Calloused hands and a generous heart

Published 5:43 pm Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Friends and family in the little village of Bridge, England, are in mourning today with the recent passing of Jasper Knight, an architect-builder with calloused hands and a generous heart.

He had lived most of his adult life in Kent, the county which is bounded on the North by the River Thames and the North Sea and on the Southeast by the Straight of Dover (the busiest shipping route in the world) and the English Channel. Kent, known as the Garden of England, showcases the most pleasant countryside with bountiful farms and orchards, alluring and charming country pubs and two-lane roads barely wide enough for two cyclists to pass. Yet, tractors, oversized lorries and Land Rovers roar about as if head-on collisions only take place on the dance floor. Just part of the allure of the Kent Countryside. 

While Bridge is a fraction more than three miles from Canterbury and the much-visited Cathedral, it is the little towns that tickle your fancy: Harbleton, Stuppington, Littlebourne, Preston, Wingham, Broadstairs, Elmstone and Ash. Then there is Sandwich where the Open Championship is scheduled to be played in July at Royal St. Georges Golf Club; and Chillenden, home of the greatest of pubs, Griffin’s Head, which dates back over 700 years when England’s monarch was Edward I, commonly known as “Longshanks.”

I was introduced to Jasper and Maureen (Mo) Knight when I arranged to cover the Open championship at Sandwich back in 1980. The Knights hosted officials of the Golden Bear Corporation in North Palm Beach, Fla., and included space for an eager small-town journalist.

As many observers are wont to note, the British are known for many favorable things, but cooking is not one of them; unless you happen to sit down for a meal with the Knights, especially when Jasper has tended grill. I had that good fortune often in my summer travels for over 35 years. With the Knights, who mastered the B&B concept because they were hosts who truly enjoyed company and making guests feel at home. Interacting with seasoned travelers was enlightening for them. 

Their enterprise brought in extra income, but that was not their priority objective. They enjoyed meeting and hosting visitors and were uplifted by their active social whirl. They were the consummate hosts. They introduced us to their friends and arranged for us to attend signature events, such as the Henley Royal Regatta and a stimulating fox hunt during its last legal days. They were Royal aficionados and gloried in taking American guests to a place in Ramsgate, one of their residences, when Queen Elizabeth made an appearance, offering an up close proximity to Great Britain’s ageless monarch. 

Later on, when I was able to arrange tickets for them for Wimbledon, Mo was visibly moved. It had been a dream but one which she never expected to experience fulfillment. They visited us at our home in Athens and were devout Masters aficionados. They were constantly bemused by the emotional state of the Bulldogs. Their resourceful friends were hospitable, caustic and unflappable. We were always meeting somebody new, all with a conspicuous trait.  We enjoyed their daughters Charlotte and Sarah and their young friends. 

The Knights had an affinity for French cooking and set about finding a vacation home in the French Alps. They purchased a traditional farm home, one with the upper level designed for the family with stables and space underneath for the cows and farm equipment. It was in disrepair but ideal for the creative and innovative Jasper. They took holiday trips to the village of Montigny where Jasper and an associate, Julian, worked until there was an inviting homestead where winter skiing and arresting summer sojourns highlighted their annual calendar. The Knights were the best at making do. They were adept at welcoming other cultures, they learned to speak French and appreciated France’s history and especially enjoyed French wines.

Jasper’s home brew included rhubarb wine. That might not sound so appealing, but I couldn’t get enough. Then there was Genepi, the signature “moonshine” of the Alps. I snuck a bottle through customs somehow or other and have delighted in sharing it with my friends. When Jasper’s celebration of life takes place this week, I will pour a tumbler of Genepi and toast an ebullient working man who enjoyed life to the fullest and was disposed to share the fruits of his labor with his friends—those next door and some an ocean away.