The Speech given by me at the Wedding Reception of my younger daughter Sarah, at University College, London, on the 16th February 2002

It was around midsummer's day last year that Ben telephoned me from France to ask me formally for Sarah’s hand in marriage. I hope that you will forgive such a breach of confidence in my revealing this, Ben, but I wished to share with our families and friends this afternoon, my sense of privilege that such a courtesy should have been afforded me in this day and age. And while I know that the great compliment you paid me was sincerely meant, I have to say that I smiled at the thought that crossed my mind, only to be quickly dismissed, that Sarah herself might have so advised you in response to your question "How do you think we could persuade the old chap that I am the right man for his precious daughter?" For while Sarah knows well how to get on the right side of me, you need be in no doubt whatever that we were delighted from the outset. And she is indeed precious to me and to her mother - perhaps more precious than she can know.

Sarah, you must surely take it as a measure of the enormous affection in which you are held by your two families and all of your friends who have joined you on this happy day, that so many have travelled so far to wish you and Ben joy and fulfilment in your future together. May I mention in particular your god parents, your aunt Ethel who with others of your uncles and aunts has flown here from Ireland, and your Uncle Andrew from Norfolk. And we are utterly delighted that your brother John and our dear daughter-in-law, Kyoko, should have made the 6000 mile, twelve hour flight from Tokyo to be with us - just for the weekend! John and Kyoko - we only wish that you could have you with us for longer!

Ben - it is traditionally the role of the bride’s father to extol the virtues of the daughter he has just given away, by way of convincing his son-in-law, if indeed he needed convincing, that he had chosen the right woman to share his life with him. But quite a number of years have passed since first you met, and I know that neither of you is in any doubt about the rightness of the commitment you have made to each other today. So perhaps you will indulge me by allowing me to reflect upon, briefly, just of few of those things about her have caused me and her mother love her as deeply as we do.

Sarah was born in the month of April. I well recall being summonsed from the clinic where I worked to meet her for the first time. And there was Agnes, looking out across the Mediterranean Sea in a state of such bliss as I have seldom seen since, and cradling her sleeping baby in her arms. For at that time we were living in Cyprus, and if you did not know it before, Ben, on the very shore where the goddess, Aphrodite, is said to have risen from the sea in antiquity, and so a fitting place, you will agree, for your lovely wife to have been born. And I must tell you that the sweetest memory of the occasion - one that is treasured by Agnes and me - is that of holding our darling baby and looking out over the ocean while Katherine Tynan’s poignant hymn All in the April Evening played on the radio. Indeed, it has become a tradition for the two of us to play that same piece at the time of her birthday every year, and to think of her as she was as an infant with her shock of black hair, while we watch the new lambs in the field at the front of our home in Ireland.

Sarah lost no time in establishing her position in the family. Far from being relegated to any inconsequent role by dint, merely, of being the youngest of three siblings, her elder sister soon realised that she would brook no nonsense, and her brother - her senior by only eleven months - was very content to let her be his minder once she had got up on her two little legs. And while one should not underestimate these attributes I must emphasise that they by were no means a reflection of any officiousness or guile on Sarah’s part. She was sweet natured from the outset - in fact, sometimes almost too good to be true - ever her mother’s little helper, and ever tolerant of her father’s eccentricities and occasional leg pulling. I am certain, too, that it is these same qualities that have equipped her so well to carry out her exacting duties at the sharp end of our National Health Service. Sarah, no less than yourself, Ben, is no stranger to the suffering and tragedy that inextricably a part of the lot of humanity. And even though her mother and I have both had it up to our necks in our time, yet we marvel at the heavy imperative that is laid upon the shoulders of your generation of health service workers, and which you have taken up with such dedication and courage, a generation that seems to us to grow ever more youthful as we ourselves continue in our accumulation of years.

As a final, yet very significant example of the thoughtfulness and loving nature that is Sarah’s, I hope that she will not mind too much if I refer to a letter that she wrote to us, just about three weeks ago. This was a delightful surprise for her mother and me, yet so typical of her kindness, and we were deeply moved by it. I will not, of course, quote from it, as the content is clearly intended for us alone. But in it she reflected upon all of the things that Agnes and I had tried so hard to do for her and to give her over the years while she was growing and grown up, and thanked us most graciously and generously for them. And while we may ourselves have questioned and doubted some of our ideals and wishes for her, and may have stumbled often in our efforts to achieve them, our darling child was utterly reassuring in the message she gave us. Your words, Sarah, are more precious to us than you may ever know, and we will treasure them for always. We are immensely proud of you. You have been a tremendous credit to us -as indeed have been your sister and brother - and we know with an absolute certainty that you will be the same to Ben and his wonderful family, and your own children should you be blessed with them.

And now I propose to break with tradition and make a special mention of my dear wife, Agnes, Sarah’s mother. I want to tell you all how tirelessly she has worked in the preparation for this occasion, and of the enormous support she has given Sarah. I want to tell you of the sweet yet profound sorrow she is feeling - and which I share - as a most beloved daughter leaves our family home to make a home of her own with her husband. And I want to make a wish for Sarah and Ben - that they continue to adore each other as the years go by, as Agnes and I have each other for the past thirty four years. And Ben, I have no doubt that you knew just what you were doing, when you chose as your bride the daughter of a lady possessed of such kindness, grace and beauty.

Some of you may recall the observation of the fabled patriarch, which was that a man who has sons merely worries about them. But when he has daughters he does more than just worry: he prays. Ben, your responsibilities towards your beautiful wife, and, should you be so blessed, your children, may become heavy with the passing of years, but I am being only slightly mischievous when I wish you as well as fine sons, daughters - and many of them, for there is nothing like them, as your mother-in-law and this old patriarch have found - for firming up your relationship with God!

Ladies and gentlemen, will you now raise your glasses to this most graceful and beautiful young woman, our dearly cherished daughter - the Bride