David Ronald Bentley
Born 24th February 1942 Died 1st March 2012
A Humanist Funeral Ceremony
to celebrate David's life
3.30 pm Wednesday 14th March 2012
Hutcliffe Wood Crematorium, Sheffield
Conducted for John Heath & Sons Funeral Services
Matthew Simpson, officiant of the
British Humanist Association
Entry Music: Overture in D Major for Trumpet and Organ by G.F.Handel
Welcome, and thank you for coming to this celebration of the life of David Bentley, who died on the Thursday before last. We're going to listen to an account of David's life, and some of the music he liked, and there will be time for your thoughts or private prayers. Then there will be a formal goodbye, and a final poem before we leave.
My name is Matthew Simpson. I didn't know David, but I've heard from his wife Christine about his life and the sort of man he was. I belong to the British Humanist Association, and we conduct funerals where people want to focus more on the person who has died than on religious ritual. Humanists feel no need to believe in a supernatural, accepting that our problems can only be solved by humans working together with other humans - hence the name - and we live our lives without religion. I hope that whatever beliefs you have, you will find this a helpful occasion for reflection, and for renewal.
Death always brings sadness, and loss and grief can make us feel very isolated. It also puts us in mind of our own mortality, and often makes us contemplate the shape of our own life. Each of you here today had your own particular relationship with David. This is an occasion on which you can share your sadness with others, and join together in taking your leave of him.
A baker from Carlisle called David Harkins, who sometimes set his thoughts down in poems, had this to say about our choice when someone dies.
You can shed tears that I am gone
Or you can smile because I have lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that I'll come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all I've left.
Your heart can be empty because you can't see me
Or you can be full of the love we shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember me and only that I've gone
Or you can cherish my memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what I'd want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.
For those of us who believe that death brings the end of our existence, the significance of our life lies in the relationships that we held while we lived. What endures is the memories we leave in the minds of those who live on, and the influences we have on what follows.
So today need not be an occasion only of sadness. We should also allow ourselves some smiles, and laughter too, as we take stock, and celebrate what remains in our minds about David and his life.
It was a life that lasted, of course, some seventy years. He was born David Ronald Bentley, on the twenty fourth of February 1942, in the midst of the Second World War, to Edgar and Hilda Bentley, who had moved to Sheffield from the Potteries. David's father, Edgar, was a civil servant with Inland Revenue and later with the national pensions scheme, retiring as the manager of the Attercliffe Pensions Office. The family lived on Springfield Road, just the other side of Abbeydale Road from Millhouses Park, where Hilda would often take him for fresh air and to play with other children. From the Park he could also see the railway line running along the course of the River Sheaf, and the trains captured the imagination of young David, leaving him with a lifelong fascination with locomotives.
When he was five, he started to attend Ecclesall Church of England Primary up on Ringinglow Road, and later moved on to King Edward VII Grammar School. He was quite a studious boy, and formed a profound fascination with the history of the Roman Empire. He would sometimes take himself off to the school library, and sit copying out the names and dates of Roman Emperors and other notable figures. But he wasn't simply `bookish'. He made good friends at school, people like David Sheppard and John Darwent, with whom he kept in touch for the rest of his life. There was also, of course, his passion for Sheffield United, to whom his mother had introduced him when he was eight. And much of the rest of his time was spent with others finding out as much as possible about the railways system.
While David was still at school, and pondering which university course he might pursue, his mother fell ill and died of pneumonia. It was a huge blow to the seventeen year old, and it is to his credit that he managed to finish his A Levels without needing to retake any of them. The grades, predictably, were below what had been predicted for him, so the chance to study at Oxford or Cambridge eluded him. He went instead to University College London, to study Law. While London may have been starting to swing in the early `Sixties, David kept his head down and applied himself to the study of law in all its forms.
After graduation, he moved back up to Sheffield, and took a position in a bank in Preston. But his love for Law persisted, and he took up a part-time appointment at Sheffield City Polytechnic, where he was soon promoted to Senior Lecturer in Law. Meanwhile he undertook the further studies - and eating of dinners -- at Grays Inn to qualify as a barrister in 1969. Shunning the clearer opportunities in London, he joined the only set of chambers in Sheffield at that time, on Bank Street. He carried on his teaching role, often lecturing at nine in the morning and again in the early evening, and spending the interval in court. In 1976 he and three colleagues established new chambers on Campo Lane, and with Trevor Barber, David led what was to become Paradise Chambers beyond solidity to success. He acquired a reputation not only for rigour but energy, usually returning paperwork the day after receiving it. More than anything, he became known for his tenacity in fighting for his clients and against anything he saw as injustice. His ethical stance was that everyone, even criminals, deserved a fair trial; and that things were rarely black and white. Later in life, he reflected that he had probably enjoyed defending to prosecuting - though anyone he prosecuted, from an animal rights activist to a brutal policeman, would doubtless disagree.
He was no mere humourless workaholic, though, and could be entirely mischievous in court. One time, defending a young woman on a charge of prostitution, he argued that a custodial sentence might jeopardise her more legitimate occupation. The judge took the bait, and asked what that more legitimate occupation might be. David paused for dramatic effect. "She is employed in the steel industry, your honour... as a tool-hardener." Collapse of the entire court, including His Honour!
In 1984 he took silk, and undertook a very wide range of criminal, civil and family work, though he recognised in himself a difficulty in managing the emotional toll of cases involving children's suffering. Only four years later he was elevated to the Bench, later becoming South Yorkshire's first designated Civil Judge. Serving now as a judge, David seemed to find new sources of energy, commitment and enthusiasm. He was particularly intolerant of barristers who were less than punctual in their preparations. On his retirement, the local press ran a commendatory piece in which they quoted one of his colleagues as saying, "While most judges do not suffer fools gladly, Judge Bentley did not suffer them at all." Some police officers were known to dread his coruscating remarks, and he did have a remarkable acquittal rate. However, in his defence, Gary Burrell QC once referred to David as "the Robin Hood for the little man in court."
The remarkable quality of his professional life is a matter of public record. What of the more private man? For indeed David always felt a little distanced from the perceived exalted status of his public roles, sometimes feeling more comfortable in the anonymity of a football crowd. Being `a Blade' was a major part of his life: his family can testify that annual holidays and other domestic arrangements had to be fitted around the vagaries of Sheffield United's fixture list! In his late twenties he was married for a few years, and as that proved to be less successful than he had hoped, he continued to immerse himself in work . Towards the end of the nineteen seventies, he was enjoying the admiration of his students at the Polytechnic, who enjoyed the liveliness and demands of his lectures. He was aware that one of them, a Housing Management student by the name of Christine Stewart, supplemented her grant by working Saturdays on the cheese counter at a supermarket on Ecclesall Road. David made it his business to look after the household needs for cheese. After her course had finished, she found the need for some legal advice from him, and they took to meeting socially. There was a clear affinity, a shared sense of priorities and outlook on the world, which drew each of them separately to work on behalf of those who needed someone to stand up for them. In August 1978, when David was thirty six, they were married at Sheffield Register Office. There was a honeymoon in Venice, and then they moved into their new home on Ecclesall Road South.
In 1985, at the age of forty three, David became a father for the first time, to Tom, who was joined three years later by David. Though the demands of his work did not allow time for hands-on fatherhood, he engaged with his sons when he was at home, playing football in the garden, helping with homework and taking an interest in their progress. He even tried - unsuccessfully - to infect them with his passion for the Blades, but they had too much sense. He was determined they should grow up in the real world and kept them in state schools. But otherwise he let them find their own preferences, never pressing them towards the legal profession and the gruelling hours he knew so well. He took great pride in their achievements, pride in them as sons. Similarly, he never showed possessiveness or domination towards their mother, enjoying her success in work with people with housing needs, and supporting her Masters in landscape architecture. Their partnership was one of closeness but independence.
There were family holidays to Northumberland - Corbridge made an idea! base for exploring Hadrian's Wall - and to Rome, Crete and Egypt. The focus of holidays was not always David's interest in archaeology and all things ancient Roman, though: through only slightly gritted teeth he spent weeks in the sun on Majorca or the Canaries, well stocked with books of course.
Reading was a major part of his life: eighteenth and nineteenth century novels and poetry, crime fiction, history (especially Rome, but also Hitler) and autobiography. He had a habit of choosing an author and then scouring the libraries and charity shops for their work. Spending money on himself did not come easily to David. But the house was full of the books he had read. And there were numerous records and CDs, mainly classical (Handel's Messiah at the City Hall was virtually an annual event for him and Christine), but also Meatloaf, the Rolling Stones, earlier artists like Connie Francis and Dusty Springfield, and, increasingly as he got older, Bob Dylan. World War II films were diverting, maybe a bit of Laurel and Hardy, but mainly the TV was for documentaries on history and archaeology.
Really, though, there was little time for what might be called cultural leisure. Instead, his drive took David into further study, and into writing. Having taken a Masters in Law in 1979, he secured a PhD in 1994 from Sheffield University, focussing on Nineteenth Century Legal History. Just four years ago, he was awarded another Masters by Leeds University for his work on Capital Punishment in England. He enjoyed rendering his knowledge accessible to others, re-writing his doctoral thesis as his first major book in 1998, "English Criminal Justice in the Nineteenth Century". Four years later came "The Sheffield Hanged" and the following year its sequel "The Sheffield Murders 1865-1965". "Crimes and Misdemeanours" followed in 2005. People would ask how he fitted all this study and writing in with his professional and family life. The answer was easy: he got up at three or four in the morning and worked while the house was quiet!
There was another, perhaps rather unexpected side to David: his love for animals. He adored his own dogs - the red setter that was forever running off into the woods, just before he was due in court, the golden retrievers, the Labradors, and especially his favourite, Wally, typically a rescued stray. One time, Christine found him hunched over the kitchen sink. He had found one of the wild mice that frequented their house rummaging in the waste bin, deep in a piece of marshmallow. When he had taken it down the garden to release over the wall, he noticed the mouse struggling with all the marshmallow still sticking to it, so he had recaptured it and was carefully washing it under the tap! His concern for the disadvantage animal could have hair-raising consequences. Driving back from a case in Leeds, he saw a dog on the M1. He pulled onto the hard shoulder and ordered Paul Watson, his current pupil, to weave through the speeding traffic to rescue the dog. Mr Watson reflected ruefully that a trainee barrister was apparently more expendable than a mutt!
Throughout his life, David enjoyed fairly good health. He developed diabetes later in life, and in his early sixties, there was a minor urinary problem which contributed to his decision to retire early from the Bench in 2005, but he remained active, both professionally and personally. As well as the Mental Health Tribunals he readily undertook, he read and wrote more. Once he started to note a slight deterioration in his mental faculties, he decided to fight against that by undertaking further study; five years ago, he took exams in Roman history, and planned to undertake another Masters, this time in Italian. But disease of dementia had secured it s foothold, and David was not alone in noticing odd moments of behaviour out of character. By 2009, he was receiving medical care in hospital, which was predictably difficult for a man who had enjoyed such a fiercely rigorous intellect. He lost interest in caring for himself, which then became beyond him. His behaviour became harder to live with, but when he moved two years ago to Longley Park View Nursing Home, the care he received was exemplary, and he became calmer, a model patient indeed. The deterioration in his faculties was thankfully rapid, and his body weakened too. Lung infections developed into pneumonia, and mid morning on Thursday the first of March, peacefully, David died.
Sir Winston Churchill, who led Britain during the War years of David's early childhood, and who was an atheist, wrote this about our mortality:
Let us be contented with what has happened and be thankful for all that which we have been spared. Let us accept the natural order of things in which we move. Let us reconcile ourselves to the mysterious rhythm of our destinies, such as they must be in this world of space and time. Let us treasure our joys but not bewail our sorrows. The glory of light cannot exist without its shadows. Life is a whole, and good and ill must be accepted together. The journey has been enjoyable, and well worth making - once.
from "Thoughts and Adventures"
As we've heard, David took pleasure in music, of a wide variety. We came in this afternoon to Handel's Overture for Trumpet and Organ. As we leave, we'll hear Bob Dylan, singing "Blowing In the Wind". Now, let us sit for a while, listening to Enya's "The Memory of Trees", while you reflect on your own experience of David, and the meaning to us of his life and his death. Those of you who have a faith may want to use this time to say a prayer.
Reflection Music: "The Memory of Trees" by Enya
Many of you here today will have your own thoughts about David, and stories to tell of this unique man. I hope you will soon find opportunities to exchange those with each other, and take comfort in them. Among the many accolades which have come his way in the last couple of weeks, His Honour Judge Goldsack made time in his court last week to deliver a eulogy for his departed colleague, in which he concluded thus:
"David was a complex character. Like all of us, he had flaws and sometimes they surfaced, but at heart he was someone who had a burning desire to see justice done. He helped to nurture future generations of lawyers and many pupil barristers, ... and Recorders and Judges remember how he always had time to help them with any problem they had, however busy he was. Sheffield will not see many like him again."
Here is a poem chosen by Christine.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am the thousand winds that blow;
I am the diamond glints on snow;
I am the sunlight on ripened grain;
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awake in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there - I did not die.
David's family, and especially Christine, would like to thank everyone for their kindness and support recently. If you would like to make a donation in his honour, that should be to The Alzheimer's Society. And you may like to know that some of his ashes will eventually be scattered In Sheffield United's Memorial Garden at Bramall Lane, some in Millhouses Park where he played as a child and watched the trains go by, and some at his parents' grave.
Will you stand please, for a moment's silence.
In love and affection we have remembered the life of David Bentley, immune now to the changes and chances of our mortal lot; and in sorrow, but without fear, in appreciation and love we commit his body to its end.
I hope this ceremony may help those who knew and loved David to come to terms with his death, and with the thoughts about your own lives which it may have prompted. We may feel ever more determined to live this one life we have as well as we can. And you should be glad that thoughts of David can be carried forward in your life. The dead reside not in an urn or in the grave, but in the hearts and minds of the living, where David has left his own mark.
Thank you for coming. In a moment, we will leave.
But now, to bring this ceremony to a close, here is a farewell sometimes used at funerals in India.
An old Indian farewell.
When I am dead, grieve for me a little,
But not too much.
Think of me sometimes
But not too much.
Remember some pleasant moments we shared,
But not for long.
Do not dwell upon my faults, which you knew so well,
But let them be forgotten.
Let me in peace
And l shall leave you in peace.
And whilst you live, think daily of the living,
For they need your thoughts.
Exit Music: "Blowing in the Wind" by Bob Dylan
Matthew Simpson, officiant of the British Humanist Association (BHA)
BHA 020 7079 3582 www.humanism.orq.uk