I’m Big John’s little sister. I was only six when he met his Suzy. Nine when the lovely Andrea and I were their bridesmaids. He’s always been larger than life to me and loud enough to prove it. But those that know him, know, behind his growling bear act was an inner teddy.
When he talked about Sue, John, Jody, Amy and his grandsons, you heard his pride, albeit sometimes hidden behind funny insults. It is testament to the man that he achieved 34 years of a successful and loving marriage with Sue. But it’s no surprise: he was loyal, kind, had a generous spirit and was funny. He was so very proud of Little John’s growing business and family, and loved telling stories of Jody’s feistyness.
Above all he was a fantastic story teller, so I hope I do justice to John’s story.
The first of Hannah and Kevin’s nine children; the eldest by only five minutes. He played the big brother role loudly and seriously. His twin, Jarlath, probably knows the whole of John better than anyone: at school a force to be reckoned with, though John the prefect must have been a bane to Jarlath’s playful ways. Today it’s hard to imagine them together as saintly little Alter servers with Peter.
John with Jarlath played the identical twin game and delighted in confusing others. Yet, it is proof of their strength of character that they developed their individuality, with each so very unique.
John started work on the cranes with Dad, and Jarlath, back in the day when you turned up for work in a shirt and an old pair of jeans. Recently he told of a three hour ‘elf and safety lesson in how to wear a hard hat. I remember his 150ft tall Moon Shot, which took him travelling round England and Europe, from Elstree Studios, to Silverstone and Buckingham Palace. Once settled with Sue he preferred local work so he could spend as much of the next 34 years as close to her as he could.
John and Jar also did a bit of bouncing – for early Sex Pistols gigs and our sister Cathy’s 21st party: where he happily relieved people of their gifts and bottles before turning them away.
Before starting their family, John and Sue enjoyed some beatnik days touring Europe in a VW camper van. ‘Though they apparently tested it out first in a multi-story carpark! He learnt to provide his own wheels after taking the Magic Bus – from London to the Greek islands – which wasn’t quite so magical when they got stuck in the middle of a warzone.
There were other holidays – in Ireland where he proudly introduced his young wife to our grandmother in Dingle, to the lakes in Tallington, where he managed to get some driving in behind the wheel of a speed-boat.
You could say Big John was the inventor of ‘Pimp my Ride’: when he was ‘on the lorries’ with his own bright orange customised cab and more recently the distinct personality he gave his much loved silver truck. He got such a big kick from treating small boys, especially his own Little John, to rides in his big lorries.
His personality was stamped much further afield than his family, though the Meehan’s stretch far enough. He made an impression on everyone he met, and managed to never bore anyone: never hanging around long enough.
He proved popular in driving the Man Rider - a cage that his crane would lower to take workers underground. I heard some of those men were happiest when their lives were in John’s skilled hands as he dropped them down as gentle as a feather.
Today there aren’t many modern London landmarks that John didn’t play a part in: including the Millennium Dome and the Olympic park and, if he was to be believed, he single-handedly built Docklands.
He found it easy to extend a helping hand – thinking nothing of helping neighbours with shopping, or giving advice on cars or fixing things. He had an adorable rough charm and rarely said hello to me without grabbing me in a huge bear hug.
He was a contradiction: his no nonsense approach and love of growling was easily misunderstood. Yet he loved nonsense. Anyone who witnessed his bus conductor routine, with fully working ticket machine, could never doubt it. He said he didn’t understand people who didn’t like children. ‘We were all children once’.
John was loud. Yet gave his teenagers lessons in how to close the front door quietly.
John was insulting. A lad phoned for his teenage daughter Jody. John politely asked the boy his name, age and address, then put the phone down.
John was funny. We recently travelled together on our sister’s last journey. Ever the gentleman he travelled with the girls rather than his five brothers that day. We were sad but John managed to have us giggling in the back of that car.
He also had a secret love of pomp and circumstance. His idea of dressing down was ditching the tie with just matching shirt and hankie in his top pocket.
He said he didn’t like socialising, but when he did he left you wanting more. And he was always the first to phone the next day with thanks, before poking fun at your guests.
The secret, he said, to a happy marriage was to let each other be. But then he said he was lucky because ‘they broke the mould when they made my Suzy’. And I believe he was right.
His family: Sue, his children and grandchildren, his five brothers - Jarlath, Peter, Raymond, David and Paul - and Fran and I will miss him terribly.
The world is all the more quieter, and duller, without big John. But I want to remember him, as he used to say after one of his flying visits, ‘Gotta go…gotta see a man about a dog’.