Wednesday, January 7, 2009

John Newstead - My Kind of Guy

John ("outstanding in his field") awaits walkers on the last day of the trip as we round the bend at Robin Hood's Bay. He is wearing one of the many hats given to him by admirers. This one was Australian and had a series of corks around the rim.
Every so often one comes across a person who just seems to light up the space around them, who always has a good word to say, who is truly genuine and who is an absolute delight to be around. John Newstead was one of these people.
Years ago, in my career as a volunteer Sierra Club trip leader I had to opportunity to be a trainee and then to lead England's Coast to Coast Walk. The Sierra Club does an abbreviated version of the 190 mile "walk" (oh, those Brits - what to us is a sweat-producing, muscle spasm- inducing, heart-palpitating hike is merely a stroll in the woods to them). Starting on the west coast in St. Bee's we hike a route designed by Lou Wilkinson. It includes the most beautiful 90 miles or so, skipping the sections taking walkers on highways, and cutting the 23-mile-days into shorter chunks. This was accomplished by having our own mini bus and driver. The driver would spend most of the two weeks with us, meeting us at the end of the day and delivering us to our B&B. He would also transport our luggage from one spot to another.

I suppose that anyone could have done the job, but John Newstead elevated it to a fine art, while teaching us all a lesson in the simple joys of living. John was no ordinary bus driver.

Theoretically retired, Lou had successfully lured John away from his comfy home and lovely wife Joan for six weeks each summer to share his native England with a bunch of Yanks. By the second day of each trip John would know the names of each (up to 15) trip member. By the second week he had running jokes going with all of them. There usually wasn't a working radio in the bus (pronounced "boos") but John kept himself (and us) entertained by singing and whistling, mostly showtunes. He made each one of us feel cared about and nurtured; more like welcome friends and less like strangers.

John taught me a lot of things. The phrase "spot on," for example. And he tried to teach me the basics of cricket ("you see, Alline," he'd say, as we leaned on a fence watching a game in Richmond "you have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man that's in the side that's in goes out, and when he's out he comes in and the next man goes in until he's out. When they are all out, the side that's out comes in and the side that's been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out..."), although the intricacies of "leg before wicket" will forever remain a mystery to me. But mostly he taught me that it doesn't matter what one does as long as one does it with great care and love.

John (third from left) chatting with some of our 2004 group.

John died January 2, 2009. It seems impossible to me that someone so filled with life and joy and fun could be gone. I cannot imagine a Coast-to-Coast Walk without him. I suppose I expected him to live forever, to always be there waiting for us with a smile and yet another funny hat. This post in no way does him justice, but I can't seem to do any better. My heart goes out to his family and to the many people who loved him.

In closing I leave you with a poem that reminds me of John. He wasn't just a visitor - he ate life with gusto (and a nice glass of red wine), and we are all the better for it.

When Death Comes
by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox:

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.


mother earth aka karen hanrahan said...

as this post unfolded i thought to myself...oh no...

yet the way you celebrated him here could not be more joyous -

i adored the poem

Anonymous said...


I loved your words,and poem. I had the pleasure of being on two C2C trips with John (2007 and 2008) and this year I'll be co-leading a trip without John. He will truly be missed.

Jerry Freedman