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In Memoriam of fathers – C. A. Johnson and Dieter Gütt January 19, 2012

Posted by astridjohnson in Love, Philosophy, Religion.
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Tony and Mark in April 2011

My father in law died on 12 January, morning time. Mark, his eldest son, was just on his way to London to see him, when one of his brothers phoned him with the news. Tony had struggled with his health for many years, suffering from dementia with lewy bodies.

I met Tony first shortly after meeting Mark in Winter 2008, when his condition was already quite advanced. But the man I met was thoughtful, with a deep voice and a keen intellect and sense of the ridiculous.

But mostly I experienced Tony through the eyes of his son. There are all the stories, the life Tony led, his role as a headmaster of a Catholic primary school, his family, the two marriages he made, the children he begot, the decisions he made and the ones he maybe regretted. But on our walks through London Mark showes me places his father took him during his childhood on visits to theatres, concert halls, bookshops and museums. Mark’s experience of London and his love for the city was initiated by his father. Tony was a man of books and thinking and also that he passed on to my husband. And Mark’s daughter has inherited her wicked and lovely comedic talent straight from  Tony. His passion was the theatre, both as a connoisseur and lay actor.

It seems very pertinent to think about what parents are, how they shape us by their deeds, their presents or absence, what upbringing they are giving us, but also how their interests, pursuits, inner worlds… souls shape us and are part of us.

Mark wrote beautifully about the waves of mourning he is experiencing in this week after his death. What comes across is how deep a cut the loss is, but above all the profound gratefulness for the life of his father. The blog entry is here at his Improvisation Blog.

On the 24th January will be the 22nd anniversary of my father’s death. He took his own life.

I lost both my parents when I was very young and at that time not as able as when you are older to reflect on them outside of the dependent child/parent relationship. But maybe that time has come now.

In honour of his Dieter’s life and my gratitude to him here a wonderful obituary from “Die Zeit” (German weekly newspaper – similar to The Observer) from early 1990.

The obituary mostly concentrates on what a disputatious man he was, an uncompromising intellectual and journalist. Wonderful, actually. We could do with many more inconvenient people in our time.

Here the beginning of a translation. The German text is below:


It was not really possible to be indifferent about Dieter Gütt, especially for those who are complacent and in position of power. And specifically to those people he directed his ire and contempt. When he expressed himself he acted according to his motto: comfortable people should just become gardeners. As a most engaged journalist in writing and speech he preferred “explicit, powerful, articulate and unsparing” commentaries. They came like arrows and whom they hit, from the “professional” expellees* to greedy football managers. was left with more than a little scratch.

(*footnote: Expellees are the 13 to 16 million ethnic Germans or German nationals who were expelled from the Eastern territories of Germany after World War II. The territories are now part of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia, as well as all former parts of East Prussia. Expellees were integrated into West German after the war, as from 1953 the “Law of Return” granted citizenship to any ethnic German. Many organised themselves in a Federation of Expellees. There were two main problems with that was that. Firstly, especially in the early days about a third of the Federation’s top officials were former Nazis. The second problem was that most of the “professionally” organised expellees (and their descendants) wanted to return to their ancestral homes. Given that Germany thankfully lost World War II and considering that none of the Eastern countries who so gravely suffered under German occupation really wanted to have them back my father fought tooth and nail to hammer some understanding and decency into those who had lost and were not gracious about it.)

This is the original in German:


Gleichgültig hat er kaum jemanden gelassen, schon gar nicht die Selbstzufriedenen in jedweder Machtposition, denen sein Zorn oder seine Verachtung galt. Wenn Dieter Gütt sich äußerte, dann handelte er nach seiner Devise, bequeme Leute sollten besser Gärtner werden. Ob er sprach oder schrieb, als stets engagierter Journalist bevorzugte er „deutliche, feste, artikulierte, schonungslose” Kommentare. Sie kamen wie Pfeile, und wen sie trafen, von unbelehrbaren Berufsvertriebenen bis zu satten Fußballfunktionären, bei dem hinterließen sie mehr als Schrammen.

Obwohl seither wenig mehr als ein Jahrzehnt vergangen ist, erscheint es heute beinahe unvorstellbar, daß einer wie Gütt je in öffentlich rechtlichen Diensten stehen konnte. Aber es gab einmal die Zeit, in der ein solch streitbarer Geist die Politik der ARD koordinierte und später sogar Tagesschau und Tagesthemen leitete. Von Proporzdenken („ ich kenne nur guten und schlechten Journalismus”) hielt Gütt auch in diesen Positionen nichts. Zustimmung war ihm deshalb nicht garantiert, auf Aufmerksamkeit hingegen konnte er immer rechnen, wenn er mit barocker Figur den Bildschirm füllte.

Seine Präsenz und geschliffene Suada verschafften ihm auch da Respekt, wo er sich als militanter Moralist auf Abwege verirrte.

Zuletzt bürstete Gütt in Kolumnen für den stem wider den politischen Strich. Leidenschaft, mitunter auch ein cholerisches Temperament führten ihm die Feder. Vor allem ein wiedervereinigtes großdeutsches Reich, wie er es heraufziehen sah, bereitete ihm Pein.

Vor Jahren hatte sich Dieter Gütt in einem TvlZ Fragebogen Gelassenheit beim Tode gewünscht.

Niemand weiß, ob sie ihm vergönnt war, als er in der vergangenen Woche im Alter von 65 Jahren starb.

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