Like many, many others in the maritime community, I am incredibly saddened to hear of the death today of John Maxtone-Graham. My thoughts are with his wife, Mary, and his family at this time of great personal loss.
I personally owe John Maxtone-Graham an unfathomable debt; it was his taut, articulate prose, at once both factual and poetic, that served as an inspiration and a benchmark for me on so many levels. I did not read The Only Way To Cross and it’s subsequent pair of eloquently wrought follow ups, so much as devour them.
His books were crafted with the same loving care and exquisite attention to detail as the great ships that he wrote about with such verve, flair and authority. He wrote about the likes of Normandie, Titanic and Norway in such a vivid and compelling way that those grand, dramatic ships suddenly became very real once more, emerging bows on from the mists of time. The sounds, sights and smells of another era danced through my mind like wisps of Atlantic fog.
And the man was unfailingly courteous; immaculately attired, his shipboard lectures were always packed to the gills. We would sit there, spellbound, as he told us stuff that many of us already knew by heart. And often, his take on seminal maritime events just cut straight to the core of a story with effortless ease.
Consider this John Maxtone-Graham classic quote; ‘There will never be a coherent account of the last hours of RMS Titanic, because nothing coherent actually happened…..’ It’s a stark, simple statement that goes like a laser to the heart of that awful night in April, 1912; a surgical scalpel, simple, elegant and true. I was hooked on his work from the moment that I read that line.
And I was lucky enough to meet the great man; he signed a copy of one of his books for me and answered the questions of this awed, star struck young neophyte with the calm, polite patience of a man who has heard it all before. And he did it with breathtaking ease and matchless authority.
So, I bid John Maxtone-Graham a very thankful and heartfelt bon voyage as he no doubt continues on his own, very personal, fantastic voyage of discovery. It is my fervent hope that he now finds the answers to those compelling questions from maritime history that even he could not resolve in this world. No doubt he will find those answers to be fascinating. And I, for one, would give anything to read his take on those answers.
Good sir; I cannot thank you enough for the inspiration and education that you provided me with. Your prose remains as proud, sharp and magisterial as the prow of the great Normandie herself. And, like that incomparable French liner that he so adored and described so well, John Maxtone-Graham was, truly, a one off; a paradigm that defies replication. Merci.