"Big John" – My Obituary to John Lees by Jim Harrison

Supporting the preservation and operation of paddle steamers Waverley and Kingswear Castle

"Big John" – My Obituary to John Lees by Jim Harrison

The following are my thoughts on “Big John”, as I knew him and I would like them to be posted as my personal obituary to John.

I was very sorry to hear of the death of John Lees, one of the Waverleys formidable characters, the world will be a lesser place for John not being in it.

I remember John starting with WSN Co at the old Anderson Quay terminal in 1975 as part of a job creation scheme at that time. I grew up with John at my side and watching my every move – there was always the water and oil don’t mix thing there, but that banter was part of the great Waverley aura, which gave the ship its character, but in turn, it was the people characters that made the ship. I sometimes felt that this man was there to make my life a misery, but I quickly realized that John was a mentor and taut me and many other young people that came through the Waverley, valuable lessons about being better persons, and how to work hard and get on with the job and life in general.

“Big John” in 1986.|Jim Harrison

Many people never saw the true John Lees, they only saw the grumpy cigar smoking facade that so often was present on the engine room platform. I was privileged to have been on the receiving end of John’s true personality. A kind and generous person, as was Sandra, they were both true people with a fantastic warmth. Tania, my wife,and I, were taken in by John and Sandra, when we had no place to live in 1985, and given a roof over our heads, we will always be forever in their debt for that generosity, and their warmth. But over the years I somehow felt that I earned John’s respect as a person,and as a sailor, possibly because of my voyages on Westward Ho, but John gave me and many other youngsters a leg up on the journey through adolescence and on into adulthood.

I for one feel that the world has lost one of my Waverley mentor’s that shaped my future. The world has lost one of life’s true characters that you only come across once in a lifetime.

I too, like Stuart Mears, will be regaling my memories of “Big John” in the days and weeks to come, and once again John will no doubt put me through a myriad of emotions, but mostly I’m sure I will be smiling and laughing.

The phrase that will stay with me for the rest of my days is “aye there’s a good time coming son”, as John would say to me on several occasions on our many pas sings during our days during the long winter months and during those long summer days at sea. And yes there is a good time coming.

[signature name=”Jim Harrison” role=”Tylorstown, March 2011″]

About Jim Harrison

[quote]I became involved with Waverley in 1977 and worked on the ship through to 1989, working on Waverley and Balmoral starting off as a galley boy and then moving on to the deck as AB and taking command of Westward Ho for the 80’s –  I finished with Waverley in late 1989.

I spent much of my adolescent years working on the ship and being influenced by such characters as David Neill, John Lees, Kenny Blacklock, Steve Michelle, and Ken Angell to name but a few.

So Waverley is very much ingrained in my make up and John helped shape my future, and I still look back on my “Waverley Years” with great fondness.

I hope that this gives you some of my background.

I feel that I, along with many of the above people did the groundwork for those now taking the Waverley and Balmoral into the 21st century.[/quote]