Eulogy for David Pelham

David Pelham was a mensch. A pillar of our community. A good man, committed to his synagogue he was raised in, Liberal Judaism, Kadimah, his artistic theatre work & commitments and most of all the beloved friends and family in his life.

It is a testament to David and the community he helped to nurture that we were all together when we heard the news of his death right after the Sukkot service. The outpouring of grief right there in our home-made sukkah was appropriate for a man who’s life was so much within the walls of his synagogue.
My inbox has been flooded with memories and stories and loving recollections of David. Of a man everyone remembers with objective clarity of his irony and stubbornness but his kindness and strong personality. That is a legacy.

I have tried to do justice to them all, especially the words - the eulogy that Ann put together for her David.

How to pay tribute to a man that gave so generously, had such strong loving affectionate relationships in his life and yet for everyone who loved him could be the most aggravating of people-opinionated and blunt but always straight.

David was nothing if not charismatic-rather like his namesake King David-charming-engaging and inspirational. 

It is hard to accept the finality of his death but today this hesped eulogy for him that takes into account the tears that have been shed and the impact he has made.

David was born in 1946 to Olive and Jimmy Pelham.

He often remembered very fondly his mother Olive who was a physiotherapist and was a very loving and caring mother who was very much involved in the women’s group at FPS. His father Jimmy who was an accountant and was a very traditional man – in his shirt and tie, using his butter knife, fish knife – everything done proper! He remembered him listening for hours to music in the front room.

David was very fond of his grandfather Arthur Block who lived in Rottingdean and David enjoyed many very happy childhood holidays there. For his 10th birthday Arthur hand made David a railway station for his electric train set – something that David has always kept and cherished.

David moved to what is still today the family home when he was 3 years old and has spent 67 very happy years there. He told of the days when there was no central heating only a fire in the front room and how in the hallway he could always see his breath in front of his face. He determined that the house would never be cold when he became the owner. He also told of tales of how he rode his bike around the garden and of how he wasn’t allowed to kick a football in case he damaged the flowers – another thing when Ollie came along that he was determined to change.

After attending a pre-prep school David joined Belmont and was in Saxon house just like Ollie is today. On entry,  the school were so impressed by David’s French ability (David’s parents were fairly fluent and had taught David well) that they put him in the year above, but alas all was soon to be revealed and within a few weeks he was back in his age appropriate year group – not such a genius!!! He progressed through Mill Hill senior school and went on to do a crash course in Accountancy – following in his father’s footsteps.

He joined the Arts Council of Great Britain as his first job – where he made many friends. This was very appropriate as David had a love of theatre and Opera. This did not however extend to dance – and he would often tell Ann that at least ballet had beautiful music to sleep through. David would always sleep through the first 10 -15 minutes of any production and often needed a nudge as his snoring became so loud! His love of theatre brought him to be a member of the board at the Soho Theatre.

David moved from the Arts Council to Theatre Projects and then with his business partner David Collison, David set up Hastings Heritage, and with a fantastic operations manager in Anne Donnelly he very much enjoyed his regular trips down to Hastings to The Smugglers Adventure, Hastings Castle and Underwater World. They also opened a crazy golf on Brighton beach – but this was a short lived enterprise and David was very amused that he swapped the cash register for 2 lobsters from a local fisherman to take home.  David Collison: "He was an excellent colleague -  pragmatic, reliable, calm, supportive, good humoured". Anthony Blackstock on his work with Tony Fields “A very modern manager you might say with old fashioned courtesies and manners”.


But it was the relationships that stand out from childhood until last week. People flocked to be with him.

A few recollections:

Vera Myers, Paul Silver-Myers’s mother recalls David introducing himself over the fence when they lived in Woodberry Way. "I am David I am 7 who are you" , and so a friendship ensued.

The Bernard family were like a second family to David; who were the first friends he introduced Ann to. He enjoyed many a trip to the South of France with them – laden with meat on the roof rack from Smithfield Market. It was on one such holiday that while sunbathing in a string vest and ending up looking like a lobster that he earned the name – Pinky by the Bernard family!

In later years he and Ann & Ollie enjoyed the Bernard family hospitality including David & Jacki and the rest of the family and David enjoyed the mayhem and madhouse of festival lunches – and generally David could be found asleep on the sofa for an after dinner schluff – often joined by Rosita!!!

His friendship with Jacqui goes back to his time as rather strict headmaster of the religion school then held at Squires lane –her memory of being terrified of him and rehearsing for her KT in Christchurch Avenue, with David’s shocked response;

Good Lord you can read Hebrew!   We can all hear him saying it.

David often told of the time when he was recovering in hospital from a shoulder op many years after the death of his mother and Carole rang the ward to see how he was – the nurse told him his mother had called.   Oh – he replied – that must have been a long distance phone call!!

The Schindler family were a huge part of David’s life and he enjoyed Christmas days with a huge family gathering round the table and later in the evening playing card games and poker. He enjoyed a camping trip with the family where he managed to wake the camp site with his snoring.

The Lassman family were very close. David recalled tales of Sheila's soups, of family holidays abroad and particularly to Devon, and of the children who he watched grow up. Sheila recalls just a sense of affection and love for David always connected and close and when he entertained them in Sussex-how proud he was.

David Lassman recalled memories of him as Fitness Guru and older brother/friend. But most of all as caring chaperone-with his hot Ribena and easy lovingness supporting him during his brief spell as child soprano and star and David nurtured him through it. David’s parting words to me; "I wish I had told himI loved him more-I still do".

Laura Lassman,  David’s student, recollects dry classes and David offering natural explanations for each of the 10 plagues clearly etched itself on her memory and shattered any childhood belief in miracles. There was little sense of fun in his stern teaching but they grew into close friends and he was the obvious choice to be Sam’s God Father, which he took so seriously. Even transporting a Beach Hut to the bottom of their garden.

He took Sam to NYC, Spurs. Dozing through the games and then animated car journeys on the way back listening to football phone-ins. Sam remembering to turn the radio back to Heart FM for Ann in the morning. Then Sam could drive and he’d collect David and it would be another place for David to fall asleep.

And now in perfect continuity Sam is God Father to Ollie.

David’s cousin Gail-who remembered the happiness in their family-modestly blessed with children-of watching David growing up and emulating much of what she saw. Again David’s huge generosity finding jobs for her and modelling successful adult life. He continued to love get-togethers with Phil, Gail, Buena & Cara.

David was very involved in Liberal Judaism – A true Liberal-not particularly pro-tradition or even Israel, or even pro-Hebrew. I will leave recollections of that to Danny and Andrew

He grew up at Finchley Synagogue – making a very early friendship with Josie to be continued through their lives. He went on to be Chairman of FPS for 4 years and treasurer of Liberal Judaism for 2 terms of office.  He also very much enjoyed being part of the ULPS sports days. Over the years he twice raised money for building projects at the synagogue.

David interviewed me around the dining room table at Christchurch Avenue. After a fairly aimiable conversation he fixed me in a solemn stare and asked my thoughts on Processing the scrolls.

I gave David the second best answer he was hoping for, which he accepted and I think we became friends at that moment.

A true liberal jew-uninterested in emotional hemishe style and rigerous with his expectations;  I valued his feedback and thoughts always and he was always generous in giving them!

Ann and David...

It was Laura who introduced David to Holly Park when her children were there– 27 years ago which is where he and Ann first met. At that time governors were attached to a class. David as the chair of governors suggested he would like to work with someone interesting!!! The then head teacher Barbara Thorne introduced him to Ann. “Oh no – she said to one of her colleagues – not him he’s so interfering” – little did she know how interfering !! Over the next few years he taught Ann all she needed to know about leading residential trips and they led about 16 together. He came to school to read stories, teach about Judaism, helped with athletics relay training and taught extension maths groups.

Their first date was a school trip reccie to Legoland!! David remained a governor at the school for about 15 years until Ann became part of the senior leadership and he thought it was a conflict of interest to be a governor.

Their courtship took quite some time. One of Ann’s friends gave her the advice to – jump him!!! But Ann knew it would be much more slow.

It took the petrol strike in 2000 where Ann persuaded David that she didn’t really have enough petrol to return home in order for her to spend her first night at Christchurch Avenue and then a few months later David offered to help her recover from a gall bladder operation at his home. Very soon the cats had moved in – and that was that!!

When Ann first met David she was amazed at how a single man with a relatively small extended family had so many friends and was never lonely and was always busy and out socialising.

In 2002 David & Ann were married in St Albans – it was a very joyous affair and Ann recalls how teaching David for their first dance was an interesting experience and a tall order – it didn’t take too much effort to see who was leading who!!

David embraced Ann’s family and friends – although he was never too keen to go north of the Watford Gap and always had comments to make about their accents – particularly – bath and path!!

In 2005 at the age of 57 and after many discussions about the pros and cons of having a child at a later age – Ollie was born – named Oliver James in memory of David’s parents Olive and Jimmy. Ollie was an unexpected gift and a joy for David – he often told how becoming a father on the 10th May was the best day of his life. At the NCT group – David was the oldest dad by far and that didn’t stop him moaning and whinging about having to get down on the floor and taking his shoes off.  It was David’s only regret that his parents never got to meet Ollie. David and Ann raised Ollie in the synagogue when Ann converted to Judaism under no pressure from David. He was thrilled when Ann suggested a chuppah at the synagogue.

David has a long and distinguished family history of Judaism, with many rabbis along the way and dating back to Isaac Iban Daud of the 6th century bc. But it was the birth of a son for David that really gave him a sense of l’Dor va’ Dor and a continuation of a long family history as he symbolically handed Ollie his family tree at the special service to enrol Ollie into Ivriah. I remember it well.

I recall Laura’s frustration as Chair when David would not come to Council because he needed to wait to have dinner with Ann-if she’d been delayed at school. He continued life as a newly-wed as long as I have known him.

David was a doting and loving father from the start– very hands on and practical and always enjoyed the middle of the night feed – just him and Ollie. As a retired stay at home father he would often cause a stir as the only man in the room at Tumble Tots or Arties. In fact when Ollie began at Grimsdell nursery aged 3yrs – Tony and David were generally the only dads amongst a sea of mothers waiting for the doors to open. – that didn’t phase David.

As Ollie moved further up his school at Grimsdell David became much more involved in the parent’s association. He moved on to be treasurer of the Belmont PTA and then one of the co-chairs. He absolutely loved it – he loved the community, the friendship, the chat. He loved being involved . Ann and David have made several very close and lifelong friendships through the school and the lovely ladies of the FOB (Friends of Belmont) It was testimony to the bonds that he made that Elli and Seema and Danni became the Nightingales at his bedside on a daily basis bringing him soup and company and warmth – ensuring he was being well looked after.

David was the Pelham family Domestic Goddess – cooking, shopping, washing, researching, running errands, arranging play dates – even bringing Ann emergency lunch to school at short notice

He was always completely supportive of her work and ever praising and encouraging. He understood her love of the school as a second home – although not always completely happy with her relentless late night working! He was a sounding board for advice, a good listener, an excellent proof reader and at one Ofsted inspection – was running round North Finchley looking for an assortment of objects that Ann needed to use in a spelling lesson. He put the outstanding lesson grade down to the use of resources he had collected!!!

David has passed down to Ollie a love of table tennis, a love of good food, a love of electric trains and of course a love of Spurs. Ollie was a dream realised that David may have never expected and such gratitude was manifest in all he did.

David enjoyed a good holiday. He was always busy researching and planning ahead for the next one. A marvellous trip to Egypt watching the faloukas by the side of the Nile, many trips to France – particularly eating crepes on the side of a stream at a creperie with Eric & Dudley, the many family holidays to Dorset and Cornwall and taking Ollie every year to a European city.  He particularly enjoyed planning the bi-annual ski trips with our lovely friends the Cucchiaras and Humayuns to La Rossiere and always enjoyed the silly evening games we played – as long as he didn’t have to draw!!! David enjoyed good food and always enjoyed Oslo Court, The Gavroche, The Grove, The Manoir and Chateau de Montreuil to name a few places!

Poppy the Pelham dog was another source of joy for David – who was the main dog walker. He thoroughly enjoyed his walks with Sharon and Gus. Over the last 3 years as his illness progressed the walks became increasingly shorter and the chatting and tea drinking became increasingly more!

David was a loving, kind, supportive, adoringand generous husband, always buying flowers, chocolate, jewellery and bubble bath as a token of his love. Ann’s extravagant choice of celebration cakes and the huge number of Amazon parcels that would be delivered were the only real source of contention in an otherwise extremely loving and caring relationship.

David was a forthright man – very grounded and sure of himself – confident and happy with his life. He was a tower of strength for Ann and a rock in a storm. He was not always the most discrete and often had to be told to ‘keep your voice down’ He was not known for his tact and would often say it how it was. In recent years he would complain about Ollie’s use of certain language – but as Ann said, David the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! He could however turn on the charm like a tap when required.

David didn’t like to follow rules or conventions and could often be a law unto himself – U-turns in the road anywhere he felt- the ’law according to Pelham’ it would be called. Whether in the car or elsewhere in his life.

In David's own words he would be pretty frustrated  that he will miss Ollie's bar mitzvah next year, but in typical Ann & David style - they have already had lots of fun lovingly planning it together and all is booked, guest list written, order of events sorted. And while Ann was engaged in colour themes and all the frills, David in typical accountant style made a spreadsheet of cost.

He will be part of this always, the Bar Mitzvah, the family, his congregation and his wider community.

Zichrono L’Vracha.