Graham Bush, known as Gray to his family and many friends, died in Southampton General Hospital on Friday 21st November after a long fight against cancer. His funeral took place on Thursday 27th November 2008 at St Paul’s Church, Winchester.
I first met Bush J G in Elmdene, then the waiting house for School House, in September 1949. The convention whereby small boys called each other by their surnames was considered entirely acceptable and it was not until four years later when we were sharing a study and spending time together in the holidays that he became Graham. He was called Gray by his parents and sister, Lindsay, but it was not until some time after he left Sherborne that he became generally known as such.
Perversely, I have never been able to bring myself to call him Gray – a word alien to the cheerful, generous and optimistic nature that he displayed as boy and man. As only those of a certain age will appreciate, ‘Bush’ would reflect the friendship of nearly 60 years but Graham it shall be for Sherborne days and Gray thereafter.
Graham was born in Beckenham in Kent on 22nd February 1936. His life-long love of, and commitment to, sailing can probably be traced to his father’s appointment as Secretary of the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s yacht Griffin after WWII. This enabled the family to sail on occasional weekends throughout the year, experiences supplemented by holidays on the Norfolk Broads and dinghy racing on the Thames, Torquay and elsewhere.
Graham was the first to admit that academic pursuits were not his forte. He was a keen sportsman and an excellent swimmer. He never let his family forget that he was the school backstroke champion and he often wondered when his record was broken. He and I frequently played fives with Abe Gourlay (Housemaster) and Micky Walford (House Tutor) and won the Inter-House fives competition together. He played rugger for the House but his true enthusiasm for the game did not reveal itself until after he left school. The School did not encourage sailing but towards the end of his time at Sherborne a more enlightened attitude was taken, he organised a sailing club for a group of boys to sail at Poole and his hitherto hidden skill was revealed.
On the face of it, apart from the fives, we had insufficient in common to finish up sharing studies for several terms. The reason was quite simple. Then and throughout his life it was great fun to be with him. At a time when it was the vogue to be cynical and laid back, he was enthusiastic and energetic with great commonsense. One holiday we went to see Billy Graham, the American Evangelist, in action. The scene was set with subdued music and an angelic choir. We were bidden to go forward and be saved and most people rose hypnotically to their feet. I was half way out of my seat before Graham said ‘I think that it is time for our sandwiches’.
Graham had a phenomenal memory for numbers and for the results of sporting activities. When people signing in for a dinghy race could not remember their boat number, he always knew the answer. He would have shone on ‘A Question of Sport’. The last time that we had an opportunity to totter down Memory Lane together he was recalling in graphic detail a rugger match at Sherborne in 1953. Although I had played in the match I had no memory of it whatsoever. But I do remember very clearly the bitterly cold winter of 1954, a memory stimulated by a photograph of the two of us clinging on for dear life to a toboggan as we hurtled down the Slopes together.
Not many boys made a positive impression on our lugubrious Housemaster but he wrote what for him was a supreme accolade when Graham left Sherborne.
“We lose him with regret, for it would be difficult to find a more cheerful, cooperative and sensible boy. He has got things done effectively in the house, and to have organised the sailing club without friction with his housemaster (as he has) argues considerable tact. I wish him all good fortune. He should do well.”
After we left Sherborne we went our separate ways. I was delighted that he was Best Man at my wedding but thereafter we saw little of each other for many years although we managed to keep somewhat tenuously in touch. Graham started a 5-year apprenticeship as an accounts clerk and his National Service was deferred. He passed his accountancy exams in 1961 but by then National Service had, to his genuine disappointment, been abolished. He had spent the 5 years sailing on his father’s yacht, competing in most inshore and offshore races. He became a member of the Royal Ocean Racing Club in 1957 and was elected to the Committee in 1970. He played rugger regularly for Beckenham Rugby Club and was later made a Life Vice President in recognition of his services to the Club.
Graham met Carol Hardman when he was Best Man and she was the Chief Bridesmaid at another friend’s wedding. They were engaged soon after and married in Blackpool in 1963. Over the next nine years they had 4 children and their honeymoon in Sennen Cove set a pattern for future summer holidays. Gray joined Percy Fox (a rather exclusive wine merchant) as a Chartered Accountant after qualifying and, to the envy of his contemporaries, he and Carol were able to enjoy fine wines and champagne. However, by 1977 things were pretty tough. Quite by chance a meeting with a senior figure in the World Bank in Kenya resulted in a three-year contract for him as an Accountant with the World Bank seconded to look after funds for the Cotton Board in Kenya.
Gray and Carol sold their house in Buckinghamshire, put their two oldest children into boarding school, and moved to Kenya with their two youngest children. Their typically British, and seemingly pre-ordained, Bush family life was to change for ever and they stayed in East Africa for nearly 30 years, living both in Kenya and Uganda. However, despite all his family and work commitments Gray managed to continue Ocean Racing and sailed in 13 Fastnet Races. In the memorably appalling conditions in 1979 he crewed aboard the yacht Flycatcher, one of only 6 finishers in the class of 64. Meanwhile, the Naivasha Yacht Club in Kenya became the adopted home for the Bush Family. Gray and Carol held most of the positions in the Club’s hierarchy, were tremendous servants of the Club and Gray was elected as an Honorary Life Member.
Through Ocean Racing Gray became friendly with Loftus Peyton Jones who had helped to set up ‘The President’s Award scheme’ in Kenya. When Gray arrived in Nairobi, Loftus elected him to the Committee as Treasurer and thereafter meetings at State House with the President were a regular occurrence over a number of years – and the scheme is still running.
Gray’s qualification as a Chartered Accountant was an invaluable resource and the Kenyan cotton farmers were grateful to him that they were actually being paid. However, in 1986 he decided to join Mitchell Cotts who were trying to rehabilitate the Tea Estates in Uganda after many years of neglect. He and Carol went to live in Kampala and this proved to be quite a challenge. The only source of power was from generators, there were no telephones and there was gunfire every night. However, things gradually improved and their knowledge and enthusiasm helped to regenerate the Sailing Club.
Gray was a member of Victoria Nyanza Sailing Club in Kampala from 1986 to 1993 and was awarded Honorary Life Membership for his services to the Club. The Club has published a great tribute to him saying ‘He dominated the Laser fleet in East Africa with his excellent boat handling skills and great tactical insights. He was a great inspiration and source of sailing wisdom for many of the top East African sailors today, and continues to live on in the sailing skills he left behind in many of us. To describe him as a sailor and sportsman would be like calling Mohammed Ali ‘a boxer’. As a sailor, he had his equals, but as a sportsman he was ahead of the rest.’
Gray and Carol returned to Kenya in 1994 when Gray was asked to take up a new and challenging appointment managing Kaplan and Stratton, the leading law firm in East Africa. Gray was particularly popular with the Africans as not only was he fair but he remembered their names. In 2002 Gray semi retired to work at Braeburn School for 4 enjoyable years establishing systems to collect school fees and training the accounting staff. He and Carol returned to the UK in 2006 and Gray started what proved to be two and a half years of treatment for different forms of cancer.
The perfectly adjusted moral compass that, with the wisdom of hindsight, was characteristic of Graham as a schoolboy stayed with him all his life – he was scrupulously fair in every respect. As a sailor he was competitive in an understated way. Although he wanted to win, it was not at any cost, and his sense of decency and sportsmanship was almost an impediment to him winning. He was a ‘whisperer’ not a ‘shouter’ and he never lost his sense of humour with fellow competitors or his crews. As a result there are many who have benefited from his knowledge and the advice that he gave so freely and quietly.
Gray was very proud of his family and he could not have been a better father. He took great delight in his 7 grand children and was looking forward to the arrival of number 8. I rang Graham two months before he died. The old familiar voice boomed cheerfully down the phone giving no hint of what he was undergoing. Typically he asked after my family before giving a brisk résumé of his. He seemed to be able to endure physical discomfort with good humour and never complained during his two and a half year battle with cancer. In this he was undoubtedly helped by Carol’s devotion that was absolute throughout.
We have lost a man of great stature. Gray epitomized virtues to which few of us can ever aspire.
Roger Duffett (a, 54)
19th January 2009