, with an unquenchable love of the outdoors. A co-founder of the Cambridge University Explorers' and Travellers' Club. And our childhood memories are studded with long long walks and mad journeys up very very big hills or even the odd mountain.

He sailed. He loved the sea and the boats that sailed upon it. He had two himself, Gravel Rash in Sarawak and Mulu here in England. He felt the rhythm of the oceans deeply. From his father’s first voyage to Malaya in 1920 to his return from Hong Kong in 1990, great sea voyages were a defining part of his life. He loved nothing better than the lonely sea and the sky.

He was multi-lingual and our lives have been enriched by a Malay and Iban lexicon with words like barang, baju, minum, makan, ulu and orang dropped into conversation like some arcane code designed to confuse, or test, prospective daughters-in-law.

He was intensely practical. A penknife and a piece of wood kept him happy for days. A rope and a stick - hours of distraction. In many ways he was a Boy Scout who never really grew up. To this day I know that with a handkerchief, a penknife and a length of string I can solve almost any problem.

Artist, author, explorer, sailor, linguist. And I’ve only just scratched the surface. I’ve not mentioned his sporting life, his collection of stones, the walking sticks, mad hobbies that possessed him for months. Or the pets – his beloved dog Gus, a Gibbon called Lulu, a Slow Lorris, a hornbill, a dikdik, and assorted other dogs and cats.

These are just a few thoughts, a few memories. There are thousands more, for many of us, a lifetime’s worth.

Memories are shadowy creatures that comfort, shift and tease but in the end they fade.

So let us look forward as well as back.

Geoff has left us with a legacy as well as great memories. A legacy that each of us carries.

As a father he set us all an incredible example. The personal values and the standards he upheld have provided us with a firm anchor as we navigate our lives. Those values and standards are echoed daily, we hope, in the standards we set for our own children.

Integrity, honesty, fairness, a conviction about what is right. And just as important - a sense of fun and the absurd. This was the heart and soul of the man. This was his gift to us. This is his legacy.

At the bottom of the recipe for what he knew to be The Best Fudge In The World is the following note:

"This recipe was used by my Mother in Malaya in the 1930’s. She sent it to me in Sarawak in 1957, when I was District Officer, Lawas. I was not very successful at my first attempt. I included some Benedictine and gave some to teetotal Borneo Evangelical Missionaries who lived across the river. They liked it."

Geoff had absolutely nothing against the missionaries. It was just his very great sense of mischievous fun.

In fact throughout his life his Faith was a constant, although very private, source of strength.

Lastly, Geoff was a man of service. Service was such an important word for him. To serve is honourable; selfless acts can be their own reward. It is a lesson often forgotten.

Service to one’s country, to a people, to friends, to family. All were beneficiaries of Geoff’s energy, imagination, sense of purpose and - in the true, original and broadest sense - charity.

Today we must cherish our memories of Geoff, of course, but we should also look ahead with confidence and a smile knowing that his legacy of service, integrity, charity and fun will serve us well.

Geoff walks with us still and for a long long time to come.

Terima kasih, Tuan.

Terima kasih.


Words read by Michael Barnes at the Church of St Peter & St Paul, Ewhurst
Memories, words and inspiration provided by Andrew, Julia & Robin Barnes


March 8th 2010


No comments: