John James Keown MBE will be well-remembered by many people in the Isle of Man.
He lost his life last month after he was hit by a car in Pafos, Cyprus.
John was a war pensioner, having contracted poliomyelitis in 1957 while serving in the RASC.
National Service was still compulsory and there was no safe polio vaccine generally available.
He was airlifted home to the Isle of Man from Aldershot, having just completed service in Nicosia, Cyprus, and the Yemen.
He became seriously ill at the old Noble’s Hospital and was given the last rites (although Presbyterian) before being placed in the ’iron lung’ (respirator).
His father was told John would not last the night - a tale John enjoyed telling for the next 64 ’borrowed’ years in a wheelchair, having lost complete use of his left leg and right arm.
A good, kind, brave, patient and contented man, John was very proud of three things - being Manx; his two sons, Colin and Christopher and his MBE, awarded in 2000 for services to the community - OK and being able to beat his second wife Kate at table tennis.
Many will remember John’s cheerful smile ’behind the counter’ at Dudley’s Flower, Fruit and Veg Shop in Windsor Road, Douglas, and his flower arrangements.
He was also secretary of Onchan Horticultural Society.
John and his cousin Mitch Joughin ran the shop until supermarket competition became too great.
Edwin Dudley was their uncle.
The premises became a Save the Children shop.
John recalled doing a milk round with a horse and cart before going to school. Local housewives would dash out with shovels to collect the manure for the roses!
John loved being outdoors and on Wednesday afternoons - early closing for the shop - he and Kate enjoyed Manx wildlife verge surveys and warden duties at the Ayres Visitor Centre.
However, on retirement, the island didn’t offer enough scope for his adventurous nature.
So in 1999 when Kate retired they mvoed from the Strang and set off for a new life in Warwickshire, keeping a small home in Ramsey as a base to return to.
Although far from the sea they both loved, the Midlands offered a good centre from which to explore Cornwall, the Cotswolds, Wales and Norfolk, which visits to Hadrian’s Wall, Lindisfarne and Scotland in John’s Renault 5 with a top box to take the wheelchair up on the roof, with a cable to deliver it alongside the driving seat as required.
Kate occasionally drove but preferred to sit in the back with the maps, Thermos flask and her knitting.
There were visits to many theatres, including Stratford-on-Avon and ’singalongs’ with the CBSO at Birmingham’s iconic Symphony Hall, the Birmingham Royal Ballet and further afield to Covent Garden, Sheffield, Nottingham and Coventry theatres, even via Moscow to see the Kirov Ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg.
Whilst living in Sheldon, John and Kate sarted Sheldon in Bloom, which they organised by raising funds locally, going on to win several prestigious Royal Horticultural Show awards.
They also acquired an allotment to grow their own ’dirty veg’ as John called anything home-grown.
John was a talented potter in the UK and Cyprus, keen sculptor and water colour artist.
He was a member of Ramsey Art Group.
John and Kate each achieved O-levels in Manx Gaelic in 1997.
John recalled having lessons with the late Dougie Faragher (possibly at the Manx Museum) when he was 16.
John spoke ’schoolboy French’, a little German, Spanish, Italian, a few words of Russian and became fluent in Cypriot Greek. Their Cypriot landlady in Pafos speaks in English!
John always complained that when in Ramsey he could remember Greek words and when in Cyprus the Manx equivalent. His Manx speaking friends would agree!
Mediterranean sunshine had always beckoned with annual visits to Lucca Youth Hostel in Tuscany.
A chance remark by a friend he met in Italy led to a week in Cyprus one March.
Winter holidays there gradually lengthened into longer stays with short visits to Ramsey during 40C-plus Cyprus summers to cool off.
A short cruise from Limassol around the Greek islands and Kusadasi (Turkish) in 2017 gave John another very convenient form of travel and was followed by memorable visits by sea to Malta, Dubrovnik, Venice, around the British Isles (twice), and Norway, as far north as the Arctic Circle to see reindeer.
Then Dubai, the Gulf, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, the Red Sea, the Suez Canal (the last time John did this was in a troop ship) Casablanca, Namibia, Cape Town with a memorable cable-car ride up Table Mountain in a Snaefell-type Cloud Burst, just before Covid-19 curtailed such adventures.
A week in Vienna remained one of their favourite holidays and a return trip was planned for John’s next birthday.
As his widow Kate says - and John would agree - if only we could do it all over again.
John remembers Ramsey pier from Sunday school outings and any donations to Queen’s Pier Restoration Fund would be appreciated.