I met Eric and Mary Bevan in Budapest in 1996 at an English-Speaking Union International Conference. Who would have said then that it was going to be an extraordinary friendship, an exchange of experiences, feelings, values and true human emotions based on the generosity and openness of these two extraordinary human beings who have never been afraid to embark on the unknown waters of a distant East-European culture with open minds and open hearts! And what a journey it has been! Over two decades of discoveries and learning about worlds that we thought we knew everything about. We do know Europe and its countries very well, don’t we?
The most significant moments in my new life, as a new life started in Eastern Europe after 1989, have somehow been connected with Mary and Eric, sometimes only Eric, other times Mary, but both of them always at the end of a fax-machine (remember them?!?), of an e-mail or simply a phone with good advice or help when needed.
And now … it’s only Mary! Eric is no longer among us, except for all the things he offered us, taught us, built together with us or simply enjoyed life together with us. Death, no matter how sophisticated we are and how rationally prepared to accept it, is still one of the most traumatic events that can happen to those who are left alive. But it is also what makes us look at one’s legacy, what has been left behind, at what gave meaning to a life, and what that meaning tells us and how it possibly helps us go on when the world continues to be mad, again and again, without having learned from its past, but still hoping.
So, I will try to make sense of what I know of Eric’s life as seen and experienced by my Romanian mind. Which obviously is just a small fraction of what his life really meant. As Mary, his partner in the adventure of life for 57 years, was saying in her tribute, Eric had been a lucky man: for having lived 84 years, out of which 82 in excellent health, for having worked with extraordinary people, for having enjoyed some 20 years of retirement to do the things he and Mary wanted to do together. And Eric had been extremely lucky also because life allowed him to be his own master through three essential elements: a good sense of humour, the ability to recognize opportunities and seize them and a strong sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. Everything wrapped up in courtesy, respect for others’ point of view and an amazing desire to help the less lucky.
My first business here in Bucharest, had been possible by a generous donation from Contexta. It was a language consultancy called BEST – Bucharest English Studies and Training set up together with Veronica Focșeneanu, my respected and admired English teacher from the seventies. BEST had been among the first private language consultancies in Bucharest and one of its main objectives was to generate funding for the ESU-Romania. Both Mary and Eric helped whenever help was needed and the fax machine constantly buzzed in their lovely house in Dorset with questions and clarifications that a new business needed constantly at the time.
The 1999 course for the House of Deputies of Romania had been a miracle and Eric the enabler. It was offered freely to selected experts of the House of Deputies, but the costs of the course had been funded by donations raised by Eric through the Salisbury and South Wilts ESU branch. No use to remember here the bureaucratic intricacies through which we had to go to make it happen. Enough to say that everybody involved in the project had been happy with the results. So happy, in fact, that the project had been awarded the ESU Hardacre Trophy in 1999 (picture below) and in Bucharest the feedback received had been extremely positive.
The most extraordinary thing however I’ll always remember about Eric is the way he and Mary became wonderful friends and had been present in our lives in so many meaningful ways. My son discovered England with the help of Eric in 1997. Eric took him to the most wonderful place that Ionuț could have dreamt of, the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, and took him on their sailing boat at sea. He thus will for ever be alive in the mind and heart of my son who, beyond his career in the car industry, is both a speed hill climbing competitor and loves sailing so much that he’s passed the tests for a sailing permit. This tribute is about Eric but I simply can’t stop talking about the many lives he had touched with the generosity of his heart and actions.
I just have to add my son’s honeymoon in Eric and Mary’s house, my daughter’s many trips to Dorset or to London and her stay at their lovely house or meetings somewhere convenient, my own visits and chats with Eric and his coaching me through so many fascinating aspects of British business culture, his highlights of Scottish traditions that he loved to keep, the haggis (which we discovered was similar to a Romanian traditional dish) and the way to address and serve it on a Burns Night, our 2006 tour of England with incredible stops at Skipton, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, the Brontë Parsonage Museum and mainly our memorable stay in Cullingworth, at what used to be an 18th century cotton mills and is now a self-catering accommodation place.
There are so many things to remember about Eric and to be grateful for. I’ll probably need to write a whole novel about our meetings, projects and enriched lives. I’ll just add some pictures to highlight those moments. And my prayers that Eric’s sense of commitment to the things he started, from gardening and cooking, to his having fun and enjoying life, after a successful career in business and government, will guide me as well along my own new life which would have been lesser and poorer had I not met Eric and Mary on that trip to Budapest.
And whenever I need to stop and think of a direction in which to continue to go, Eric’s words will always be with me: “Start writing all those stories, Mariana! They are fascinating! And we, over here know so little of your lives beyond the curtain.”
In the end what else can we dream of? That we continue to be remembered after we are gone, that our life has not slipped by like a field mouse, but it did shake the grass and was meaningful to so many.