Obituary Professor H.J.F. Jones (John)

The tribute below was made at John's funeral by his daughter, Janet.

Everyone here knows of my father's work and it comes first and it speaks for itself. I am absolutely sure he would agree with me.

Second – and I am slightly less sure he would agree with me – there is his career. And that is in the reference books and is recorded.

Prof HJF 'John' JonesThird – and he nearly always put it third – there was his life.

He was born in Meiktila, in Burma, 80 miles south of Mandalay. Not so far from where his mother was born in Assam nor from where his father's hospital still is in Rangoon. Meiktila has a healthier climate than Rangoon and there is red earth and green trees, much like the colours of rural Devon where he spent so much time from the 1930s onwards.

His grandfather was the Welsh philosopher Henry Jones. My father told me he only understood where he came from himself once he'd found his grandfather's book 'Old Memories'.

My father came to Europe for the first time when he was five and he missed his Burmese nannies and the mangoes and his tame mongoose for the rest of his life. 'We always seemed to be travelling,' he said.

He had holidays in Aldeburgh and the South of France with his mother's family and sailed off the Menai Straits with his father's. He spent time with his Scottish grandmother, Henry Jones's widow, in Tighnabruaich in the Kyles of Bute where she recorded the rising heights of her six grandchildren inside a cupboard door. She taught him his letters.

He was sent to a succession of English boarding prep schools and slept with his mother's letters under his pillow. He could not read them until he was 8.

His little brother Hugh and he were sent to different prep schools. They wrote to each other every week for the rest of John's life. Hugh is in Australia now.

Their father died out in Burma in 1933: nearly drowned in the Irrawaddy, he was found on the bank in the morning and only lived for a few more days. My father was 8.

He won himself a scholarship to Blundell's, the public school in Devon. There, he was lucky with the music: Peter Schidlof, a refugee from the Nazis, was another scholarship boy. He was also lucky in his friend John Davis, who became professor of paediatrics at Cambridge and was asked to help save my life when I was a child. He is here today. And he was lucky with Wilson and Jackson Knight who were in Exeter: he went to them for tutorials.

He often said he had had a lucky life.

He then won a scholarship to Oxford (to Merton), where he had a year, but the war was on and he found himself as a naval seaman in Plymouth. He changed tack as soon as he learnt of competitive entry to learn Japanese at SOAS. There he spent 6 months before being sent out to the Far East listening post in Trincamalee until the end of the war.

He liked his nickname from the Wrens: Johnnie Head in Air. And he enjoyed telling of how he listened to music rather than messages and how he was the first to know the war was over.

Back in Oxford he met my mother's brother John Robinson and their friend William Bell. William was killed climbing the Matterhorn and my parents went, separately, to stay with William's parents. My father was sent to meet my mother at Derby railway station off the London train. It was too much for him. He hid. She had to seek him out although he had been told she would be wearing a red rose.

And that is why we are here. This was my mother's childhood church and she and my father married here in December 1949. Their wedding present from my grandparents was their bed, where my father died the Sunday afternoon before last.

I'm not sure anyone here today was at their wedding but Paul Williams joined them on their honeymoon in Grasmere.

My father loved Oxford. He was always sorry to have left for London. My mother did not love Oxford – but they both loved Dartmoor where they had each spent time as children. It is my mother's painting of their bungalow on the moor that you see on the front of the order of service. And this is the same service that my father arranged for my mother.

He loved Merton too. He started there with greats, before the war, going back to law after the war. He reckoned it was the surest way for him to get a 1st and earn his passage for the rest of his life. And he got his first. In those days they were rare. And Merton gave him a job. His debt to Merton is incalculable. He knew that without the wealth and generosity of that great and relatively liberal institution – he would not have had the space that he needed.

He was competitive in every way. At the Summer Sports Day, at The Oxford High School for Girls, in 1958 – I was 7 and he was 34 – we entered the wheelbarrow race: he had to pick me up by my ankles and I had to paddle along the ground. But that is not what happened. He lifted me – by the ankles – well off the ground and he ran as fast as he could. We won. He was triumphant. I was embarrassed.

In 1968, his son was 14 and he was 44, he was so determined not to be beaten at squash that he broke his Achilles tendon rather than lose and Jeremy had difficulty getting him home.

There was no malice in this. It was how he had been brought up and how he had learnt to survive.

My mother matched him: once, when irritated with her, he told her: 'The trouble with you is you've got wits but no brains.' She replied by return 'And tomorrow you'll tell me I've got brains but no wits.'

On Valentine's Day, in about 1966, we sat down to breakfast and each had put a card on the other's plate – as they did every year. My mother opened hers first and was lost for words. (That did not often happen.) My father was wondering what he had done wrong. 'You open yours,' she said. My father took his card out of its envelope. He looked at it. He opened it. He looked at the front again. He looked at my mother. He was puzzled.

'Show it to the children', she said

We looked at the cards. They were identical.

This was pointed out to our father who had just not noticed.

Then there were the car journeys. From Oxford to Dartmoor, from Dartmoor to Oxford. My mother drove and my father sat at the wheel. Irresistible forces and immoveable objects. For over 60 years.

After my mother went into the St John's Wood Care Centre and then died he became more and more unhappy. His last two Christmas Days he spent, by choice, alone in the flat – though I visited him at lunchtime.

He was not able to leave his bed for the last few days and it was clear that he was dying. Janice Richardson set his cassette player by his bed. She asked him what he would like. He told her Handel. And she played him music through his final night. And she held his hand.

When I came to the flat in the afternoon, Elisha Kerama had been on duty all day and he was able to leave.

I should like to pay a public tribute to Elisha and Janice and thank them for their dedication and professionalism throughout long and difficult months for my father.

Then I found Handel's 'The Ways of Zion do Mourn' and I put it on.

I don't know exactly when he died but I am glad I was there.