Eulogy given on behalf of Saltwell Harriers by Keith Wood at Whitley Bay crematorium 16/10/14.
This eulogy was written by Keith Wood with the assistance of members of Saltwell Harriers.
On behalf of Saltwell Harriers I have been asked to paint a picture of Dennis’ time as a loyal member of Saltwell Harriers for 40 years.
Dennis was a character, there is no disputing this fact and he knew he was too. Dennis did not hold any official positions in Saltwell Harriers that I am aware of, but Dennis was the self appointed un-official agitator of Saltwell. It would appear that he put as much effort into challenging the decisions of the club officers as he did trying to run faster.
Without doubt Dennis was a decent runner during his time with Saltwell; completing the 14.25 miles from Morpeth to Newcastle on New Years Day 1979 in a time of 1 hour 13 minutes, testimony to his athletic prowess. Over the years he wore the Red and White diagonal strips then the Red and White hoops (the members reverting back to the original design of the club vest after flirting with modernity during the late seventies an dearly eighties) of Saltwell in many races across the north east and further a field.
When I was asked by Dennis why we did not enter a team into the Elswick Good Friday relays, I told him there was not enough interest from club members. So Dennis entered Saltwell Harriers himself and ran as a team of one. This was typical of his dedication to running races.
As the years go by and we get older we tend to get a little bit slower too. This did not deter Dennis. He had completed a number of London marathons and was enter again just a few years ago, this last one being probably his fastest time, though there is some dispute as to whether or not he completed the full course. When challenged he just gave one of the mischievous smiles he was known for.
Look at any photo of the start to the Blaydon Race, Great North Run or other big north east race and you will spot Dennis on the front line. He always exaggerated his estimated finishing time to ensure he got an elite number. Olympic athletes would find themselves rubbing shoulders with this bloke in a Saltwell vest until one of them would say ‘alright Dennis’. These antics resulted in a letter from UK Athletics to the Saltwell Harriers honorary secretary, not with a complaint but congratulating the club on having a member with one of the top 20 marathon times in the UK at that time.
Dennis loved the camaraderie of the Harriers and local athletics. Often he would come up to you on some wind swept cross course and say with his mischievous smile, ‘Did I ever tell you about…..’ more often than not his story would include a well know athlete such as Jim Alder of Morpeth Harriers.
Dennis will be remembered in many ways by Saltwell Harriers. Firstly by his insistence on challenging officialdom. He knew how to play standing orders. ‘Excuse me mister chairman’, ‘Point of order mister chairman’. These challenges were always raised in a soft quite un-aggressive tone of voice. His letters to the club secretary are legendary, nearly always written on the back of a previous letter or gas bill (he was always keen to recycle!!) and he would make a point of highlighting the fact that he had used a 2ndclass stamp as he could not afford the expense of a first class stamp. He successful used utilised this hardship to convince the club officials, that his residency in Cramlington, should be classed as out of the area thereby entitling him to reduced subscriptions.
I myself have a copy of a letter I wrote to Dennis dated 21st February 2002, which took almost two weeks to construct, just to ensure that I dealt with all the unfounded allegations, that he had made about certain club officials.
The picture that I might be painting of Dennis’s character is one that you may describe as eccentric.
There was much more to Dennis than that though. He was extremely loyal to Saltwell Harriers for 40 years, attending many monthly meetings, always in attendance at the AGM offering to collect Club
President Ronnie Walker on the way. He never missed the annual presentation, always dressed smart, in what I now know to be the same and only suit he has worn for 30 years. He loved to flirt with the ladies and the attention he received in return. Not one to sit by and watch, at last years presentation and despite his current health issues he was still game for ‘Stripping the Willow’ when the ceilidh band struck up a tune. Even during the onset of his Parkinson’s disease he never missed a local cross country, the club road race or fell race; offering to don a marshal’s bib to do his bit to help the club he loved.
Last year at a Harrier League cross country event held at Tanfield, near Beamish I saw him standing in the middle of the field. I was perplexed as to how he had got to this venue, due to its remote location. When I asked him, his response was, ‘This bus pass can get me anywhere’.
Dennis had a very caring nature. Without fail he would ask about the well being of Saltwell members, and my own family, in particular my two daughters whom he had watched run on a number of occasions. Walter Fraser recalls how Dennis showed genuine concern for his grandchildren after the untimely death of his daughter Julia.
A few years ago, the very officials that Dennis had given such a hard time, decided to grant him life membership of Saltwell Harriers. ‘Why you may ask’. The reason is that we had an attachment to Dennis, a unique attachment, which the best philosophers in the world would not be able to define.
When asked about how he felt about being made a life member his reply was, ‘it took them long enough didn’t it’.
Saltwell till I Die was Dennis’ signature tune. He would use this term when signing off Christmas cards and ironically those letters to the club secretary. Despite some of the frustrations he gave us; we at Saltwell Harriers all liked Dennis. He knew that we knew the game he was playing and we all played the game with a smile, though Dennis’ was by far the biggest.
From a personal point of view, I found Dennis to be a gentleman and a caring man with a passion for local athletics. I was last with Dennis at the Saltwell Harriers AGM on Tuesday 9th2014. His parting words as Walter Fraser and I helped him into his taxi were the words he said many times; ‘Saltwell till I Die’ – He was right.
Keith Wood. 16th