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Gerald Brian John Nugent

Gerald Brian John Nugent

January 3, 1925 to April 8, 2024; 99 years

Gerald spent his last 8 years in Bloomfield, CT (6 of which were with my mother, Barbara, until she died) to be near his children in the waning years of his life.  Before that, he lived a life full of adventure traveling the world fighting for England in the war, building structures as a civil engineer, playing golf on mountains, tennis around the world and entertaining monarchs. 

Gerald was born on January 3, 1925 in Bareilli, Waziristan, India, the third son of Coral and Lionel Nugent who descended from English families that settled in India over a century before.  He was a true English gentleman in every sense of the term- well educated, well-travelled and never afraid of a new challenge.

My father and his three brothers, who have also passed on, Desmond, Neil and Michael Nugent, were raised in India and played among the fields of cows until they were sent to an elite boarding school in Mussoorie on the border of India near Tibet among the foothills of the Himalayan mountains (foothills in this area of the world are 10,000 feet or more).  He was sent to school at the young age of 5 and felt a strong need to provide protection since he was the biggest and strongest of the 3 siblings.  During school, he perfected his upper cut as a boxer, his batting as a cricketeer and his backhand as a tennis player.  He was undefeated as a boxer (he said his arm reach and solid punches gave him a huge advantage).  His tennis was so good that he was invited to Wimbledon twice but his overseas commitments clashed with the time of year so he declined (tennis money wasn't that good back then).

The world was an angry place in the 30’s and 40’s when Dad was coming of age.  In the last years of the war in Europe, Gerald was finally old enough to enlist and signed on the day after graduating from upper school in 1943, where he joined the fight in the Asian theater, specifically, in Burma, with his father, Lionel Hugh St. Vincent Nugent (now that's a name) who fought alongside him.  On his application, he indicated he wanted to join the air force as a pilot but his father was all too aware of the mortality rate of pilots and called up and had it changed. He was one of the youngest acting Majors in the British Army (also due to high mortality rates).  Originally, he started as a medic like his brother Desmond but switched to engineering because he enjoyed building things.  As part of his training, he became a 'sapper', which is a demolitions expert.  With that military training, he became a civil engineer after graduating from Univ of London in 1950.

After the war, there was no going back to India as Ghandhi called for “All English out” and so our father’s last assignment in India was to patrol city streets to monitor religious unrest and keep peace during the transition of power.  

Gerald never lost his lust for travel and was looking for his next adventure. As the war was ending, England started planning the first expedition to climb Mt. Everest.  A New Zealand climber named Edmund Hillary sent a call out for climbers to participate. My father, remembering Everest in the distance while at school, petitioned his military officials to join- he was big and strong at 6 ft 5 and 230 lbs.  Alas, the military need was still great, and he was denied leave.  

Instead, my father went to Accra, Ghana on the gold coast of Africa in 1953 to build roads.  He lead public works initiatives through Ghana's independence from England and acted as an English appointee assisting the fledgling Ghanaian government after their independence.  Feeling lonely, he returned to England for a short visit where he met my mother, Barbara, at a social event at the local tennis club. They fell in love quickly and were engaged in two weeks, married on June 30, 1955, and back in Africa within a couple of months.  While there, he orchestrated Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s visit in 1961 and lunched, supped and attended a soccer match as their hosts.  You may have seen the event featured in The Crown (he said the actual experience was far different than the shows' version).  He loved to tell that story and people loved to hear it- the part he always left out to protect her was that Queen Elizabeth flirted with him and asked him to inspect her nylons to ensure they were straight (Dad was very good looking).

In 1967, Dad moved his family, Gregory, Rachel, Giles and Rowena, to French speaking, very cold Montreal. Quebec was seriously considering separating from Canada at the time and stayed true to their French origins. My parents spoke French, but it was a shock for us that our school was only French speaking.  We were there one year- long enough for our sister, Rowena, to be born (the only sibling not born on English soil and the only one who spoke 3 languages as a child- English, Urdu and French).  Next we moved to Niagara Falls, Canada where Dad worked on repairing an erosion problem on Niagara Falls’ receding rock ledge followed by an assignment in East Pakistan.  

Our family of six spent two years in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, living a life of luxury.  We vacationed in the most exotic places like Istanbul, Turkey, Hong Kong and Bangkok, Thailand.  We even saw the astronauts from the moon landing during their Grand World Tour.  Although a third world country, we westerners were spoiled and enjoyed quite a life until the Bangladesh Liberation War broke out in 1971 (a lingering issue from India’s 1947 independence agreement with England). During the conflict, which lasted a matter of months, the fighting in Dacca, where we lived, got too close for comfort so my parents packed us up to return to Canada.  The evacuation plan during the conflict required a hostage to stay behind and ensure there was no 'trouble' during the evacuation and my father offered himself so that his family and all his friends and colleague could leave.  Under guard, he made sure we got to the airport safely and waited on the tarmac for the refugee plane to arrive and take us home. There was no communication and we waited for news in England.  Finally, the new government agreed he could go free.

Two months later, we were united with Dad while staying with family in Surrey, UK and we returned to Canada until we moved to Buffalo, New York.  We were grateful it was not as cold as Montreal until the Blizzard of 1977.  That was a whopper- the worst in recorded history- with 80 mile per hour winds and 40-foot snow drifts.  The 2nd story windows were blanketed with white blocking visibility.  In the US, he lead a team that built the first strategic oil reserves for the US government and he also advised on a recycling program that turned waste into petroleum and sludge- both cost and sludge disposal caused the project to be shut down (it was ahead of its time).

After moving to Cary, NC, Pittsburg, PA and Alpharetta, GA, life finally slowed down for my parents when they retired in 1989 to a golf resort in the Blue Ridge mountains of Tennessee near Crossville.  The views were amazing, golf course challenging and community so kind.  Dad helped the community by sharing his knowledge in math and he and our mother taught at the local community college until he was 85, around the same time he stopped playing golf (he was a scratch golfer at one time).  Apparently, he was more patient with the students than he was his own children as they loved him and praised his teaching skills.

Dad's last few years with Mum and his children were precious to him.  We built fond memories while he was still physically able and, in the end, by God's good graces, he died peacefully in his warm bed at home none the wiser of the transition he was about to make. Now that he is reunited with our mother, the love of his life for almost 70 years, we appreciate how lucky we were to have a loving father who provided us with a strong foundation and unusual life. 

Link to a song from The Notebook that moved Dad a few years ago- he knew where his life was heading- I'll Be Seeing You

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