Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

'The world lost JFK, I lost my stepdad CS Lewis'

Literary great: CS Lewis
Literary great: CS Lewis

Douglas Gresham remembers well the day that JFK was shot.

The news from Dallas had stunned pupils during dinner at his boarding school in Surrey. "It was a dark and drizzly afternoon when someone burst into the dining room and said, 'They shot Kennedy'," he recalls. "We didn't believe it."

Gresham, who had turned 18 that month, joined a growing huddle around the school's television. Soon the reports of JFK's assassination – at 6.30pm London time – were confirmed.

"It was a cruel blow," he said. "Most of us regarded him as a great hope for Western civilisation. But it was only the first blow of the day. Soon any thoughts about Kennedy would go completely out of my mind."

A little over an hour later, Gresham heard the urgent steps of high heels coming down the path outside his classroom.

"The headmaster's daughter, had come to fetch me. My stepfather had died."

Gresham, who is now 68, knew the man, who was his only parent at the time, as Jack.

The rest of the world knew him as CS Lewis. He died, aged 64, less than an hour before JFK was shot, and 12 minutes after Aldous Huxley succumbed to cancer. News of the writers' coincidental demise would be swallowed by the outpouring of shock and grief springing from Texas. Nobody noticed that Lewis was gone, but for Gresham the loss was devastating.

"My world had suddenly become very small and I ceased to be interested in anything else. Grief is a selfish thing – it shuts out everything except your own pain."

Gresham, who now lives in Malta, travelled to London to attend a service yesterday at Westminster Abbey.

A stone was unveiled in Lewis's honour on the floor of Poets' Corner in the Abbey.

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