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Dave Cushman

How I remember him

For many beekeepers the name "Dave Cushman" is associated with a beekeeping website - not any old website, but the beekeeping website that is regarded by many as the most comprehensive and authoritative in the world. That is some praise and it was achieved by a man who was very ill for the last 15-20 years of his life. In addition, as he was unable to work, he was a bit short of money with which to finance it.

Beekeeping has allowed me to travel widely and wherever I go there is always someone who comments on how much they use this website. There is often appreciation that someone is continuing to develop and maintain it - they see it as such an important resource they want it to be there for future generations.

Before I met him, I had heard that Dave Cushman was arrogant, abrupt, difficult to get on with etc, but I have been alive long enough to know there are those who were born with the sole purpose of discrediting others. I find it is better to keep any warnings in the back of my mind and treat everyone as if they are O.K. until they give me reason to think otherwise. Very often those who discredit others need to look at themselves a bit closer than they do, but of course they don't - often because they are arrogant, abrupt, difficult to get on with etc!

I always found Dave Cushman very approachable and responsive - we certainly had some laughs together. He treated me well and we never had any reason to fall out. On analysing those who had a problem with him, it was often those who saw him as a threat. Dave was very knowledgeable and there are a few people in beekeeping with ego's that are much larger than they should be. Dave was definitely not one of them.

Dave and myself had similar atitudes to many things, including beekeeping. We were both engineers and practical people, so I understood much of his thinking. He often questioned conventional thinking and openly encouraged others to do likewise. This comes across well on the pages of this website and I quote his words "Please study the material that I put forward and accept or reject it according to the way it aligns with your own ideas. This is what progress is all about. The more that established thinking is challenged and discussed the more we will all ultimately know". Dave had a very fertile mind and modified many standard pieces of kit if he could see a simpler way of making it, or there would be a benefit to bees or beekeeper. Sadly some of these ideas will be history, probably because others won't see the benefits Dave saw.

We were both elected to the BIBBA (Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Association) committee at the same time - BIBBA is a registered charity so we were Trustees, a position Dave took very responsibly. He had a lot of knowledge of charity regulations, presumably learnt as a Trustee of his own BKA, Leicestershire and Rutland. Although in meetings he often appeared to be asleep he was still with it. He rebuilt the BIBBA website and managed that until he was finally unable to do so. BIBBA was my only committee dealings with him. He could appear awkward, but probably due to his rather abrupt manner, that I think had more to do with his physical condition than anything else. I always admired his ability to support someone if he thought they were being criticised unfairly, when others would keep quiet. I always found him to be a very fair man.

Dave could talk for hours about things - lots of things. It was amazing what he did know and the evidence is in the diversity of content of this website. I did find that occasionally he would form an opinion on something when he had been fed duff information, or only had part of the story. Without checking his source he would raise an issue that could show him in rather poor light. On more than one occasion I had to put him right by presenting him with evidence and to his credit he accepted he was wrong and apologised.

Like me, Dave had a very high regard for Irish beekeepers and beekeeping. Many are very practical and this can be seen in their methods and the fact that many make their own equipment. Ireland is a stronghold of the dark native bee Apis mellifera mellifera and he was also an enthusiast of that type. For some years Dave attended the FIBKA summer school at Gormanston. He could often be seen in the foyer sitting down talking to someone and passing on his knowledge. This was never done in the pushy way of so many, but in a quiet way that put even the greenest novice at ease. He was also a supporter of the Galtee Bee Breeding Group (GBBG).

For some reason he didn't have a high regard for the BBKA. I don't know if this was as the result of a dislike for "authority" or not, but it was quite a strong feeling. I was sitting in the Cock Inn at Gormanston one evening with Dave and John Burgess, a beekeeper from Wales. Without planning, John and myself gradually baited Dave about the BBKA and all of a sudden Dave exploded, repeatedly crashing his fist down on the table and bellowing out "Bloody BBKA!!!!!". All this just over 12 months before he died. Despite his views on BBKA he was still happy to put their details on his website and encourage beekeepers to make use of their facilities. When I became a BBKA Trustee he didn't mention it.

Dave had a well publicised illness - or putting it more accurately a collection of illnesses. Although his mind was incredibly active right to the end, his body simply wouldn't do what it was told. He shuffled rather than walked and when seated often dropped his head, giving the appearance of him being asleep. He certainly wasn't and could later tell you almost every word of a conversation. Sadly there were a few who ridiculed his state, but that wouldn't have bothered him. Being a diabetic he needed insulin injections at the right time, so that was a bit restrictive. I never once heard him complain or try to attract sympathy, in fact he often poked fun at himself - often with a bit of help!

At the last National Honey Show he attended in 2010, he intended being on the BIBBA stand for most of the three days the show was on. He was BIBBA Show Secretary and felt he could make a contribution by talking to beekeepers about bees. It was clear that his health was declining and he needed some help, so I tried to spend some time with him. On the first day, which is really only the afternoon, he found it tiring just talking to people. He said he wanted to see some of the show as he felt it would be his last, so I manned the stand while he went for a bit of a walk-about. Some time later I saw him shuffling down the long side of the hall back towards the stand. I was with another couple of people and instinctively clapped my hands and shouted "come on Dave - you can do it", a bit like a parent willing a child over the line at school sports day. He started laughing and we thought he was going to fall over! The following morning he said he was too ill to carry on and he was going home, could I take over. I asked him how he was going to get home and he said he was going to drive. He could hardly move and I knew the distance from Weybridge to Leicester was over 100 miles. This included long stretches of the M25 and M1, but there was no way he could be talked out of making the journey. I left it for about 4 hours, then phoned to see if he got home. That was the first time I had ever phoned him, as his preferred method of communication was email, due to cost.

We were in email contact at least once a week and I would normally get a quick response. I generally knew if Dave would be out for a day or so, but he hadn't replied to a couple of emails, so I called him. He told me the doctor had said he hadn't got much longer. He was too weak to get up the stairs to access the computer, so he hadn't been able to work on the website for some time. In previous discussions about the future of his website he told me an American Trust would be taking it over. I hadn't heard about them for some time, so I asked him about it and was told they no longer existed. I then sensed I had to be a bit bold, so I asked what was going to happen and he told me "Nothing, it will stay up until the technology stops working and it falls over". I said that it is a great resource and it would be a pity for future beekeepers to be denied the opportunity of benefitting from it. He said he had spent a lot of time thinking about it and was concerned there were those who might take it over and use it for their own purposes, or wreck it through their own lack of knowledge. He had considered someone he trusted but he thought they were too busy. I said "how do you know - have you spoken to them?". After a pause he said "I am"!

Throughout my life I have had to do a lot of thinking on the hoof, but this put the mind in overdrive! Dave had always insisted on hand coding everything and I told him my limited knowledge of html (coding language) wouldn't be sufficient, so I would have to find someone who could do the technical side, but it might be using the software route. If he didn't mind that, I would have to make a few phone calls. Within half an hour I called him back and said I had found someone and we could keep his website going. Even though he was tired he was obviously pleased. I made several subsequent calls and as I didn't know what was involved it was obvious I needed to visit him. I called to fix a visit up and he said he couldn't speak, as he was having some help writing his will. That was the last time I spoke to him and within a week he was dead.

We all have different memories of people because we have different circumstances and different approaches. In many ways Dave and myself were alike. This probably helped us understand each other. I have taken time and put a lot of thought into writing this. I do not believe in witholding information, so I have included as much as I can.

Virtually every beekeeper I meet has heard of Dave Cushman, not because he tried to make a name for himself and get it in as many places as possible, or seek office where he could make a noise, but by sitting in front of a screen and giving the beekeeping world some sound information that will help them keep their bees better. The motivation was to help beekeepers enjoy their beekeeping more and to help them understand bees better so they had a better existence. He was passionate about it.

Roger Patterson.