I'm proud to declare my love for Jimmy, a man in a million

In his weekly column Michael Pattwell looks at the passing of a dear friend, Jimmy O'Donovan, the longest serving member of the Cork Fellowship Scout Group
I'm proud to declare my love for Jimmy, a man in a million
Jimmy O'Donovan from Capwell Road who was the longest serving member of the Cork Fellowship Scout Group photographed last April on an outing to Courtmacsherry. Picture: D.P.Barry

I WAS lying in bed early one morning last week. The curtins were opened and I could see the sky. At first it was filled with grey clouds and, as the sun warmed, these slowly dissipated and white fluffy clouds, against the blue background, drifted in with the morning breeze from the south-west. These also began to thin out and the expanse of blue became bigger and bigger.

Then I saw a tiny speck moving in from the the west, with a white vapour trail behind it. It was, of course, nothing unfamiliar to any of us; it was a jet plane moving steadily across the sky.

Such is the power of modern technology that is now available to us all that I only needed to take up my iPad (a smartphone would do too) and point it to the skym and using an app that I had previously downloaded, I knew instantly that the plane I was looking at was a United Airlines flight from New York to London; that is was flying at a height of 37,000 feet; it was travelling at 460 knots and was due to land in London at 9.10am.

Isn’t that amazing? I’m at an age that these technological things still fascinate me. My grandchildren just take them for granted, but for me they are as close to magic as I can think of.

Even the mobile phone still causes me to marvel and I constantly and sympthetically remember the story told about a certain Kerry politician — now deceased — who received a phone call whilst he was working on the bog and asked his caller: “How did you know where I was?”

In any event, the sight of the aeroplane speeding across the sky, within sight of The Seven Heads, got me wondering about who was on board. Why were the various passengers travelling all the way from the US to London? How many were just visiting for a few days, for business? How many were returning to visit families for a short time? How many were returning to the UK or some place near the UK to stay? How many were planning to meet up with a loved one? Was there anybody on board who was coming to attend a funeral of a loved one?

My mind then wandered to thinking about relationships and the feelings that bind us human beings to one another. Family relationships, that may or may not include feelings of love or in some cases mere duty. I pondered on the word ‘love’ and what it means and came to the conclusion that in very many cases it is wholly misunderstood. To too many people — especially the young — “love” has little meaning other than sexual love but to me it has a much wider meaning.

I decided to use the modern technology, so readily available to me again and looked up on my computer device the meaning of ‘love’. It was defined as “a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.” I was delighted to see the love of a friend included.

Love is said to be one of the most profound emotions known to human beings. There are, of course, many kinds of love and though most people seek its expression in a romantic relationship with a compatible partner, that understanding of love is much too narrow.

For some, romantic relationships are the most meaningful element of life, providing a source of deep fulfillment. Some psychologists suggest the ability to have a healthy, loving relationship is not inborn or natural but I’m not too sure that is correct. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest the ability to form a stable relationship begins in infancy; perhaps with a child’s earliest experiences with a care-giver who reliably meets their needs for food, care, protection, stimulation, and social contact. Those relationships are not destiny, but appear to establish patterns of relating to others. Most of us have to work consciously to master the skills necessary to make them flourish.

What, then, causes a person to develop a strong feeling of attachment to somebody upon whom there was never, and never would be, a dependency? Why should a person be drawn in a non-romantic and non-sexual way to another person with whom one feels at ease and admires? Could that be called ‘love’? Has the ‘love’ word been hijacked by romantic or sexual love? It seems to me that it has and it is up to us, who believe in the wider meaning of the word, to reclaim it.

I experienced what I believe to be a prime example of the wider meaning of love just a few days ago. As I absentmindedly looked at the morning sky and pondered and speculated, I remembered that I was due to attend the funeral of a friend later that morning and I began to examine my feelings for that friend. I had never thought about it before but as I did, I found myself admitting to myself that I actually loved the man. I loved him in the broadest sense, of course, and I understood then why I felt so sad at his passing.

I know my good friend and colleague, David Barry, who writes the Scout notes in the Echo on Mondays, has already written about our mutual friend, Jimmy O’Donovan, in his column last night and I wouldn’t like to ‘steal his thunder’, as the saying goes. The depth of my sadness at Jimmy’s sudden passing, however, surprised me and continues to surprise me. He was a man in a million.

In fact, I only knew Jimmy for maybe seven or eight years. I met him when I first joined the Cork Scout Fellowship. Maybe the fact he had lived some of his pre-teenage years in my own native Clonakilty first attracted me to him. He had left Clonakilty by the time I was born but I remembered his aunts, who had a small sweet shop right next the the Scout Hall when I was a child.

Though he was small in stature he was, in my opinion, a very big man. He had the most gentle of voices and an infectious sense of humour. When he was telling a story of the old days — especially of his days as a young Scout — he would have a constant smile on his gentle face and break into a short laugh every now and then when he came to a particularly funny part of the tale.

Jimmy was solicituous for the wellbeing of everybody around him and I have heard wonderful stories since his passing of the care he gave to neighbours and friends right through his long life.

He regularly attended our Scout Fellowship monthly meetings and for many years had taken over the task of tea-making for our break. He also made sure we had biscuits, and a meeting wouldn’t be complete without a few marshmallow biscuits with the cuppa. Kimberley, Mikado and Coconut Creams (what the old adverts used to refer to as ‘Spring Sprongs’) were his favourites.

He also attended most of our monthly outings and no journey was too long or no activity too difficult, even when he was well into his eighties. He never arrived for an outing without several packets of sweets to share out among us on the journey.

It wasn’t all fun and games of course. I had many a serious conversation with Jimmy and was always impressed by the strength of his feeling for what was right. He had wonderful values and to follow the Scouting theme yet again, he followed and lived ‘The Scout Law’ with devotion and fervor.

The Scout Law is worth repeating here because it defines Jimmy O’Donovan. The wording used in modern Scouting is slightly changed now but I remember it as I learned it (as did Jimmy O’Donovan) as a child: A Scout is loyal, trustworthy, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, pure, and a Scout does all for the Glory of God.

Every single one of those attributes was part of Jimmy O’Donovan’s person and part of his life.

Though I never visited his home, I did meet his wife, Lucy, several times and I knew one of his daughters a little bit from my days with a walking club. I knew, however, from the way he spoke about them that his family were very special to him and he was immensely proud of them all. Having met them they, as well as his brother, sister and wider family, all know they have my deepest sympathy.

Jimmy’s removal to Christ The King Church on Thursday night last gave testament to his standing in his community, among his friends and especially his family. Such was the long line of sympathisers that the funeral was more than an hour late leaving the funeral home.

I shall miss Jimmy O’Donovan and I know all of my friends in The Cork Scout Fellowship will miss him. When it comes to ‘love’, I can only speak for myself and the answer is, yes, I did love him and I continue to love his memory.

Contact Michael at pattwellsverdict@eircom.net

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