My grandfather Vincent Nolan was a remarkable man. More than that, for the word “remarkable” would suggest he was merely worthy of intermittent snippets of conversation. In actual fact, you could write novels about his ideas, his thinking, and the change he inspired in the world. Many people did, and those works exist in published form today. He contributed to most of them. A number sit on our bookshelf at home, with the most recent addition signed by him only last month. “To Molly,” it reads. “With all my love, Grandpa, 16th July 2014.”
On Sunday the 17th of August 2014 Vincent passed away after a period of time spent battling cancer. Again, though, “battle” is really the wrong word, because there was no war between my grandfather and his disease. In the most dignified manner, he accepted his fate with a grace that only the strongest of characters could have been partial to. After receiving the news that his father had passed, my dad sighed. “A Sunday morning,” he said. “Well, I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
The sentiment made me smile at the time and it still does, because it is inarguably true. We as a family long said that Vincent would dictate when he went, rather than letting the disease do so for him, and so his passing was exactly in keeping with what we all had learned to expect from such a man. Timely, certainly, and peaceful – he was an individual who knew exactly what he wanted out of both life and death, and he commanded it absolutely.
I know my grandfather was proud of me, not because he explicitly told me so, but because when I would disclose to him my own ambitions, he would lean forward with a twinkle in his eye and encourage me to elaborate. He was a hugely intelligent man, and for him to take an interest by providing constructive criticism or words of wisdom meant far more than a hug or a kiss. From the beginning, he was also a guiding presence in my musical life. He bequeathed me his first cello – the ultimate approval.
Vincent had a fantastic wit about him that he never ever lost. In the final weeks of his life, he remarked that he didn’t much care what happened in the Scottish independence referendum, but nevertheless was rather annoyed that he wouldn’t find out which way it would go. Astuteness was the way in which he dealt with his impending passing, and it went a long way in consoling the rest of us who were undeniably more afraid than he was himself.
In the years I knew Vincent Nolan, he was a great inspiration to me, influencing not only my musical and academic life but most importantly my overall ethos. He provided me with wisdom that I will live with until the day I die, unwavering support and a true sense of family, and I know my cousins and I will be in absolute agreement when I say that we couldn’t have wished for a better, kinder role model than that we had in our grandfather.
Thanks for everything, Grandpa. I love you.