Saturday 16 December 2017

'Once he began to write, the words just seemed to flow'

Barbara Hussey, widow of former minister Justin Keating, on her late husband's final writings

Candid raconteur: Justin Keating with his wife Barbara Hussey, who has compiled a book from the notes he left behind
Candid raconteur: Justin Keating with his wife Barbara Hussey, who has compiled a book from the notes he left behind

Barbara Hussey

After I retired from legal practice, Justin and I were able to spend time in a family house in the Languedoc in France, and most days while we were there he would devote time to writing in his notebook, a simple copybook bought in the local shop. I can see him now, settling down at the table. Once he began to write, the words seemed to flow for him. He left eight notebooks. The earliest is dated July 2006, the final one October 2009.

He wrote down what he could recall from memory and expected to have time to check details later; he didn't get that time. Justin lived his life as though he had forever - a wonderful way to live, considering the dire warning he had been given on his diagnosis with Paget's disease in the late 1970s. However, on the last day of 2009, with snow on the ground, he went to bed for a rest and never woke up. He was just seven days short of his 80th birthday.

As he would have said, why am I telling you this? Well, the notebooks were there, of course, uncorrected and unfinished. For a time they remained in a filing cabinet - I found it very painful to open them because his voice comes through so strongly in the writing. Slowly, I started to read them and realised he could make me laugh still, and his ideas were interesting. Using speech dictation software, I read his words aloud and found I had the beginnings of this manuscript. I emailed the first part to my stepchildren. They were intrigued and wanted more. I moved house twice in the meantime, but eventually all eight notebooks were transcribed. Much of what he had to say was relevant to today's world.

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