Halliday Sutherland

"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.

The disagreeable butler

Forties TelephoneIn 1960, Halliday Sutherland was 77 years old. He had lung cancer and was in the final months of his life.

My father Ian, the fourth son of Halliday and Muriel, visited them. He later told me that it was during this time that he got to know Halliday. Until then, Halliday had been a father in the Victorian mould: a loving father, but not a close friend. They spoke about the past, as you do when the future is settled.

Ian told Halliday about a time he had travelled back to Ampleforth on the school train. It had left Kings Cross Station in the morning and had arrived, very much later in the day at Gilling East in the Holbeck valley, North Yorkshire, over 220 miles to the north.

During the journey, Ian caught up with a friend who told him:

“I tried to contact you in the holidays. I telephoned and I left a message with your butler, but I don’t think that you got it because you didn’t call me back…I have to say, your butler is a very disagreeable man.”

Ian had not received the message and he was puzzled, because they didn’t have a butler. He did have a father however, a writer who did not like to be disturbed while he was working, and who had been known to be disagreeable when he was. Ian nodded his head in agreement and replied:

“He is, isn’t he? We’ve been trying to get rid of him for years.”

When Halliday heard the story he laughed, and he laughed until tears rolled down his face.

When people live busy lives in public, it is often those closest to them who see them the least. There hadn’t been an opportunity before, nor an appropriate time, to tell Halliday this story. Now that he was dying, there was.

On 19th April 1960, Halliday Sutherland passed away at the hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, St Johns Wood, London. R.I.P. †

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This entry was posted on 15 April 2015 by in Family life, Family lore, London.

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