(my script to day for my Uncle Bert's Tribute at his Thanksgiving Service)
Robert McMeechan Stockman was born on November 17th 1932 to Bobby and Annie Stockman, followed 2 years later by a brother Samuel. He was Bertie to Iris, dad to Alan, brother Bert to Sam and Uncle Bert to me.
The cottage in Galgorm was the centre of the universe and there were tall scary tales told of a happy adventurous childhood. Bert falling through ice is a legendary story and perhaps most frightening one on the edge of my memory.
Both he and Sam climbing on a parked delivery cart outside the cottage when the horse bolted another scary one, Sam taking a jump before Bridgend Bridge and Bert hanging on until the horse turned and ran out of steam on a hill.
I can only imagine his dear mother’s worry because as my carer as a child she was a woman who might called over protective. I am surprised the boys were ever allowed out again but the Maine River and the Castle grounds were ever a fun, if precarious playground.
Vocationally Bertie was a carpenter and worked in the Braid Water Mill where brother Sam was an accountant. Working there he met Iris Cherry from an Old Testament tribe from Carnlea. After they got married on St Patrick’s Day 1966 Iris dragged Bert away from home, ten feet over the wall where he built a house for them.
From then it has always been Bert and Iris. They were mostly together. 56 years. I’d like to take this opportunity to thanks Iris for how she kept those wedding vows of ‘in sickness and in health’. For her love for Uncle Bert and indeed my own parents in their later life. Bert and Irish were my rock when dad went into care. Iris you have been amazing. Thank you.
My earliest memories are the very happiest times with my Uncle Bert. I remember sitting with him on the foundations of that house. I remember his MG car and his love of Leeds United who were good then. Uncle Bert was the first person that I knew that I wanted to always be with. He had a posture that was warm and humorous. As a child you assume that your parents love you. Uncle Bert was the first person that I knew loved me. Yes, he probably spoiled me!
In most of those early memories I picture Bert in his work clothes. He had the coolest pair of carpenter dungarees. It had a slot in the leg for his carpenters ruler. When you are 2 or 3 that ruler is magic in itself never mind then putting it in your trousers. Since as long as I remember I have been obsessed with denims. I have worn them almost every single day since I left home. It’s why I had to give up golf. My only concession to dressing up is wearing black denim. I got married in denim and am wearing denim today. This week I trawled that all back to Uncle Bert’s dungarees. To being like him.
In 1973 Alan arrived and Lassie! Into my teens I loved the Sunday afternoon tradition to visit Galgorm and spend time with Bert, Iris and Alan. Iris made porridge for my cousin Paul Reid and I many a Sunday.
Bert took a career change and became a teacher. I remember thinking that was a brave move. Again admiration. I think he did his teaching practice in the Academy and I again loved having him around even for just a wee while. He would eventually spend most of his teaching career in Ballee High School where he’d be a colleague of my cousin Sharon.
In retirement, Bertie got a new lease of adventurous life. Cousins in America the result of the amazing Grannie Lizzie’s three families found Polly Bragg and Jim Nixon enticing him across sea and land. With Carol and Davy Montgomery, Bert and Irish loved their road trips meeting family and seeing the sights. Bert loved showing me the photos and telling me all about the family tree, some we got to spend time with in Seattle when we were on sabbatical.
The research took a turn when the aforementioned Granny Lizzie was discovered to have been the mother not sister of one of the leaders of the tree. A child out of wedlock in Ahoghill in the middle of the 19th century would have been quite the story. Uncle Bert wasn’t sure that I the minister in the family should hear the story but Lizzie in a strange has became my hero. At this particular time of year I think of her and the gossip she had to suffer and it helps me understand some of what Mary was going through in Nazareth. Different circumstances of course but same gossip.
I got a message just yesterday from one of my congregation telling me his sister worked with Bertie in Ballee and remembered him as a lovely man. Without question that is what My uncle Bert was. A lovely man. A gentle man. I never heard of him saying a bad word about anyone.
He was very understated in his life. I saw more elaborate houses built in the 60s than the one he built. No big fuss when he turned 90 last week, just a Chinese with Iris. You wouldn’t say extravagant.
BUT these last days I have disagreed with myself. Bertie Stockman was understated in the right things and extravagant in the right things. The apostle Paul speaks of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” as the fruit of the Spirit. My uncle Bert was all of those to me. I experienced them in his company. Extravagant goodness of personal faith lived understatedly.
On Saturday I got to say goodbye to my Uncle Bert. We didn’t use the words but I think we both knew. I read Isaiah 43 with him:
But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush[a] and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I told Bert how I had stopped wishing people a Happy New Year because God doesn’t promise to fix everything but he does promise to be with us whatever we go through. I told him that I hoped he knew God with him here in his hospital bed. He whispered “I do”. As we said goodbye I leaned in and said I love you Uncle Bert”. "Me too” he whispered. I’ll be ever grateful for those moments BUT even more grateful for the 61 years of influence and love of my Uncle Bert.