Thinking of Joe

By Martin Kirby

I buzzed away to Liverpool for three emotional days recently, to speak at the memorial service in Liverpool’s Catholic Cathedral for Joe Williams, my friend and the co-founder of the charity Imagine in Mozambique.
A woman asked for a copy of my words. Her church supported Imagine and she wanted the congregation to hear something from the service. It was, by chance, St Mary Magdalene’s in Enfield, where Maggie attended the Brownies, just down the road from where my father-in-law David Whitman farmed on the north London green belt. Small world.
Joe’s widow Lorraine spoke softly with the most certain conviction that Joe was there, with her; and with his strength and the support of those around her she could carry on their work in Mozambique. A humbling speech indeed.
We adjourned to drink tea and eat cake, then I took my leave to walk, first along Hope Street to the Phil pub opposite the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, then down Duke Street into the C of E cathedral and on and on to Albert Dock and the mighty Mersey. Some city it is.
I was staying in a cheap and cheerful hotel close the airport, where my father was stationed on the guns early in the war before sailing from Liverpool to North Africa with the 1st Army.
I sat on the steamed-up top deck of the number 80 bus in and out of the city, through suburbs etched into recent history because of riots.
There is deeply depressing talk of Britain being “broken”, (Times Populus poll, February 9) a concept built on the flaws of fractured morals and family values. Spin that theory on to the decay of social cohesion and the quoted figure of 40 per cent of the population wanting to emigrate sort of adds up.
I hate this. Britain is currently not my dwelling place for personal reasons, but it remains a beacon of freedom, kindness, charity and community, if only the majority voice of sense and decency, that which has mostly fallen silent under the weight of depressing news, said stop to all the mounting pressure. I’ve said it before and I repeat it now. Time is what must be retrieved, time for family and others.
By living somewhere else you see things perhaps as residents don’t. Every time and everywhere I visit I see consideration and courtesy, from the number 80 bus skirting Toxteth to the fellowship of Norwich Market.
The economic schooling of recent decades may be self self self, but it hasn’t dented our common sense that fellowship is essential to the species. Oh that we can stop judging on possession, park our pride and somehow enrich consciences to keep open minds and hearts, to hope, to keep communicating across the street, across the generations. I actually don’t think it is insurmountable because we all sense it is the source of true happiness and fulfilment. Please believe.
Joe and Lorraine Williams, who chose to go to Mozambique 20 years ago when a bloody civil war was still raging and it was officially the poorest nation on earth, would always remind anyone who would listen that the smallest kind deed can change the world. When I asked Joe how he coped when faced daily with suffering beyond most people’s comprehension, he said that if we give of ourselves all is possible.


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