The funeral of the former Mayor of Hove Bernard Jordan and his wife Irene took place in Brighton today (Friday 30 January).
Mr Jordan became an international celebrity last year when disappeared from his nursing home to attend the ceremonies to mark 70th anniversary of D-Day in France.
His “great escape” attracted widespread media attention and epitomised the spirit of a generation who made enormous sacrifices during and after the Second World War.
Mr Jordan, who served in the Royal Navy and later as the leader of Hove Borough Council, took a train to Portsmouth and sailed to Caen last June.
He was taken under the wing of a retired teacher on the ferry who contacted Mr Jordan’s nursing home, The Pines, in Furze Hill, Hove.
He went AWOL – absent without leave – when told that it hadn’t been possible to arrange for him to join an organised trip to join his fellow Normandy veterans.
Mr Jordan, 90, died on Tuesday 30 December, followed exactly a week later by his 86-year-old widow.
The couple, known as Bernie and Rene, were left more than £600,000 to the RNLI.
They were remembered in a service today at St Michael and All Angels in Brighton.
Father Mark Lyon said: “It’s a great privilege to give thanks for the lives of Bernie and Rene and all that they did together for our community.
“Although Bernie made the headlines it is a testament to the depth of their love that Rene would not allow him to make this final journey alone.
“In this we can take great comfort knowing that they make their journey into eternity together, hand in hand.”
Dennis Smith, the husband of one of the couple’s nieces, Pat, said that Mrs Jordan was the youngest of five children and a talented ice skater in her youth.
She and Mr Jordan met after the Second World War and married in 1955. While fond of children, the couple didn’t have any themselves.
Mr Smith said: “When the occasion demanded, Irene could be quite assertive and very forceful in keeping Bernard grounded during his flights of fancy.”
She belied the old adage that behind every great man was a great woman, Mr Smith said, adding: “Irene was constantly beside Bernard in all his work.”
The Mayor of Brighton and Hove Councillor Brian Fitch also paid tribute to Bernie and Rene Jordan.
He said: “It is an immense privilege for me to be invited to participate today, not only as mayor but as a friend of both Bernie and Rene.
“To be able to remember them both in a personal and civic capacity is a rare honour and an opportunity I am humbled by.
“Bernie, in what were to be the last few months of his life, became a national hero and an international figure due in large part to his trip to France and his desire to participate in the Normandy landing commemorations.
“But what really captured the public imagination was not his unscheduled flit from The Pines but the character of the man – a person determined to honour and value his comrades despite increasing old age, less than perfect health and fairly meagre circumstances.
“What were made public and obvious during this episode were the character traits many of us close to him had been aware of during his time in public life – traits of determination, focus, selflessness, commitment to the cause and compassion.
“It has to be said that a flair for the outrageous and willingness to take credit were also evident along with a savviness that would put many a PR agent to shame.
“But to succeed in public life – as Bernie did – these characteristics are vital. And he possessed so many of them, they famously overflowed from one political party to another.
“He was a popular and successful politician, elected councillor for Goldsmid ward at every opportunity between 1973 and 1996 and made leader of Hove Borough Council.
“In May 1995 he became Mayor of Hove and this is where I’d like to talk about Rene’s impact.
“Rene was a shy, quiet woman, immensely proud of her outgoing husband and happy to support her Bernie whenever she could.
“As a person who shunned the limelight, however, being the mayoress was not something she relished and she was apparently fearful that her reluctance might cost Bernie his chance to be mayor.
“They worked out a compromise and though she was a slightly reluctant first lady, the fact that she overcame her natural shyness and desire for privacy spoke volumes of her love for Bernie.
“The mantle of mayoralty demands a public face and Rene, demure and quiet, was the perfect foil for her gregarious and big-hearted husband.
“Their joint endeavours and the symmetry of their relationship made their mayoralty special. And I know from personal experience how important and empowering it is to have someone you love by your side as you negotiate the mayoral map.
“In the end what made Bernie a great public servant and Rene the complete companion was their balanced and loving partnership – his enthusiasm and natural zest complemented by her quiet, gentle and eternal love.
“Our city has lost two of its dearest souls but our history has been forever enriched by their contribution.
“It is with great humility that I acknowledge the opportunity to be part of today’s service.
“And on behalf of the city and its people I offer our respects and thanks to Bernie and Rene Jodan. May they rest in peace.”
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