My strong, inspiring brother

Stewart Timms (1948-2012)

cheltenham half marathon
Stewart running a half marathon when he was blind.

Howard writes:
Ten years ago, on the day before Father’s Day, we received the news of Stewart’s death, just hours after that of his beloved wife Valerie. Their deaths were a very sad end to a beautiful love story.

Deaf and blind man, 63, hanged himself in grief yards from the body of his wife

Stewart’s memory is still a great inspiration to me, as a model of how to deal with the big challenges in life. He faced huge difficulties and I learnt a lot from his strength and resilience. Despite major hearing and sight ‘problems’ as he called them, he managed to find ways of developing his talents as an athlete, artist and craftsman, and even dancer. For example, while we were training for me to guide him round a half-marathon race, I was injured and couldn’t run. So Stewart decided to  race alone. He could just make out bobbing heads of fellow competitors in front of him and bravely followed.

My first glimpse of Stewart was a little blue-eyed baby. I was just tall enough, aged 4, to peep over the edge of the carry cot from which he was smiling up at the world.

Within a matter of months, the family realised that Stewart was hard of hearing, as was our older sister Janet.  I became  Stewart’s ears and interpreter outside the family until he went to the Royal School for the Deaf in Birmingham at the age of 7. We were always close and looking out for each other after that, even when we spent long periods apart in different cities or even different countries.                                                         
18 June 2022

stewart & valerie

Stewart probably started going blind sometime in his twenties. It was a huge blow when his visual impairment became obvious in his early forties, but his strength, determination, optimistic nature — and guide dog — soon had him adjusting to his completely upturned life. He was very lucky in his wife, Valerie, who was also a very strong person, having also coped with deafness and other huge challenges in her early life. Her support, and ability to become Stewart’s eyes, were a key part of their wonderful love story.
I have aimed at sketching a little of Stewart’s and Valerie’s memorable lives in these poems:

Tall Dresser
We call you Stewart after your maker.
Your smiling face, transparent,
shows the world just how you’re fashioned.
Thin but strong, your wooden limbs
embrace the glass which reflects
the skillful craftsman
whose dream grew like a tree
into a living monument.

He couldn’t see your final beauty.
Now, like him, you’re a watch tower
with sightless eyes
a tree we won’t cut down
refuge for our memories
of his caring and carving
joyful moments in our lives.
He smoothed and polished
rough edges off our feelings.

Steam power — 1955
His tension quickly vanishes
as smoke and steam surround him.
He loves familiar, friendly fog
on the railway-station bridge.

My brother’s face is taut again
as we descend the platform’s steep stone steps.
His ears can’t catch our train’s arrival
but his eyes and nose detect its smoky breath.

He leaps from the bench, caresses a carriage door
finds the handle, jumps into the train.
With his case in my hand, I cough away the smoke
and help Mum clamber inside.

Stewart is frozen in anticipation
of steam power he’s seen so often
from the bridge. Now it boils
to thrust him into an alien universe.

The Royal School for the Deaf awaits
in Birmingham. That simple sentence
for his life starts soon, and he will leave
everyone and everything he loves.

Keeping the driving seat – 1988
My brother’s outside at the bus stop. Why?
Won’t he come in, or even look?
He’s standing hunched. Where’s his car?

God, has he been at the court
because of the cyclist he knocked down?
Is he adjusting his hearing aid?

No he’s not, he’s wiping his eyes.
I call Stewart, tap his shoulder, he swings round
grabs me in a hug. I wonder who’s died.

My eyes! he says. They don’t work.
I grab his arm to lead him to our door.
He pulls it back, stands tall, walks up our path.

Within an hour he talks of determination
and I know my eyes, though ready for him
must wait till he asks for help.

Deaf disco plus
As carver of components
for cupboards, tables, chairs
endangered by saws and cutters
because of failing eyes
he’s suspended from work.

Furnished with an invitation
for his workplace end-year hop
he can’t see or hear the disco crowd
but knows his wife is watching
from her silent world of love for him.

His feet and face can feel
the music’s Braille vibrations.
He dances, signing to his wife
stylish semaphore adorning
cheerfull carefree capers.

Wooden tracks
His hands could find the grain
that lead him like rails
on slightly bumpy journeys
to far distant places.
Mahogany transported him
to jungles
he never visited.

Teak’s oily touch
and leathery smell
furnished him
with memories of
tables, chairs
he created long before.

He felt his way
through contours
of antique wooden desks
obliterating blemishes
once obvious
to all except

Silent gig
One man sits with a kettle drum
he thumps to set a beat
for tinkling tambourines
castanets and cymbals.

Electric keyboard now
synchronises smoothly
glissando from an autoharp
a whistle like a bird.

In all twelve instruments
their inexperienced users
can’t see what they are playing
or truly hear the sound they make.

My brother keeps on pulsing
life into his drum
which resonates on his skin
amplifies his smile.

A tall man in a bouncy castle –
we all hold our breath.
My brother, after losing his sight,
is now defying death.

We hold his guide dog, Denver,
which barks with all its strength.
Then the watchers leap to their feet –
Stewart’s measuring his length.

He flicks his arms, and stands straight up,
a natural airborne athlete;
Next jump, he does a backward flip,
but still lands on his feet.

Stewart’s face shows everyone
that for a moment, he’s enabled.
Deaf since birth and sightless now,
he’s made a family fable.

All Stewart’s life was in that act
of leaping for a while –
soon to tumble back to earth;
then he would bounce and smile.

Road signing
Valerie, deaf since birth
urgently needed to drive
after her husband went blind.
The sign-language class she taught
included a driving instructor
who planned to sign for deaf learners.

The two swapped private lessons
together planned a way
to sign with all eyes on the road.
Both made such rapid progress.
that lesson 5 had both relaxed
until a sudden shower of rain.

Unable to wipe the windscreen
Valerie nudged at him to help,
then realised he was asleep.
She pulled into a lay-by
angrily punched his shoulder.
He woke with a start and a smile.

There’s the wiper control he signed
your driving is so good
that I relaxed completely.
You’ll pass your test first time.
Val’s anger morphed into laughter—
repeated when his forecast proved true.

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