Obituary for My Father
Dad (known by almost everyone as Bill) was born in Hinckley, Leicestershire on 04 February 1939 and was christened William Ernest FOX (his father’s name.
His father William Fox senior was a bit of a character. He had served in the Royal Navy (pictured below) He was already married and living with his wife and family on the Isle of Wight when he left his wife and children and eloped with another woman.
My father never knew of his siblings from his father’s marriage, and I only found out when the first version of this obituary was published, and surviving family members got in touch. As a result I have met family members that I never knew of growing up. They are wonderful, and I have learned much about them and my grandfather who abandoned them-but that is another story.
The woman with whom William left the Isle of Wight was Hilda Prouten (nee Bewell) (pictured below)
Hilda was also married at the time (to George Prouten, married 1934 on IoW, lived on Moncton St) and when she left the Isle of Wight for Leicestershire with William, she left her husband but took her young son from that marriage (Roy)
They lived at “Dewhurst”, Barwell Lane, Hinckley, and by virtue of both being married but not to each other, Dad was born “out of wedlock” . Dad was christened at Hinckley Parish Church on 12/04/1941. Younger brother Richard (my Uncle Dick) was an addition to the family, but when Dad was two his father William drowned (in a swimming accident in a local quarry) and so the boys were brought up Hilda (known as “H”)
Hilda left Leicester with the three boys to head South to Dorset, where they lived in rural poverty. By his 4th birthday Dad was living at Somerset Cottage, Horton (near Ilminster)
At one point they were staying in an alms house, for which privilege Dad’s mother had to scrub the stone floors of the church on her hands and knees. Dad was no fan of the church or organised religion.
The family moved around in Dorset several times, and would holiday on the Isle of Wight. At some stage Roy moved back to the Isle of Wight permenantly to live with other family members. In later years he was estranged from the younger siblings, and so I never met him.
Hilda was closely bonded with her sister Esme (who lived in Taunton, with husband Stan and children Andrew, Rob, Julie (dad’s cousins)
Dad with his younger brother Dick went to school at Lyme Regis Grammar school. Dad was a fast runner, running the mile for the County and setting a school record.
When Hilda re-married William acquired a stepfather, Jack SMITH, and then another brother (Nick). Dad later combined the names FOX and SMITH and the FOX-SMITH family name was created. (The surname has been used both with and without a surname, in my own case without)
Aged 16, Dad left home and went to Navigation school in Plymouth, and then joined the merchant Navy:-
For six years he travelled the World visiting the US, China, Japan and Cuba amongst other Countries. In Cuba, he was arrested and spent a night in prison. It’s a bit unclear what offence he had allegedly committed (probably smuggling cigarettes) or how he came to be released (although I did find a record of payment for a “bail bond” by the ship’s captain) but it was a typical escapade for Dad who loved adventure. Dad’s brother Nick has a memory of watching their mother putting pins in a world map on the kitchen wall every time they received a card from a country Dad visited when at sea. I have found postcards, letters or diary entries showing visits to the following ports: Safi, (Morocco) Suez Canal (several visits) , Leghorn (South Africa), Genoa,, Venice, Capetown, Orient beach (East london, SA) and Aden.
Dad’s Mum died when he was still at sea. He was not able to return for the funeral. Over 30 years later he found a “memory box” with some keepsakes and mementoes from his sea-faring days. Not realising what it was, he began reading aloud the letter he had received from his brother Dick which broke the news of their mother’s death,and it moved him to tears. It was the only time I ever saw him cry.
Dad met my Mum (Sylvia) in July 1964 and they were married in Wembury Church on 05/10/1966.
His first “land” job was selling encyclopaedias, and then he worked with Mintex (a Company selling brake and clutch linings) as a salesman and later as manager of the Plymouth depot.
He had been framing pictures- self taught – as a hobby, and now became self-employed doing that professionally.
He had also formed an interest in silhouettes, which he began collecting and became something of an expert. (He later became involved in the Silhouette Club)
Eventually he opened his shop on Southside Street, The Barbican, selling antique maps and prints. The shop “Foxsmith Galleries” was open for 20 years, and eventually closed in 2006.
Dad was renowned for his honesty and good business ethics, never broke his word or a contract, and had great integrity. His word was his bond, and most deals were done on a handshake. He disliked debt, and was beholden to nobody. He worked hard, and in order to provide for his family, put business before pleasure.
Dad loved antiques and fine art, good company and good wine.
He enjoyed classical music, which could always be heard in the basement at home where he was framing pictures, or in the shop.
He had a great sense of humour, and a good sense of adventure. He loved sailing and wind-surfing, but was equally happy to try his hand at anything adventurous from para-gliding to stock car racing to bungee-jumping.
Dad didn’t tolerate fools gladly, and disliked snobbery and pretentiousness.
He hated hypocrisy. He had no airs and graces and could mix easily in any company.
He had a wide circle of friends. Most of all he loved his family. There were three children- myself M. and Naomi (below, with Dad on her wedding day)
Mum and Dad first lived in a small bungalow in Staddiscombe (near Plymstock) and then moved to Alfred Street on Plymouth Hoe.
We holidayed as children in Butlins, and many years later in France,catching the ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff and driving to a campsite.
Sadness at Dads death is tempered by the happiness that he was released from the hell of his last few years. Sadly, in truth we lost Dad a few years before his passing to the cruel disease of Alzheimer’s, the early onset of which robbed him of a peaceful retirement.
Dad was a towering figure for me, and an important influence on my life.
He was there for my significant birthdays, my graduation, was a witness at my wedding, and once came to see me advocating in Court. I inherited or learned from him some qualities that have stood me in good stead as a defence lawyer-a sense of fairness, and an innate sympathy for the underdog.
I admired him very much, and am sorry that his early departure deprived his grandchildren of spending time with him, and he with them.
Dad had a great love of board games.
He taught me chess. We played for years and years before I won a game. Dad wasn’t one to let you win. But at least when I eventually did, I knew it was on merit. Winning at chess was a major surprise to me. Like many boys, I believed my father invincible, and not just in chess.
As a family we also enjoyed board games, particularly Monopoly and Risk, which were extremely competitive but riotous fun.
I played as a child , but was aware if friends or family were staying that games would continue after I was dispatched to bed
Then the drinks would come out, and the games were a backdrop to anecdotes, stories and jokes, with the roar of raucous laughter. These are amongst the memories that we will cherish.
In Memory of William Foxsmith RIP (04.02.41- 10.03.14)
The family were grateful for the many condolence cards, supportive messages, anecdotes and photos sent to the family.
“A vibrant and infectious zest for life (Nigel F.)
entertaining, knowledgable and fun to be around” (Matt Tiller)
He ran his business so well,always kind and courteous”(Jenni)
“No-one will forget Bill” (Vanessa J)
“Our hearts are sore at the passing of our dear friend Bill. We will always value our friendship” (Gerry and Malcolm)
“I held the most tremendous admiration for Bill,his humour, stories, knowledge and skills….” (Simon B.)
“we are surrounded by memories of Bill as there isn’t a room in the house that hasn’t either a picture from the Gallery or framed by Bill” (Jane and John Green)
“This card (pictured below) shows one of the many precious prints which adorn my walls and which Bill found for me”
“a wonderful entertaining host!” (Viv and Brian)
“A lovely human being, a delightful neighbour and friend with a great sense of fun and generosity of spirit” (Elaine and Adrian)
“Bill was a fantastic man.” (Sarah and Tony)
“Bill was a delight to work for”
“The spirit which he evoked-one of friendship, challenge and investigation” (John Pickles)
Ros offered these lines from Shakespeare (Anthony to Cleopatra):-
the miserable change now at my end
Lament nor sorrow at,
But please your thoughts
In feeding them with these my former fortunes
An anecdote from Malcolm and Gerry:- “Bill loved sailing in Plymouth Sound after work. One evening the tide and wind took him into Mountbatten Pier, and as he had stayed out until the last minute, it had become dark and he had no choice but to land. At that time it was private, R.A.F. property, with landing prohibited. He somehow found the Officer’s Mess and entered in his wet suit [just like James Bond] and persuaded them he was not a spy. He finished at the bar with a pint telling them of his adventures!”
“We are both very sad to hear of the death of your Dad, a great friend of mine and someone I admired very much.” (Richard Walker)