Posted by: Jenny | Thursday, 30 April 2015

Duncan is dead and in his grave

My father-in-law, W B Lockwood, passed away on this day three years ago.

I have many memories of him in the thirty-eight years I was privileged to know him. I have recently observed that many of us, as the years proceed, look back and recall events from our earlier years.  Some older people seem to ‘live in the past’. Bill was not one of these.  Throughout his long life, he was interested in the world around him, taking an interest in new people and, especially, new words.

But in his later years, he did occasionally reflect on the past.  He was always a good raconteur, and had a great store of anecdotes from his varied experience.  His stories tended to shed light on a particular situation or character; he was a modest man and did not use his story-telling for the purpose of self-aggrandisement.

Bill recognised the power of the internet, though he felt too old – his own words – to learn how to use it himself.  He realised that it was possible to search for information about a person, especially one who had ‘made his mark’, and was gratified that there were several websites containing references to his own work, especially in the field of Faroese. From time to time, he would ask us to look up a person he had been at school with. Several of his school friends had had successful careers in education or the diplomatic service. Sadly, but inevitably, the most recent reference we found was often the person’s obituary.

One of Bill’s favourite stories, when recollecting his schooldays. was of a certain incident in the English Literature class.  The teacher would ask a boy to read aloud a passage from the text the class was studying.  One boy, Rodgers, read with great gusto and dramatic emphasis.  On one such occasion, the text was Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and Rodgers declaimed “Duncan is dead and in his grave”. As he did so, he looked pointedly in the direction of another teenager in the class, whose name was Duncan. The class erupted in laughter.

The last time I remember Bill retelling this story, aged 94, he added calmly “I expect Duncan really is dead and in his grave”.


Postscript: One thing that kept Bill’s focus firmly in the present was his great interest in the work of his protégés in the field of language studies.  He followed them closely, and two of them, now working in Germany, regularly sent him copies of their publications and kept him informed on the progress of their research.

Four of his former students wrote a very touching tribute to him two years ago.



  1. What an interesting account of your father-in-law’s life. Obviously a most remarkable man and quite some linguist of rather rare languages.

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