David WATMOUGH

Obituary
  • "David and Floyd made my day when they came to Tapenade to..."
    - Bill Laboucan
  • "Thank you for being, David."
    - Timothy Shay


WATMOUGH, David Arthur
August 17, 1926 – August 4, 2017
David left us peacefully, just shy of his 91st birthday, after a long and fruitful life. Two very different places anchored his personal and creative lives: St. Kew, Cornwall, and Vancouver, British Columbia. Although born in the London borough of Leyton, raised in the prosperous middle-class suburb of South Woodford, and educated at Cooper's Company School (1937-43), it was during holidays living with his father's relatives in Cornwall, that he put down his deepest roots and nurtured his lifelong love of animals, domestic and wild. In his fiction, Cornwall is an Eden full of temptation often succumbed to. The stories he set there teem with colours, textures, sounds and smells -and with a pervading sense of discovery. But the most impactful event of his youth was his arrest, on trumped up charges, for "soliciting and importuning," and subsequent conviction and incarceration. In later years he would comment that he had never faced the challenge of coming out as a gay man; he'd been outed at age 17. He served in the Royal Navy (1944-45) and then studied theology at King's College London (1945-49). His early working career included stints as a reporter for the Cornish Guardian and as a talks producer, BBC Third Programme. His first book, The Church Renascent, a study of left-wing Catholicism in France, was published in 1951. In Paris in 1951 he met Floyd St. Clair, a Californian, who would be his partner for the next 58 years. He followed Floyd to America and settled with him in San Francisco. Around 1960, while on assignment for the San Francisco Examiner, David fell in love with Vancouver. In 1963, he and Floyd moved there permanently. Floyd became a beloved professor of French at the University of British Columbia and David continued to freelance, notably as arts and theatre critic at the Vancouver Sun (1964-67) and as host of Talking About Books and Artslib on CBC television, while beginning to work on the fictional project that would consume most of his writing career: the chronicles of Davey Bryant. Bryant is Watmough's fictional alter ego, a character whose life often closely resembles Watmough's but should never be confused with it. He first appears in Ashes for Easter and Other Monodramas (1972), stories written to be performed as one-man plays, and is last encountered in the novel The Moor Is Dark Beneath the Moon (2002). Over the years Bryant becomes a kind of gay everyman as he navigates the rocky terrain of the late 20th century. In Vancouver, David and Floyd formed the gravitational centre of a remarkable group of people-musicians, writers, painters, actors, academics, and the folks next door-who enjoyed their hospitality (Floyd's cooking is legendary) and the intellectual interplay. No one who was a summer guest will ever forget dinner beneath the grape arbour in the back garden on West First in Kitsilano, as the dusk accumulated and the conversation ranged. Not always peaceably! David was a passionate conversationalist who loved nothing better than a good argument. (He was seldom, if ever, wrong.) David liked to joke that he moved directly from his mother's embrace to Floyd's and it's true that he was in some ways a perpetual boy. Regardless, his devotion to his lover was unwavering as was Floyd's fierce protection of him and of his writing. Floyd's death in January 2009 devastated David and many of us wondered if he would survive. But he soldiered on, publishing his last novel (To Each an Albatross, 2011) and three books of poetry, the last of which, Songs from the Hive, appeared in 2013. By then he had moved into Crofton Manor (a.k.a. "the Hive"), where he spent his final years and made many friends. Gone now was the curmudgeonly persona he had so assiduously affected, replaced by a mild- mannered, soft-spoken, kindly uncle. He will be greatly missed by many, including his brother Brian and cousin Margaret, the wonderful caregivers at Crofton Manor, his fellow-congregants at the daily coffee klatch, and his final canine companion, Gerry. A memorial gathering will take place sometime this fall. Donations in David's memory may be made to the Vancouver Opera.

Published in Vancouver Sun and/or The Province on Aug. 26, 2017
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