Gordon Walley and Madeline Margaret Walley by Keith Warren Walley
I first met Gordon Walley in 1946 when he and my Mother started seeing each. We would meet again in 1948, this time as my step-father, when my sister and I traveled from Calcutta, India to England. Mum (my mother, Madeline Margaret Walley) and Gordon had married and wanted us to join them. I called him “Dad” from that day on until he died on August 11, 2015 because he was a father to me in every way.
He was born on February 8, 1925 in Stoke-on-Kent, England, one of five children, one older and one younger brother and two older sisters. When we met, he had recently been discharged from the British Army and was settling into a job near Ampthill, England. In 1950 our family moved to Bellflower, California, sponsored by American friends my mother made during the war while living in India. (We moved several times after that settling where Dad’s jobs took us but always in southern California.)
Dad was a naturally gifted composer and entertainer. He played in pubs and studied piano seriously when he and Mum arrived in the United States. He always worked in blue collar jobs but bettered himself through correspondence courses and courses in Junior College. By doing so, he was able to successfully climb the management ladder. He was a dedicated worker and a steady provider for his family. He always worked in quality control and took great pride in finding better, safer ways to get the job done.
Dad retired in the mid-1980’s and both he and Mum moved back and forth between living in the US and in England. They were British through and through with solid values of honor, duty, family and hard work.
But it wasn’t until 1992, when Mum died in England and Dad moved back to the US, that I really started to know him much more intimately. And the reason was because he moved close by and finally in 2007 moved within a block of where I lived in Hemet, California. And it was those years until his death that I would not trade for anything as we got closer and closer to each other. By this time, he had remarried a second time to Barbara Thurston.
During these latter years Dad wrote prolifically producing twenty-five novels and a number of shorter works. He self-published many of the novels and had a wonderful time marketing his works far and near. At the same time, he never stopped composing and playing the piano. He composed over three-hundred songs. Beautiful works. Wonderful harmonies. And what a way he had with words. Absolutely magical. He loved words and he loved music. And he was proficient at both. The recordings he had made of his music through a friend of his are a testament to his talent.
He took the time to be his own person, something I admired about him. I sometimes thought it was selfish on his part, but now I understand more fully how important it was for him to be the creative person he was, to produce the number of both written and musical works that he did. It took courage, and yes, a needed amount of selfish self-absorption.
He was not a particularly religious person although he did join the Catholic Church late in life and was baptized while living at Claremont, California in the 1990’s. Though not religious in a formal sense, he was honest, kind, generous, hard-working, a good provider for his family, a good friend and a wonderful husband and father.
And did I mention he had a wonderful sense of humor? No? Well, he did, and it was something he and I especially enjoyed over the years. He had light blue eyes and blond hair…at least the hair was blond in his younger days then fully white as he aged. I bring up his blue eyes because they twinkled when he cracked a wry joke and his face would break out in an engaging smile.
Something that stood out for me personally was his constant encouragement of me. He and Mum were proud of what I accomplished and let it be known.
When Barbara, his second wife, could no longer take care of him in 2015, we placed him in an assisted living facility. It was not a place in which he wanted to be. He was ninety years old by then. I regret not having taken him into my home and at least trying to see if I could make a go of it myself. I know in my heart that the decision was best for us to place him where he could get care around the clock. Nevertheless, I am reminded that I didn’t try, and that bothers me to this day.
I took him out for lunch the week before he died. There was a local restaurant he loved to go to. The waiter took a picture of us there. He was frail, and I had to transport him in a wheelchair. It was just the two of us. Father and son. One of those rare, precious moments in life. I keep the picture. I wish I could have kept him, too.
He died the following week. I made the funeral arrangements and held a small memorial service at the graveside. He was only in the assisted living facility for two and a half months before he slipped away. I think he made a conscious decision to stop eating. He had said many times that he wished he could just go to sleep and not wake up. And that’s what he did. Barbara and my wife and my two sons were there the day before he died. I know he knew we made it there in time.
He lies with his first wife, my mother, in adjoining graves in southern California. It has a beautiful view of the valley and was the place we selected when we brought Mum back following her death in 1992 from England. Mum encouraged Dad to return to America to be close to me. After she died, he did so. I never regretted that decision, and I don’t believe he did either.
He is the best man I have ever known. And I am proud to be called his “Son.” I will always love him and cherish the time we had together.
Rest in peace, my dear Dad!
Now a few words about my Mother.
Mum was born Madeline Margaret Hall on August 10, 1912 probably in Madras, India. She was one of three sisters the others being Brynhild and Gwendoline. My sister, June Alison, and I were born in Rangoon, Burma. And my biological father, Vernon Carlysle French, was likewise in born in Burma in 1910 and was in the British Army during World War II. He and Mum divorced in approximately 1947 while we were living in Calcutta, India.
It was during that period of time, the late 1940’s, when Mum met Gordon. She was working in the canteen where he was stationed. She took note as he played the piano. The rest is history. (I should probably add that my Grandmother, Harriet Hall, was an entertainer as well, playing the piano and singing. Music was an integral part of our family and it was my grandmother who gave me my first lesson on the piano in Calcutta.)
India at that time was going through a crisis politically with the British and then the assassination of Ghandi in the late 1940’s. Dad, my step-father, Gordon, took Mum to England and my sister and I followed in 1948.
During the war, my mother and father were in Burma. When the Japanese invaded Burma, they moved to Mhow, India with Mum trekking over the mountains along with many others including her sister Gwen and mother, Harriet. We moved to Agra and stayed with Gwen and then to Calcutta once more staying with Gwen and my grandmother. Those could not have been easy times but for my sister and me they were protected times because my mother was able to keep us from experiencing the effects of the war and what it had done to their home and life in Burma.
During these years, my father, Vernon, was away at war traveling between India and Burma with the British Army. He was an engineer. It inevitably drove Mum and Dad apart and into a divorce. The last time I remember seeing my biological father was in 1947 when he visited my sister and me in Calcutta. He had remarried by then to Xelda Brooks, they had a son, Christopher, and daughter, Sandra, and lived in Perth, Australia. I kept infrequent contact over the years. It was, to my regret, not as full a relationship as I would have liked. I take responsibility for that as I never did make a trip to Australia for a visit. Perhaps that was for the best. I’ll never know. He died in 1988.
Mum and Gordon were married for forty-two years when she died on May 13, 1992 in Lincoln, England. They lie together now, buried side-by-side, in Forest Lawn in West Covina, California.
I could not have had a better mother who loved me, protected me, encouraged me and often gave me advice I did not want to hear. I owe her a debt of gratitude including her strong faith that was not lost on me all the years she lived. She was a devout Catholic. Interestingly, my father, Vernon, was a Baptist.
Mum was the best homemaker and stay-at-home mother a child could hope to have. And I miss her even to this day.
God bless you, my dear Mum!
PS…I was born Keith Warren French on November 17, 1938, in Rangoon, Burma, a British citizen. I took my step-father’s name, Walley, because that seemed to be the right thing to do at the time. It coincided with my naturalization process as an American citizen when I graduated from High School in 1956.
Updated June 2, 2019