Columnists / Rachel Hawkins

‘My grandad will always be an inspiration to me’

By rachel hawkins, Thursday Nov 29, 2018

I always tone down my Bristol accent a bit on the occasional occurrences when I’m live on the radio. Vicky Pollard on helium isn’t the easiest voice to decipher. Especially when you talk as quickly as I do.

I also have to watch my language. Dropping the f-word at 9.20 in the morning isn’t exactly welcomed by those who work in radio.

Sometimes, a producer at Radio Bristol will get in touch for me to act as viewpoint donator regarding a current affairs topic. This happened recently when I was asked discuss International Men’s Day.

A worldwide trending topic on Twitter, there was a huge buzz online and in the media regarding the event. The producer mentioned I’d be asked to talk about my opinion regarding International Men’s Day and perhaps any influential and inspirational men in my life.

I didn’t get to talk in detail regarding the latter. So, I thought I’d do that here. Today. In the written word.

The most inspirational and influential male in my life is sadly no longer with us. He is or was my grandad, Ken Lerway.

Born to a Russian immigrant in 1928, Ken was one of 12 children whose life started very humbly. They had nothing. My great nan, we are told, fled Russia with her two older brothers in pursuit of a new life in America when she was young. However, her brothers left her in the UK and continued their voyage to the States. She changed her name to Osborne and set about making a life for herself in Bristol.

And that is as much as I know regarding my Russian legacy. (We think my great nan was Russian anyway. I hope she was Russian because I’ve got a tattoo that pays tribute to my Russian heritage that I had done when I was 18)

When I read the short brief regarding my appearance on the airwaves last week, I really pondered the word ‘inspire’. It’s such a subjective and personal thing. The people who inspire me are the ones who admirably deal with adversity.

My grandad dealt with adversity by the bucket load. His strength of character was undeniable.

From his modest beginnings, to the way he worked his way up from the very bottom to the top of his field was pretty incredible. By the time he retired he was quality control manager at the Wills’ tobacco factory in Bedminster.

One of the main reasons I look up to my grandad isn’t just because of his strong work ethic; it’s all down to how he dealt with his ill health.

During a sinus operation it was discovered he had haemophilia. This is a condition that makes your blood not clot. If medical intervention doesn’t quickly occur, you will bleed to death; which almost happened to my grandad on more than one occasion. Luckily, thanks to quick thinking medical staff, he was successfully revived.

It wasn’t just the complexities of haemophilia he had to put up with. During his retirement party he fell ill. Tests later confirmed rheumatoid arthritis. An awful, awful condition that progressively got worse.

I never knew my grandad to be well. Many of my overriding memories are of visiting him in hospital during one of his mammoth stays. His house became his secondary place of stay. Bristol Royal Infirmary was where he spent the majority of his 60s and early 70s.

But never did I once see the smile fade from his face. His sense of humour was incredible. The nurses who tended to him in hospital saw him as a friend. I viewed him as a comedian.

His thirst for knowledge was astounding. The way he would boss every episode of Countdown and Fifteen to One would put Carol Vorderman and her mathematical skills to utter shame.

His artistic flair and talent exceptional. Patience? I’ve never known a person to have such an exorbitant amount of patience.

As the arthritis took hold, his hands were so misshapen he would struggle to use them in the way intended. Yet still, he’d spend hours upon hours in his garage or his spare room making toy cars or painting or even just doing the crossword. His body was no longer his own. But his mind was still his. It still had to be kept active.

My nan became his full-time carer in the last decade of his life. Loyal to his last breath, which came on May 1 2003, the anniversary of his mother’s death.

Ken Lerway meant so much to so many people. Me. My mum. My nan. His many siblings. His many friends.

He’ll never not be an inspiration to me. His life, his overwhelming challenges and his incredible personality and strength of character will always give me perspective.

On International Men’s Day, I thought about one person. His name was Ken Lerway.

Bristol24/7’s new columnist Rachel Hawkins is a born and bred Bristolian. “I rant. I write. You could say I’m a bit of a gobshite,” she says. Follow her on Twitter at @ourrachblogs

Read more: ‘My new obsession with walking has an amazing effect on my mental wellbeing’

Related articles