For the benefit of family and friends of my late father-in-law unable to attend the service, here’s the eulogy I delivered for him today:
Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us to celebrate the life of Michael David Doggett, or Mick as he was generally known outside the family to whom he was a beloved husband, Dad, Grandad or Great-grandad Mick-Mick. I’m his daughter-in-law Helen, and it’s my privilege to welcome you all, especially if you’ve travelled some distance to be here – like Mick’s younger son Tony, daughter-in-law Sarah and granddaughter Ellie, and Barbara and Elaine – or if you’re watching the webcast like our nephew Adam, Tony’s eldest, serving with the RAF overseas, and cousins Joe and Margaret Doggett in Canada, and Terry and Pauline Harris in Spain.
It’s a great honour to speak today on Mick’s behalf, and I hope the music we’ve just heard has got you in a suitably sorrowful mood. It was chosen by Michael, my husband, as the saddest, most beautiful piece he knows, because his sister Paula recalls their father once saying that he didn’t want there to be a dry eye in the house at his funeral. So get your hankies out and have a good blub, knowing that Mick would be duly gratified by an outpouring of grief – although given his sense of humour, I’m sure he’d like you to shed a few tears of laughter as well.
I find it painfully ironic that I’ve come to appreciate my father-in-law’s extraordinary character and qualities better in death than in life, because despite having known one another since Boxing Day 2004, it wasn’t on a close personal level. In all those 18 years we probably never spent more than an hour or so talking alone together; we were usually in a foursome with Carol and Michael, or part of a larger gathering with other family and friends – which speaks volumes about the nature of the relationship many of us enjoyed with Mick. A devoted husband and family man, he was also a gregarious spirit who loved socialising, dining out, drinking and dancing, a joker and storyteller, life and soul of the party; good fun, good company and a good conversationalist with wide-ranging interests from angling and allotmenteering to history, reading, travel and sport.
Mick’s determination to live and enjoy life to the full may stem from a boyhood fear that it wouldn’t last long. Born at home on Pyncheon Street in Wakefield on 30th March 1944, Mick spent much of his childhood being cared for by his Granny Doggett while his father Elias and mother Jenny were at work; then in 1953, the nine-year-old Mick and his parents came to live on Cubley Avenue, one of the first families to move onto the new Kettlethorpe estate, which in those days was still very rural. Raised as a Roman Catholic, Mick attended St Austin’s Catholic School, where he loathed the strict, sour-faced nuns. Schoolmates remember him as a quiet boy, which is hardly surprising – when he was 12, Mick was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a rare cancer of the lymphatic system with a poor prognosis. So while his death at the age of 78 seems almost premature by modern standards, it’s actually 60-odd years overdue according to his doctors in 1956, who told him he would probably die before his eighteenth birthday, and that if he survived until his 21st, ‘it would be a miracle.’
Mick suffered the crude radiation therapy of the day, which affected the development of his neck and made his voice quiet and husky; he was also taken on a pilgrimage to Lourdes to take the waters, which his mother firmly believed was responsible for his cure. Either way, with characteristic Doggett stubbornness, Mick refused to die; and not only that, he saved the life of another. This also happened when he was 12, and seeing a little girl fall into Kettlethorpe Lake, like the true Boy Scout he was, Mick jumped in without a thought for his own safety and pulled her to the side, then went home and never said a word to his parents because he was scared of being told off for wetting his clothes – so the first Li and Jenny knew about it was when items appeared in the local press about the modest schoolboy hero who saved three-year-old Barbara Hughes from drowning. Mick’s brave and selfless act earned him a special prize from his school, a gold-nibbed fountain pen and pencil set presented by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Leeds, and means that Barbara can be here today, with her sister Elaine, to join us in saying goodbye.
Growing up under the threat of early death, it’s no wonder that Mick wanted to make the most of life while he could. Like many working class lads of the time, he left school at 15, glad to escape the hated nuns and begin adult life. His first industrial apprenticeship was so badly paid that he soon quit to earn better wages as a labourer in the building trade, working on various sites including Kettlethorpe High School and the Barnsley Road railway bridge.
One of the alarming breed now dubbed ‘teenagers’, Mick loved the energy and excitement of rock n’ roll music, and the fashions that came with it. Predictably, given his inborn dislike of authority and being told what to do, Mick became a Teddy Boy, helped by his thick dark hair that formed naturally into a quiff ending in a Bill Haley kiss-curl, which must have made him an object of envy among his mates. Always a leader of the pack, he cut a distinctive figure in his sharp grey or dark green Italian suits with trademark coloured silk linings, or long jackets and tight black drainpipes with zips at the ankles, worn with winklepickers. As well as teaching the other lads how to dress, he taught them how to dance to his favourite sounds including the Big Bopper, Buddy Holly and Fats Domino; but unlike the more riotous Teds, Mick was no theatre-wrecking tearaway. He wanted good jobs, not jail; to be his own man, financially independent and in control of his own destiny. So after working hard, Mick played hard too, dating girls or boozing and bopping with his mates round Wakefield, until one night in 1961 changed the course of his life forever – an apt point to stop for a real tear-jerker chosen for this occasion by Mick himself, possibly because it sums up his attitude to life:
Music: When I was 17, Frank Sinatra – 4 min 26
The good thing that happened to 17-year-old Mick on that fateful night was his first meeting with the beautiful, blue-eyed blonde Carol Harris at the local youth club. Carol was only 15 and too young to date, but she must have made an impression because when they bumped into each other a year later at the Mecca ballroom, he asked her out. They enjoyed going dancing at the Embassy or Mecca, or to the pictures; and that Christmas, Mick escorted a thrilled and impressed Carol to her first grown-up house-party in Eastmoor, and presented her with a glossy black face-powder compact inlaid with a marcasite stud – the first Christmas present he’d ever bought for a girl, which made his mother jealous as she guessed it meant the relationship was serious.
Carol’s parents Eric and Ivy were none too pleased to meet their daughter’s boyfriend, because when Mick turned up on the doorstep, they recognised him as the youth they’d last seen stumbling out of the Kettlethorpe Hotel worse for wear; and were initially unhappy about the relationship because of their understandable fear that if it went on in the usual way, Carol would be left a young widow. But Mick’s obvious devotion and mature attitude soon won them over, especially when he began handing Ivy a portion of his wages to save for their wedding, and working such long hours that one evening at his future in-laws, he fell asleep eating dinner!
Being deeply in love, the couple had decided to go for it together come what may, and under the circumstances, felt they had no time to lose.
Their whirlwind courtship was followed by the first marriage to take place in the new St George’s Chapel on Hendal Lane, on Saturday 19th October 1963, between the 19-year-old groom and his bride of 17. It raised some predictable eyebrows, much to mum-in-law Ivy’s annoyance, but this was no shotgun wedding although Mick loved children and was keen to experience fatherhood. A son, named Michael after his dad, duly appeared two months after their second wedding anniversary in 1965, followed by a baby brother, Anthony, and sister Paula, born roughly eighteen months apart. Mick was still having regular tests for Hodgkins until after Paula’s birth, by which time he’d already bucked the odds by surviving into his mid-twenties; and subsequently given the all-clear, remained living proof for another five decades that miracles can happen.
Mick’s priority was always to provide well for his wife and children, with holidays, and a car, and piles of gifts at Christmas – and he succeeded through sheer physical graft in a series of labouring jobs which made him barrel-chested and enormously strong for his size. He and Carol moved several times in their first five years of marriage to accommodate their growing family, until in 1971, the Harrises moved to 37 Hendal Lane, vacating their 3-bedroom semi at 47 Woodmoor Road to become the Doggetts’ home for the next 36 years. Outwardly jovial and confident, constant pressure to follow the money chewed Mick up inside and gave him painful gastric ulcers. A household of two adults and three growing children – not to mention Sukey the cat, Floyd the dog, and sundry other pets – was expensive to maintain, and money was always tight. A lasting result was that Mick, a frustrated farmer and always a keen fisherman and sea angler, passed on his knowledge and love of harvesting nature’s bounty by taking his children – and later grandchildren – out gathering wild fruits and nuts, and teaching his sons to fish and shoot small game, not for sport but to put food on the table. Britani recalls that as a child, she loved going chestnut picking with her grandad, and wearing his big leather gloves because her hands got so cold; while Michael inherited Mick’s passion for nature to such an extent that he chose gardening as a career, and chose the following poem to express his love for the father who always encouraged and inspired him:
The Countryman by Treeautumn25
Your eyes are closed with death’s dark veil,
Our tears are shed to no avail,
Your journey ends, your race is run,
No more the rain, no more the sun.
The fields and garden miss your touch,
The old cock pheasant you loved so much,
Birds lament your passing in their song,
They’ll miss a friend they knew so long.
The spring will see the snowdrops cry,
They’ll look around and wonder why,
Why the hands that helped them grow,
Are not still here to see their show.
Those of us left here to cope,
Will see these things as signs of hope,
In each of these we’ll see your face,
A sign of love, of hope and grace,
For the time has come to say farewell,
To one I loved but could not tell,
I’ll look for you in sun and cloud,
In rain and stars and thunder loud.
The world is poorer without your smile,
Your simple truth, your country style,
The country lad who came to be,
The countryman with spirit free.
Despite their tight budget, the young parents had enough energy to enjoy their children, and Mick threw himself into fatherhood as he did into everything else, reading stories, playing games, building snowmen, and taking his family on great seaside holidays. One year, given the choice between a holiday or a car, the children opted for wheels, so Mick bought a gold Vauxhall Viva 1100, which drove them many happy miles (although they all had to get out and walk while he drove to the top of steep hills). One of Michael’s vivid boyhood memories is heading to one of their favourite East Coast destinations past Towton, where his father would always tell of the terrible battle which made the river run red with blood – sowing the seed of an interest which eventually led him to join Towton Battlefield Society, where I met him in 2004. And in due course Mick became an equally devoted grandfather to Britani, Grace, Adam and Ellie; among Britani’s earliest memories are walks with her grandad around Newmillerdam and Sandal Castle, and riding on his back as he climbed up the steep motte.
Family finances improved in the mid-70s, when the children were all at school, Carol had a job at the nearby children’s home, and Mick began working in the power stations where he would remain until retirement. The environment was brutally hot and polluted, the labour hard and dangerous, and he was often away for entire summers, but the fat pay packets – three or four times an average labourer’s wage – were incentive enough to tough it out. Not to mention the crack with his mates, all hard men doing hard jobs they enlivened with outrageous practical jokes, like the time Graham put a mackerel in Claudy’s car heater box, and Claudy’s revenge of peeing in Graham’s bottle of electric pre-shave. There was also the notorious Blue Balls Incident when Mick spilt a tin of paint down himself at work, and by the time he got home it had soaked through his overalls and underwear and baked on, turning everything – I mean everything – underneath blue. Carol couldn’t stop laughing as she took the scissors to his private bristles, and Mick got cross in case her hand shook and she did him a mischief.
Better wages meant better holidays, and for some twenty years during his winter slack season, Mick and Carol indulged their mutual love of travel with month-long trips to Goa, where they were often joined for a fortnight by other family members or friends. Then when Mick took his well-deserved retirement aged 63, they set about their bucket list with cruises, European city breaks, and trips to countries like Egypt and Tunisia, where they always enjoyed seeing the sights and sampling local cuisine. At home, missing the routine of work, at 65 Mick took on an allotment garden, winning the prize for best newcomer in his first year, and for two consecutive years, third runner-up for best garden, achievements of which he was quietly and justly proud.
Sadly, age brought infirmity, putting a stop to holidays abroad and fishing trips with Michael, although we still enjoyed many memorable day trips or weekends in places like Pickering and Whitby, or their favourite Scarborough, where Mick and Carol went regularly right up until his last summer. Over the past couple of years, Mick’s increasingly dreadful memory and episodes of confusion must have been symptoms of the Alzheimer’s Disease only formally diagnosed a few months ago, which with typical stubborn pride he had fought and denied, and struggled to go on as normal – admirable traits, albeit ones which made him difficult to help. Despite his whole family falling ill with streaming colds or covid, which Carol caught straight after having pneumonia, he still managed to laugh in December – Britani will treasure her last memory of ‘taking him to the hospital to visit nan, and he put a carrier bag on his head when we got back in the car. It was like having the old grandad back who was silly and funny all the time, not grandad with Alzheimer’s.’ Mick also enjoyed his last family Christmas at Paula and Phil’s, with Gracey and David and Brit, watching his adored great-granddaughters Lilah and Ember play with their new toys. Disappointingly, we were too full of cold to do more than pop round with gifts and say a socially-distant ‘Merry Christmas’, though it cheered me to hear that Mick liked the soft navy scarf I’d knitted him, and which will go with him on his final journey since he only had chance to wear it that one time.
None of us realised that Mick had caught covid too until he lapsed into semi-consciousness one evening after a long and agitated day. Consequently, none of us got chance to say goodbye, or to express the love for a dying father James Blunt sings of so poignantly in this tear-jerker, chosen by Paula for her dad:
Music: Monsters, by James Blunt, 4 min 26
At first it seemed that the crisis had passed, and that Mick was recovering when he was in fact fading gently, with no severe symptoms or wish for a doctor, much less an ambulance, to be called. So in that sense, he had the kind of death we might all wish for: at home with a beloved spouse, without pain or fear; and though his sudden loss is shocking and sad, there’s comfort in knowing that Mick’s pains and confusion are over, and this hard-working, salt-of-the-earth Yorkshireman can now rest in peace – 60 years later than his boyhood doctors predicted, and having seen three generations of his family come into the world, to his great pride and joy.
Heartfelt tributes poured in on Facebook when the news broke, including this from Michael which says it all:
In memory and thanks for my wonderful Dad AKA Micky Doggitt to all his friends and workmates, whose last year and especially last few months had our hearts breaking as we watched his dad and grandad superpowers dwindle and fade and finally come to a sad end. His influence on me and my life has been immeasurable. I watched him graft at work which helped me to become a working man. He taught me not to worry about difficult jobs but to just sit and work it out carefully; taught me to love books, and never discouraged me in any new thing that I wanted to do, no matter how strange. I hope his sense of fun and humour has rubbed off as well as his love of family and loyalty towards friends. My love of nature and the outdoors comes from him taking me fishing at a very early age. If I’ve turned out to be half the man that he was, I count myself lucky.
Now the time has come to let Mick go, this strong, proud, plain-speaking man who wouldn’t suffer fools, but if he liked you, would be your friend forever; a man who loved and lived life to the full, and will be sorely missed by his family and friends – many of whom are here today, and I hope will come along to Sandal Rugby Club afterwards to raise a glass or three and eat some of his favourite snacks. We’re going to see Mick off with a song picked by Carol, which held special meaning for them both because it was played over and over at that long-ago Christmas party in Eastmoor; but before we hear it, I’ll close with this moving verse chosen by his granddaughter Gracey because it expresses her – and our – feelings so well:
He Only Takes the Best by Annica Sharma
God saw you getting tired and a cure was not to be,
So He put His arms around you, and whispered, ‘Come to Me.’
With tearful eyes we watched you, and saw you pass away,
Although we loved you dearly, we could not make you stay.
A golden heart stopped beating, hardworking hands at rest,
God broke our hearts to prove to us He only takes the best.
Music: She Was Only 16, Sam Cooke