Dennis Pepper 1922-2015
The following obituary first appeared in the August 2015 edition of Meldreth Matters.
Memories of Dad
Husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, farmer, bowler, bell ringer, choir singer and amateur photographer. Other interests included game shooting and sea fishing. All of these showed Dad’s zest for life and his interest in everything around him.
The day before he died he still managed to get to the British Queen on his mobility scooter for a pint of beer. He had made good use of the scooter since he finally stopped driving.
Dad was ever the optimist, always glass half full rather than glass half empty, and brushed off setbacks. He was also unfailing in his generosity and willingness to help others. It was practically a village saying that “Den Pepper will do it” if anything needed sorting.
He was a raconteur, with a wicked sense of humour. He was an intrepid traveller even in his later years, visiting his eldest sister Iris in Canada and driving across the US as far as Alaska in his eighties.
With mother’s support he was a generous entertainer, never happier than when sitting down to a meal with family and friends at the cottage in Brewery Lane, particularly at Christmas and New Year when we would visit for a few days. My four boys would consume vast amounts of food and Nicholas, when asked by his grandmother when we were going, said “when the food ran out”. The fact that it lasted several days speaks volumes I think.
A farmer and countryman to the core, when Sarah and I were children our bedtime stories were about the legendary antics of the farm’s horses – leaping Lena and Samson, which he took charge of at a very young age.
After leaving school at 14, he cycled to Cambridge for evening classes at the Technical College in mechanical engineering. This enabled him to repair all the farm machinery, from the combine harvester, tractors, Land Rover and family cars to lorries in later years. The latter were for the haulage business he started up with Bill Oliver, who farmed in Melbourn.
Bill, too, was a raconteur with a dry sense of humour which cemented their firm lifelong friendship, widely admired. Their longstanding partnership forming a machinery syndicate so they jointly owned key machinery, enabled them to keep ahead at a time when farming was changing very rapidly with advances made practically every day. Together they made maximum use of all the new techniques and technology that came available but not before asking, “is it worth it?” Woe betide any travelling salesman who happened to come onto the farm when they were both there with some time to spare.
Dad loved pheasant shooting and going ducking on the Wash, and was never happier than when he brought home a tasty rabbit or hare for the evening meal. He adored his gundogs, Sheila and her daughter Sue; Welsh springer spaniels which he had trained from scratch and they in turn adored him.
He had many hobbies throughout his life. One of the first was amateur photography, which involved the kitchen regularly being turned into a darkroom to develop his photographs, often of us children for Christmas cards to be sent to friends and family. The biggest problem he had was getting us both to smile at the same time.
Bell ringing and Meldreth Church were also central to his life, even though he had been brought up a Methodist. His father had been the organist at Meldreth Methodist chapel for decades. Dennis was great friends with John Gipson and a member of the ancient society of college youths. As well as bell ringing practice nights and services in Meldreth, he regularly rang at Great St. Mary’s in Cambridge and often went to Trumpington for Tuesday practise night, which the team usually followed with a trip to a curry house, and he rang many peals.
Arthur Harcourt, headmaster at Bassingbourn school where mother taught, talked him into joining his choir because there was always a shortage of basses. He enormously enjoyed taking part in the annual Cambridgeshire combined choirs Christmas concert, singing Handel’s Messiah or Haydn’s Creation at the Guildhall or Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius in Ely.
But his biggest passion, the one that took over, was bowling – both indoors and outdoors. He was a founder member of the Club in Meldreth, one of the youngest. As a child I can remember Fred Farnham cycling up the field to persuade Dad to stop combining early so he had enough people for a bowls match. He went on to be its captain for many years, leading winning teams in county championships – but he still found time to mow the green on Saturday mornings. He was a part-time farmer and full time bowls player! He was one of the members who put heart and soul into the Club and saw the new club house built and the green extended with another rink added.
So, a man of many parts who enjoyed life to the full in the village he was born in and whose wit, good humour and generosity was appreciated by all who knew him.
I am sure by now he would be saying “that’s enough going on boy, you’re wasting valuable drinking time”.